After the plot to detonate a car bomb in Times Square fizzled out due to incompetence, the Atlantic’s James Fallows had a pithy observation in an article titled “If the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] were running New York”:
– All vans or SUVs headed into Midtown Manhattan would have to stop and have their contents inspected. If any vehicle seemed for any reason to have escaped inspection, Midtown in its entirety would be evacuated;
– A whole new uniformed force — the Times Square Security Administration, or TsSA – would be formed for this purpose;
– The restrictions would never be lifted and the TsSA would have permanent life.
Recently I read that by 2013, EU airline travelers will no longer have to present their liquids in 100 ml containers in a plastic bag separate from all other carry-on luggage. I thought this was fantastic — somebody in government had finally figured out that these measures do absolutely nothing except terrorize the public, because it’s almost impossible to build a bomb in an airplane lavatory by combining and titrating liquids! (For one thing, the process requires a coolant. Where does a terrorist get that? “Excuse me, miss, but could you get me a bucket of ice water so that I can take it into the lavatory for a few hours?”) For a moment I was hugely proud of the EU.
Then I read farther. The reason this won’t go into effect until 2013 is because that’s how long it will take to outfit all EU airports with new liquid scanning devices. Not only has nobody in government figured anything out, but they’ve actually managed to find a way to spend even more money on useless security.
Fortunately, there is an alternative for journeys of shorter distances. Just for fun, let’s compare a trip from Faro (in the southeastern corner of Portugal) to Lisbon, via plane and train.
At the airport: Arrive at least one hour before boarding time for security inspection. Stand in long line to check your baggage. Pack all liquids in checked baggage except for tiny amounts which you may take in your carry-on, provided they’re in a clear plastic bag and do not exceed 100 ml each. Have liquid bag and picture ID ready. Make sure you haven’t accidentally packed a nail file, small pocketknife, or mascara bottle (the applicator is dangerous, you know). Check airline regulations for the other 1,386 items you’re not allowed to pack. Don’t even think about taking a bottle of water. Forget about the yummy regional honey you wanted to take as a gift to a friend.
Once aboard: Pray you can find space in the overhead bin for your carry-on. Wedge yourself into your narrow seat. Resign yourself to the fact that for the next hour you will not be able to cross your legs or put your arms into a comfortable position. Observe scenery through the tiny porthole (assuming your seat is not over a wing).
Upon arrival: Wait ten minutes for plane to taxi in, park, and get jetway or ladder attached. Wait ten more minutes for the crushed mass of humanity to gather its collective belongings and clear the plane. Go to baggage claim and wait half an hour for your checked luggage to appear.
Total cost: 205 euros round trip (sample July fare).
Total time: 3 hours (45 minutes of which is actual travel time).
Comfort level: Somewhere between “none” and “actively uncomfortable.”
At the train station: Arrive at station any time up to three seconds before the train departs. (You need time to climb the steps into the car.) Pack any damn thing you want to. Do not stand in line. Do not go through security.
Once aboard: Toss your luggage anywhere in the plentiful storage racks. Settle into your wide first-class seat, which cost you 7 euros more than second class. Stretch your legs all the way out in front of you. If you’ve arrived in the car early enough to claim one of the bench seats with full-sized tables, spread your newspaper/book/laptop out on the table. If you wish, plug your laptop into the nearby outlet. When hungry, pull out the picnic you packed yourself (including that yummy regional honey), or walk to the food car and purchase something. Observe scenery through the huge windows.
Upon arrival: Wait thirty seconds for the train to come to a halt and open its doors. Pick up your luggage from the racks, step off the car and leave.
Total cost: 56 euros round trip.
Total time: 3 hours (3 hours of which is actual travel time).
Comfort level: Somewhere between “quite comfortable” and “I’m not sure, I fell asleep.”
Were it not for the occasions in which I travel over large bodies of water, I’d never fly again.