Six Lines

Air Travel Absurdity

Posted by Aaron Massey on 11 Oct 2011.

I haven’t linked to many air travel stories recently in part because there are simply so many of them that picking one to link to over the others is a challenge in and of itself. Recently, I came across an article by LZ Granderson at CNN that sort of summarizes the situation well:

Given the physical requirements and inherent importance of an exit row seat, I would feel more comfortable if I knew the person sitting there could at least do a pushup and not just be collecting a reward for being a repeat customer.

These are the kind of systematic disconnects that just crack me up.

Flight attendants tell us to turn off all electronic devices under the guise they could interfere with the plane’s navigation system, meaning that if the terrorists really wanted to cause some damage, all they had to do was read their Kindle during takeoff.

Granderson sort of implies that we should at least attempt to enjoy the absurdity as the amusement that it is. I don’t agree. Waste and inconvenience on this scale isn’t amusing. Security is a tradeoff, and I don’t think we’re making the right decisions. The risk of being the victim of a terrorist on an airplane is ridiculously low.

There are reasons we’re not making rational decisions about airport security, and most of them are probably best explained by the fact that we’re all human. Humans just don’t make rational decisions about some types of risk. Dan Ariely has basically made his entire career about irrational decisions people make. Bruce Schneier’s next book is going to focus on how people make decisions involving trust.

Still, we don’t really understand why people do are so poor at making these decisions. Worse, we don’t know how to improve this sort of decision making. The absurdity of airport security isn’t amusing; the root causes of this problem are probably one of the most important research topics for the next few decades.