Friday, February 26, 2010

Hurricane Helena and the taxing trials of travelling by air

First of all, if I had done what Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis did at that Charlottetown airport, particularly trying to break down a security door, I’d have been arrested. And there’s a better than decent chance her husband would have been tased by overzealous airport security. Her behaviour was unacceptable, full stop.

I think there will be plenty of commentary on her behaviour though, so I’d like to instead segue into airport security. It’s useful though that news of the incident came on the day her cabinet colleagues were announcing a hike of airport security fees – Stephen Harper calls it an “air tax” – because not only does it call attention to the plight of air travel in this country today, it also helps bring the stupidity home to folks at the cabinet table, like Guergis, who are in a position to do something about it.

One wonders if we grounded the Challenger fleet tomorrow and forced them all to fly commercial – heck, maybe in economy – and get a taste of what we plebes have to put up with, how long the cabinet would wait before bringing some sanity to our airport security regime.

I was amused, reading the anonymous letter from the Charlottetown Airport employees detailing Hurricane Helena’s behaviour, about her frustration with the trials of airport security. She refused to remove her blazer, or her shoes when told they might set off the detector. When she did set it off, she “huffily” removed her boots and “slammed” them in the bin, then complained about not wanting to walk around in “sock feet.”

She also tried to drag oversized suitcases onboard, and huffed when she was told they’d have to be checked. It’s rich because, flying to the U.S., the Harper government sharply limited carry-on baggage post-Christmas attack to the point where we were questioning if books were kosher, all because the government didn’t want to hire more security staff to do the hand-screening demanded by the over-reacting American government.

Welcome to Canada circa 2010. This, Ms. Guergis, is what the asinine security rules imposed by your government (and, to be fair, the previous Liberal administration post 9/11) have made of air travel in this country. It’s good that she got a dollop of what those abstract decisions at the cabinet table have become in implementation.

Showing-up 15 minutes before your flight is crazy, and, indeed, were it anyone else but a “VIP” they’d have turned her away from the check-in desk. Domestically, you need to be at the gate 20 minutes before departure, and with bags 30 minutes, or even if the plane is there still you’re not getting on. They recommend an hour, and I usually show up closer to two, just to be safe (and enjoy some lounge time).

But we shouldn’t need to allocate as much time for security now as we currently do. I haven’t flown to the U.S. since last year, my first work trip of 2010 is to Santa Monica in March and I’m dreading the heightened post-Christmas attack security already. I’ve already resigned myself that my days of not checking my rollaboard (and not having to wait for baggage claim) are over.

I flew domestically in January though, and it has gotten even more ridiculous. I fly regularly so I know the drill and have the procedure down to a grim science: coat and sweater off and in bin, belt off, laptop in separate bin, no metal in my pockets. No liquids or gels, I'll buy toothpaste there and expensive water post-security. I’m still four people back in line when I have everything off and ready for the bins. Yet still, both ways, I set off the metal detector, which meant sitting down, shoes off, full patdown and bag check. And what set the detector off? Literally the (small) button of my jeans.

Needless to say, everyone was pinging the detector. One has to ask, how is any of this making anyone safer? The answer is it’s not. I could go on at length but a recent Maclean’s article, “The scary truth about airport security” does it well enough.

And now, with a doubling of the airport security tax by the Conservatives (don’t tell me it’s not a tax, Stephen Harper agrees with me) we see John Biard, Harper and, yes, Guergis doubling-down on a stupid strategy that is designed only to make us feel safer, not to actually make us safer. Rather than trying to fix things, the government is giving us sound and fury, signifying nothing. Any system that makes a pilot surrender his nail clippers but doesn’t screen the baggage staff at all is asinine. The pilot doesn’t need nail clippers to cause serious damage, does he?

It’s time we got serious about reforming airline security in this country (at least for domestic travel, though we should pressure the U.S. to smarten the hell up for transborder traffic, because this is an international issue) and we can start by dumping the Harper security tax hike.

And if it takes Hurricane Helena to get the government to see what it hath wrought, then we’ll owe the good folks of PEI an ‘atta boy.

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CanadianSense said...

I am not sure what is more troubling your concern for a $ 4.00 - $ 10.00 tax on flights or your acceptance of a Carbon Tax on everything for AGW that would be more costly for Canadians.

I am impressed how the CBC can find time to publish these anon letters from people who have only critical opinions.

I am glad the new standard for hard news at the CBC in avoiding investigating Climategate worth Billions for a unacceptable tirade by a member of parliament.

I enjoyed reading about her husband troubles again.

Jeff said...

CS, I'm going to just focus on your first paragraph.

Here's my view: I have no problem with an airport security tax or a carbon tax or a sales tax if it's going to something important and effective. And the money we're paying for the airport security tax, now increased, isn't going to anything remotely resembling effective and sensible airport security measures.The system is a mess, and we're throwing good money after bad.

That's my objection.

CanadianSense said...


We can both agree adding extra costs to travel is not necessary and our transportation policy could use a serious overhaul.

Watching QP and the dysfunctional parliament be unable to hold an adult conversation leads me to my original comment.

We can't get serious about eliminating waste or fixing things unless an opposition party is willing to dance. We don't have that. We have them screaming deficit, raise corp taxes on corp, banks mantra.
Manning cooperated with the Liberals in the 90's on the budget and did not resort to doorknobs, olympic logos, novelty cheques stunts.
How many tours on campus before an alternative is introduced, debated in parliament from the Liberals?

ottlib said...

I once flew home to Ottawa from Toronto, in coach, and my seat mate was then Cabinet Minister Alan Rock.

CS, only you could take a post about airport security and make it about carbon taxes.

I wonder CS, have you heard that many of the movers and shakers in Calgary now prefer a carbon tax? You see, they realize that some kind of program that puts a price on carbon is coming, it cannot be avoided, and a carbon tax is the most predictable and easiest to plan for.

CanadianSense said...


I am allowed to disagree with my preferred party on issues.

I prefer we clean pollution, fix sewage, safe water ($ 13 Billion est)

Same with toxic land. Instead of taxing and playing on a Carbon Trading market to benefit the banks and big energy companies.

I don't confuse the AGW alarmists desire to trade carbon credits in the Chicago/Europe exchange with a concern for the environment.

How does increasing my hydro bill by 25% help me by installing smart grids, windmills?

I noted with Jeff the small tax at the airport being unfair vs the much larger tax imposed on Carbon with all levels being wasteful with the existing tax dollars.

rockfish said...

Senseless, I'll just make a note of this paragraph:
"Manning cooperated with the Liberals in the 90's on the budget and did not resort to doorknobs, olympic logos, novelty cheques stunts."

Chretien also didn't throw a spanner into the works by conjuring up a book on how to screw up committees, turn every vote into a game of election-chicken, reduce the level of debate into a Bushian taunt, or piss away the surplus that Canadians worked long and hard to eliminate just in time for a kick-ass recession...
Needless to say how refreshing it is to see that your senseless talking points are right on time, off target -- left-wing media blah-blah, carbon tax on everything blah-blah... I guess your tinfoil needed changing, otherwise you'd have squeezed in the 'coalition blah-blah'.

CanadianSense said...


You are entitled to your opinion on what cooperation means.

The CPC have no natural allies on the left who keep taking turns propping up the CPC for "whatever" reason.

Can you provide a link of the Liberal alternatives introduced to the CPC Policies into parliament by the Liberals since losing power in 2006?