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Is smart security an oxymoron?

The highlight of our trip home from London was when my stepson’s bag was pulled from the lineup for a special screening at the airport. The security guard snapped on his gloves, felt around, and pulled out….

(prepare yourself)

…a cheap red laser pointer, still sealed in the box, which our kid had bought at Hamleys.

“He could blind a pilot with this,” intoned the guard in utter seriousness.

Oh for the love of Pete. Scientific illiteracy strikes again!

Setting aside the fact that it’s not red lasers but green lasers that are a problem for pilots, as well as the fact that the problem with green lasers is people shining them into the sky from the ground (where the widening area covered by the laser over long distances can indeed temporarily obscure a pilot’s vision), let us examine the only possible way that my stepson could blind a pilot with his red laser pointer:

Stepson to airline attendant: Excuse me, but could you ask the pilot to please come out from behind that locked cockpit door?

Airline attendant: Why, of course.

Pilot emerges.

Pilot: Yes, my boy, what can I do for you?

Stepson: Hello. Would you please stand right there, without blinking or moving your head, for at least 30 seconds while I shine this red laser into each of your eyes? Remember, you can’t close them!

Pilot: Certainly. Here, let me hold this eye open with my fingers to make sure I don’t involuntarily close it. All right, shine away!

I had briefly thought that European airline security wasn’t quite as idiotic as American security. I was wrong.

The security guard said, “We only allow laser pointers to be carried by professionals who are using them for presentations.”

My wife said, “I’m a professor. Can I carry it?” (At this point I had to turn away to keep from laughing.)

The guard frowned, then slipped the box back into the suitcase and said, “You must be in control of this at all times during the flight.” Uh, yeah. We’ll be sure to control our 11-year-old’s access to his bag which he will not be able to reach once it’s in the overhead bin.

And that was our last experience in London. The flight to Faro was uneventful, except for the part where we had to wrestle our kid to the ground when he attempted to blind the pilot, and we arrived home to find a very happy cat waiting for us. Everything is back to normal, and I’m happy to report that the pilot has fully recovered.

The BEST holidays

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