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Travel Report

December 30th, 2009

So, how was the security situation when Sachi and I traveled back to Japan yesterday? Virtually unchanged.

At SFO, security was hardly any different. Lines were short when we arrived at 8:45 am. We could have come an hour later and still have arrived early. The only real changes I noticed from the past was (a) a TV news van outside the arrivals area, and (b) one extra person checking documents a bit more carefully at security. You know how they have the amusement-park tope lines? A person checked our passports and boarding passes at the beginning of the ropes, and another person checked them again–checking off each of three or four items–at the end of the rope line. But at the metal detectors, all was pretty much the same–shoes, belts, jackets off, computers separate, walk through the detector, out you go. In fact, there was no one checking random passengers at the gate this time. Sachi and I arrived at the gate more than two hours before the flight began.

Fortunately, nothing had changed on the flight itself–no nonsense about being welded to your seat for the last hour of the flight. We were allowed to walk around and do carry-on stuff until just before descent. And really, that’s how it should be. Security should be more on the ground–watch lists, background checks, better equipment and training for security checkpoints, that kind of stuff. We landed, waited 30 minutes for the luggage to come out, and were passed through customs.

I am glad we upgraded to Economy Plus; while it still irks me to pay extra for what used to be free, it was nice to have the extra space. It wasn’t a whole lot of extra space, but compared to having your knees crammed up against the seat in front of you, it was much better. As I mentioned before, it’s what Economy used to be for the whole plane before they started charging for not being squeezed into the tiny spaces they sell now. I think I might make it a regular thing from now, if I can’t get an exit row in regular Economy. However, since I did it so late this time, there were no aisle seats at first, and then only a bulkhead aisle seat opened up–not enough room to fully extend my legs, a big deal for me. Sachi got that seat while I took a middle seat 6 rows back. On boarding, we were able to swap with the guy sitting in the aisle next to me, so it all worked out.

But the magical Luis Effect happened yet again: the person directly in front of me was the very first in the whole section to recline back, immediately after take-off, and stayed that way until just before landing. And again, only about 20-30% of the cabin reclined back. It never fails for me.

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  1. Leszek Cyfer
    December 30th, 2009 at 19:18 | #1

    That’s funny, but my friend had the same issue with the armrest – a person next to him always put elbow there – even in seats where there were double thick armrests the person sitting next to him immediately occupied the entire armrest.

    Until one time when he was returning from an meditative course and to calm down he used so called Rebal technique – he went into meditative state and imagined a ball of light surrounding him. The adjacent person took the elbow away immediately :)

    I wonder if the same technique would make the person before you to recline forward…

  2. Troy
    December 31st, 2009 at 04:19 | #2

    I think from a wider security angle nobody would care if a jetliner fell out of the sky on final approach to NRT since it’s pretty rural out in Chiba.

    The main issue WRT this last-hour thing is LAX and other airports where the aircraft could take out a dozen or two houses like Lockerbie.

    KInda dumb worrying so much about 100 or so lives (one wishes we had the same concern when operating our missile-armed RPVs) but given the politics, if it can be shown that a threat is known, it must be defended against.

  3. Paul
    December 31st, 2009 at 12:08 | #3

    Glad to hear you got moved around- those bulkhead seats are fine for shorter folks, but not for taller guys.

    We looked at the crew for the flight but Ginger didn’t know anyone. Sounds like the loads have been a bit heavy going over there, too- a friend of hers flew SEA-NRT and then couldn’t get onto a flight to Bangkok, so she went to Honolulu instead for a couple of days. (The life of a single flight attendant…)

    The security measures that I’ve heard of have primarily been for flights coming BACK to the USA, not outbound. And they only had the “special” rules in place for a couple of days; now we’re hearing that they’re back to mostly normal in terms of behavior while in-cabin.

    The extra screening (much more frequent and complete hand searches of carryons the biggest) is supposedly still going on for flights heading to the USA. Ginger’s happy because the way they had things set up for a while, the flight attendants were going to have to be the main security enforcers.

    Nobody complains for the few weeks after an incident, but within a couple of months you know you’d be hearing about problems when passengers refuse to follow the new marching orders and try to use the lavs in the last hour of flight, or have a blanket over their laps, or whatever…

    Yet again, it appears that at least one portion of the USA’s agencies had information that could have stopped the attack ahead of time, but that information didn’t properly flow to where it was needed.

    I have to wonder when we’ll get this right? Maybe we need to look at some method of information sharing that’s based on more open source stuff or social networking in a manner that gets the info to the people who need it.

    As for the Luis Effect… I assume you just lean your seat back the same amount and regain the same amount of space that the guy in front of you takes up, right? :)

  4. Luis
    January 1st, 2010 at 14:23 | #4

    Leszek: I’ll have to try that next time.

    Troy: I guess, but if that were the only reason, then I would think it would apply only to airports where that’s a concern; not all fly in over populated areas.

    Paul: thanks for the effort! Fortunately, as noted, everything turned out OK regardless. Agreed that screening is the place where the difference can be made. I really think that the backscatter scanners are a good idea–I don’t care if I get Speedo-viewed by security staff, and frankly, I prefer that to a pat-down or a 5-minute close inspection at the gate.

    But yeah, you’re right on the intelligence foul-up–I can’t see how the father’s warning could not have been taken seriously. Maybe they had to allow for this to be an intra-family squabble, but seeing as how they put thousands of innocent Americans on no-fly lists simply because they had the same name as dangerous people, I would think that the idea was less about convenience for individuals–especially non-Americans–and more about tight security.

    And yes, I did lean back, after checking the seat behind me–it was a small person, and she had a kerchief over her head the entire flight, sleeping, so no problem there. And leaning back makes it a little better, but I like to have my laptop out, and the angle to the reclined seat makes it harder to do that. It also makes it tougher to get in and out of your seat.

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