I’m sitting nearby Gate B11 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.  I’ve had a great day, and enjoyed a wonderful steak dinner with some genuinely interesting lads.  But once again, I’ve observed some bizarre happenings at the airport.

First, a confession.  I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but this is wearing heavily on me:  I didn’t gamble at all, and I’m up 1 beer thanks to the nice young cocktail waitress who brought me a beer, at no charge, as I was watching the Leafs & Raptors play (I did tip her though).  Ok, that’s off my chest.

So, back to Airport Sekuritee.

As you may recall from my previous post, the spectacle that US-bound travellers go through when flying out of Canada is something to behold.  Utterly bereft of logic, and full of drama and exciting visuals.  But let’s step back a second and look at the basic mechanics of the transaction:

  1. A Canadian Airliner
  2. A mix of Canadian and American passengers
  3. A flight between Toronto and Las Vegas

Now you could argue that the To/From is relevant, but I’d argue that the value of a plane to a terrorist is not based on the direction it’s nose is pointing.  So I believe these assets are of similar value.

Do you think these similar assets are provided with equal protection?  Well, after tonight, I can confidently say that only really stupid, inattentive terrorists would attack a US bound plane.  Instead, wait for the return flight.  You can get to the airport much later, enjoy another Vegas show, and have a couple more cocktails.  Why go through the drama, delay and risk that some fellow passenger will go postal and beat you to ‘heaven’.

So now the details.

The check-in process was very, very long.  I waited over an hour just to get my boarding pass.  This was not however due to increased security.  It can only be attributed to WestJet having ‘a bad day’.  I’ll be charitable, since I’ve only ever heard good things about them.  Perhaps they just hired a new executive from Air Canada. Or maybe everyone was out late at the Penn and Teller show last night.  In any event, I was starting to fear for my departure time.

Off to the security check-point.

Well, it was no different from the hundreds of other ones I’ve been through post-911 and pre-undie-bomber.  Well, one difference.  The TSA agent who screened my boarding pass and passport prior to admitting me to the x-ray/magnetometer made a little scribble instead of a letter.  Apparently my last rant on cryptographically secure symbols to ensure nobody ‘black-pens an X’ has had an effect.

Off with my shoes, out with the MacBook, jacket and sweater in a box and off we go.  No beeps through the magnetometer and I’m now bracing myself for the Broadway Proctological Exam.  But what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an empty hallway.

No more checks.  No groping, no fondling, no tearing everything out of my backpack.  Just plain old ‘what we did before’.

Not having the ability to inquire about this process (without introducing the inevitable ‘why do you want to know, and drop your pants’ reaction), I’m left to try and figure out what can explain this big difference between the Vegas outbound, and Vegas inbound security.

Here’s some initial thoughts:

  1. Any terrorist who spent a few days in Vegas would have ‘gone native’.  There’s no way he’d blow up himself and an aircraft that brings people to this city.  Vegas would turn him.  Especially given what these twisted guys are promised.
  2. Canada has over-reacted, and wants to make sure it looks like it’s doing ‘important things’ to improve security for US travel
  3. The fax machine at the TSA office in Vegas is out paper, and Outlook put the ‘Important Undie-Bomber Script Changes’ email in the Junk folder
  4. It’s what we would call a ‘continuity problem’ if this were a movie or TV show (you know, when in one scene the male lead is holding a full beer in his left hand, then magically, it’s half empty and in his right hand)
  5. Stephen Harper prorogued inbound security
  6. This approach to security doesn’t work, and even Vegas has called bullshit on this horrid show.  And remember, they had Celine Dion for over a year.  And Carrot Top.

I am certainly not arguing that what is being done in Toronto is ‘Best in Class’ and should be replicated in Las Vegas.  Quite the opposite.  But the fact that the system is self-contradicting should be analysed.  Am I less safe flying to Toronto than I was flying to Las Vegas?  No.  Am I less annoyed and delayed? Yes.

I will also point out that a man in his 60’s left 2 bags in line for about 10 minutes.  People kept walking around them.  I approached them and asked the people in front of me if they knew who’s bags these were.  Nobody knew.  I kept asking down the line until somebody said ‘some old guy’.  Now, those bags were almost certainly not a real threat, but they were much more of a real threat than everything the rest of the passengers on my flight presented.  It’s interesting that even in a time of ‘heightened alert’ regular travellers take no note of things like this.  The grumpy old guy showed up a couple of minutes after I asked, and when I suggested he not leave his bags unattended, he looked at me like I just stole his wallet.

We have a long way to go.

That’s all from Sin City.  When I get home, I’ll post my observations from CES.