Japanese has two words that are often used incorrectly or in the wrong context: “Anzen”, which means “safety” or “security”, and “Anshin”, which means “peace of mind”. Then again, perhaps this isn’t a phenomenon restricted to Japanese. Let’s take airport “security” as an example.

How is your safety guaranteed by the “security checks” at airports? Over the past few years we have seen them become stricter and stricter. You need to remove your computer from your bag before the X-ray check, liquids are either limited by amount or totally prohibited, some airports require you to remove your shoes, and then there is the “metal detector” you walk through after putting all your belongings through the X-ray scanner.

Sounds safe, no?  No!

If you want to take liquids on board, put them in your pocket. So long as you have no metal objects on your body, you will walk straight through the metal detector and be greeted with a smile (with your “liquid” still in your pocket). An obvious exception is mercury! 😉

As for metal objects, remember those “film safe” bags that used to be common before digital cameras took over the market? They are basically lead-lined bags into which you put your film so that the film would not be damaged by the X-rays. The result is that the operator watching the screen, who is often either chatting to a colleague or about to fall asleep, will see a blank area in your baggage. Basically, a black hole that could contain a few rolls of film, or a pistol, knife, or anything else you don’t want to be found.

When the X-ray operator is awake and alert, they will take from you just about anything with a sharp edge. They will confiscate nail clippers, pocket knives, and anything else that might be used as a weapon. This is all done in front of the other passengers waiting in line. This is not to make them safer, just to make them feel safer; to give them that peace of mind.

Once you have cleared security, your next stop is the duty-free shopping area where they will sell you an assortment of liquids, objects will sharp edges, glass bottles, etc., that would all have been confiscated at the security check. So, I guess they’re safer if bought inside the airport. Hmmm….

Once on board the aircraft and flying happily towards your destination feeling safe and secure, knowing that any would-be bad people, have been thwarted by the efficient and incredibly time-consuming airport security, a cabin attendant will come and offer you a selection of wine in glass bottles, beer or soft drinks in cans and, if you are in business class, metal knives and forks with which to enjoy your meal.

So now that you have your metal knife, bottle of vodka, empty beer can (which can easily be twisted to create an edge like a razor), you can just sit back and enjoy your flight with plenty of time to wonder why they wasted all that time and money with the “security” check, and consider just how much “safer” you really feel.

Let’s not even stop to consider where they are checking for plastic explosives or small amounts of powder than generate toxic gases when mixed with water, etc.