It's national No Fly Day in the UK, as a (as yet curiously undefined) major terrorist bust throws the airports into a security spasm. No liquids, no books, no anything except the barest minimum can be brought on board: everything else has to go in the hold.
This is going to make the West Coast fun. I'm in the back of a 747 for 12 hours with no laptop, no iPod, possibly no books, and only an in-flight magazine for company. The in-flight entertainment's not working properly, and security has confiscated my Laphroaig. How do I avoid slipping into snarling, dehydrated insanity? The only solution I can see involves powerful drugs and a deep coma — emergency tactics I normally reserve for the press conference at the other end.
There are more intriguing and intractable problems than my mental health. Browsing the Pprune pilots' bulletin board to get a feel for how the industry sees events, I note first of all that the pilots are most concerned at being divested of their packed lunches. This is the mark of any true profession from medicine to law via finance and vicaring: get them in a group and they'll talk about anything other than actually doing their jobs. It's only the artisans, the engineers and the farmers who like to commit that sin.
More interesting is the business of legal compliance. One story on the board relates how a chap of Palestinian extraction and appearance ended up in an impasse with a policeman at a security checkpoint: the chap was also the country's leading expert on jet engines and as such had top-level security clearance. The policeman was just a policeman. The chap was carrying top secret documents, the contents of which could not be divulged to anyone without equivalent rating. The policeman demanded to inspect the folders. The chap would only show him the covers. (This could be another example of the Rule of Auto-Ironic Subversion, come to think of it).
Now, there are equivalent cases where people carry laptops containing information for which they are legally liable. They are not allowed to let those laptops out of their sight while in insecure environments. Few environments are as insecure as the baggage system at airports, to which all laptops must now be entrusted. Stuff gets stolen, lost, broken: it is inconceivable that the owners of the laptops could let them go through.
At a stroke, the top echelons of business and the security services have been effectively barred from flying — as the result of "defeating terrorism". I most definitely call ironic subversion here: by not blowing anything up, the terrorists have provoked a response that's crippled the normal running of the West.
I'm glad nobody died. But this may not be the best way to proceed.