Travel Security

This article was inspired by a multi-pronged adventure I recently took. I flew out to Chicago, took a train ride to Seattle, and then flew back to Houston. I was shocked at the varying levels of security I had to go through for each leg of my journey, and I pondered the other journeys I’ve taken in the past. In essence, the security protocols and requirements are different for the various modes of transportation either by: plane, train, bus, ship… and car.

Plane

Air-travel requires the most extensive security out of all modes of travel. My first encounter with airport security was with a not-so-nice TSA agent who acted like I was a waste of his time for not knowing every single post-Covid security protocol.

Before Covid took over the planet, I considered myself a veteran traveler and was shocked when this agent chastised me for wearing my facemask in a crowded line. 

Can you believe that?!  

Actually, he needed to see my face to verify my identity and chastised me for not using a 3rd hand to take off my mask fast enough for him to keep his part of the line moving efficiently. Unfortunately, my first hand was giving him my ID and my second hand was placing my barcode on the reader. Naturally, I should have evolved that 3rd hand to pull my mask down to reveal my true identity. 

After you get through the ID guy, you need to get your luggage scanned. Not only that, but you need to take your shoes off to be scanned… thanks to Richard Reid (aka the “Shoe Bomber”). But that’s not all you need to put into a tray to get scanned, you must also take every electronic device out of your bags. That means: phone, Bluetooth keyboard, tablet/Kindle, Switch or other mobile devices[1].

While your stuff is getting scanned, you need to get scanned too. You now need to step into a booth and place your feet onto yellow foot prints, while trying not to think about catching a foot fungus as you raise your hands above your head.

You somehow manage to get through the security checkpoint and are putting your shoes on, when you see an armored officer walk a drug/bomb-sniffing dog. That dog is the last part of ground-based airport security, but there’s a couple more layers of security to keep in mind while you’re up in the air. While you’re in the plane and flying over the country, the pilot is safely locked behind a bulletproof bulkhead, and there’s a possibility a Sky Marshal may be flying with you to thwart any pesky touristic-terrorist. 

That’s 6 layers of security at our airports. Airports must truly be the safest and most secure locations on the planet.

Let’s see how other modes of transportation match up.

Train

The last couple times I took the train, there was literally NO security at the train major stations I’ve boarded the train on. Your luggage does not get scanned at all. Amtrak reserves the right to randomly search your bags, but I’ve never seen it happen. 

Most often there’s no security either. Some of the major stations will have a drug-sniffing dog run through randomly. Other than that, it’s up to the maintenance people to kick out homeless or violent people[2]

So basically, you may get a K-9 unit and a janitor as your security guard… and the janitor is definitely not getting paid enough to double-duty as security (so be thankful). 

Do you truly need more security while traveling on a train? Meh… I guess not because you can’t fly a train into a building. But consider how anyone can easily sneak a weapon on a train. I mean, the worst that can happen is a mass gunman kills a bunch of people while the train moves 65 MPH on the track, out in the middle of nowhere.

Nice knowing you, Grandma.

Bus

Traveling by bus is no different than by train. If there’s security present at the station, it’s at the stations where crime is high and homeless are swarming the streets around it (like the walking dead). 

Greyhound is the largest passenger bus service provider in the country. They do not inspect your luggage unless asked to do so by another passenger, and sometimes not even then. 

You are more likely to get your luggage “inspected” if the employee thinks there’s something of value in there. If there are valuables in your luggage, and you don’t keep your eyes on your bags at all times, expect those valuables to be confiscated for security purposes… or maybe a homeless person managed to sneak in and steal your stuff. 

Ship

Going on a cruise is the only other method of travel which requires passengers to go through pre-boarding security. While boarding, passengers must show an ID or passport, and walk through a metal detector while your bag gets x-rayed.

That’s surprisingly robust security for something which is limited to water and that barely travels 20 MPH, but there’s a reason for this, because security is responsible for managing the safety of about 2,000-3,000 passengers[3], [4]… unarmed.

That’s the size of a village or small town!

It’s in the cruise line’s best interest to remove lethal weapons from the equation before all those people set sail and become drunken sailors.

Too bad security can’t keep passengers from getting each other sick.

Car

Can you truly trust yourself… or your family? Perhaps you should pat down that baby carrier for something other than a stink-bomb. 

When you drive, you are your own security and everyone else’s worst nightmare. 

If you’re not careful, you can be the cause of one of the average 18,500 crashes each day. If you’re a terrible driver, or are criminal enough to drive drunk, or are so old you should have been medically barred from driving years ago… you may contribute to the 3,700 fatal crashes that happen each day[5]

Needless to say, this last part is mostly a joke.

***

In closing, there’s a dramatic difference between security at the airport and every other method of travel in the country. The country’s leaders are so worried about being held accountable by the next jet-powered civilian missile, they don’t care if your poor ol’ granny gets mugged or killed on a train or bus. 


[1] Electronics: And is the TSA going to replace any of this equipment if it’s damaged or stolen while in their custody (on the conveyor belt)? 

Nope! Most claims are denied.

[2] Train Stations: Most tourists get on stations at major cities, but I’m not mentioning the various rural stations trains service daily, which have absolutely no security beyond the ticket checker. Rural areas are where most of the domestic religious fanatics live, so we should be very concerned about this… but, we aren’t.

[3] Security: Shipboard security not owned by the government. The staff is privately owned by either the cruise-line or a third-party contractor

[4] Passenger Size: 2,000-3,000 passengers is the average guest population of cruise ships before Covid-19.

[5] Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (2019). Motor Vehicle Safety Data. Retrieved from U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: https://www.bts.gov/content/motor-vehicle-safety-data

I Keep My Old Tech

I keep and use my tech devices for as long as I possibly can. I tend to keep this tech even after I’m forced to upgrade or replace a device. I store old phones, tablets, computers, game consoles, and I even have CD-ROMs for games that may be available via download. I’ve been called a hoarder for keeping all these things, but is it really that bad?

Phones

I use my phones until they no longer function, or I change service providers and am forced to switch. I’m not so irresponsible with my money that I want or need to have the latest and greatest phone. I may have upgraded my phone once, and that was only because I was experiencing problems with the one I was currently using and there was a great deal to get a new one nearly for free.

When I finally replace a phone, I still keep the old one because I’ve got a lot of information on it. It’s not just the passwords, pics, text messages and chats. I’ve written entire books on a couple of phones and I don’t want anyone to steal that intellectual property.

Yes, you can factory reset the phone. However, just like formatting a hard drive or “deleting” something on your PC, that only deletes the data-links stored in the memory, not the data itself.

I want to be absolutely certain my information is gone completely. Since I can’t toss the thing into the nearest star or black hole, I keep my phones hidden away until that one day in the future I completely disassemble and destroy the memory as though I’m reenacting the Butlerian Jihad[1]. I’ve already destroyed one phone, but haven’t gotten around to destroying the others…

There’s one phone that I’ll keep forever, and that’s my Windows phone from around 2010. Despite being over a decade old, that phone’s battery still lasts an entire week before needing to be recharged. It has a radio function which has saved me several times. The last time I needed to use that phone was during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. I was able to listen to news and music while the power was out, which was almost a week. 

Tablet

I only have 1 tablet and it’s a Kindle Fire HD 7″ my grandmother gave me for Christmas in 2012. It is probably the best present I’ve been given in my entire life, because it helped springboard my reading. Because of this one device, I’ve been able to read over 600 books (both Kindle-edition and audiobook). It still works well and I take it on camping trips to read or watch downloaded movies.

I don’t have a need for any other tablet until the sad day this one dies.

Computers

I have 6 computers that I will never part with unless they die completely, and can’t be repaired.

  1. I have my 15-year-old PC with Windows XP that I use at my vacation house to play old video games and watch movies.
  2. My 2nd boyfriend gave me his Windows ME computer (which is now 20-years-old). I only use it to play a few games my other computers are too powerful to run. My favorite game to play on this PC, which also happens to be the very first game I ever bought, is Star Trek: Birth of the Federation.
  3. A laptop I bought from Office Depot 11 years ago. I only use this PC to store stuff, organize files on my various hard drives, and because it has a non-subscription version of Microsoft Office… just in case I need to use it.
  4. I have an Alienware PC that may have burned itself out because of pet dander a month or two after Hurricane Harvey. The thing cost me over a thousand bucks, so I keep it in the closet just in case I want to fix it one of these days.
  5. Following the death of the Alienware PC, I got a replacement Corsair gaming PC for Christmas. It’s VR-ready, but I’ve never actually used it for that. I use it to play first person shooters (FPS) and turned-based strategy (TBS) games about equally.
  6. I bought a new Dell laptop just before Covid-19 caused shortages across several industries, including computer chips. I use it almost every day for writing and I play a few TBS games on it when traveling. I hate the keyboard layout, because I keep hitting the “pg up” and “pg dn” buttons when editing while typing. Another painfully annoying error that keeps happening most of the time is the Ctrl+Shift+Arrow functions don’t… function. And several keys don’t register the keystrokes while typing which is frustrating. I’ve fixed these problems by using an external keyboard, which happens to be ergonomic and probably better for me anyways. Anyways, I don’t think I’m getting a Dell again in the future.

Once these computers die and I can’t or won’t repair them, I’ll take the hard drives out and destroy them.

Game CD-ROMs

I keep all the CD-ROMs for my games, and even have most of the boxes they were sold in. Most of these games are available via download on Steam or the developer (EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft). I may or may not have re-purchased them out of convenience, when they were on sale. I keep them because they can still be used on my older PCs.

Plus, there’s no telling what may happen to Steam or GOG in the future. We buy these games (and other digital property) by digital download with the understanding the games are ours forever. But, what happens if these companies go bankrupt? What assurances do we really have there are plans to ensure consumers have access to our property should something like that happen?

None. We’d be up shit’s creek without a paddle, or back up versions of the games we love. I’m happy giving up an entire drawer in my dresser for that piece of mind, and entertainment at my vacation house.

I must have somewhere between 50-100 games stored in the house. I think the newest game I have a physical disc of is Civilization V. And the oldest games I’ve kept over the years are: Star Trek: Birth of the Federation, Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares, and Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi. Wing Commander II is actually the oldest game in my possession, but I purchased it at a flea market a few years ago and never actually played it. It still has the instruction manual, and all the 3.5” floppy discs[2].

Game Systems

I have several game systems at home too. I have a PlayStation 2, that I’ll power up once every 2 years to play some of my PS1 and PS2 games. I love dusting off and playing old titles like: Colony Wars, Final Fantasy VII and VIII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Dark Cloud.

I have an Xbox One, which I have fond memories of playing Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Ryse: Son of Rome… that’s it. Those are the only games worth playing on a console because it’s way, way, way, WAY easier to hit something on PC (I had to get a “PC is better” jab in this story somehow).

I recently acquired a Nintendo Switch and have been enjoying all those games that can only be played using a Nintendo product. I bought the typical games everyone should buy for the Switch: Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! (remake), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (remake). I deeply regret wasting money on Animal Crossing, which is just a glorified mobile phone game, akin to Facebook games around 2010.

Yes, I said it! ;-P

Now that I’ve explained why I keep my old tech, is it truly that bad? I still use most of my devices, and keep them stored away when they’re not being used. And for those devices I can’t use anymore, I have legitimate security concerns for holding onto them until I can destroy them completely… one day.


[1] Butlerian Jihad is a literary reference from Frank Herbert’s Dune universe, and brought to life in the Butlerian Jihad trilogy written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

[2] For those who don’t know what a 3.5” floppy disc is, it looks like the “Save” symbol on most productivity applications like MS: Word, Excel, etc.