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MacBook Air Confuses Airport Security 550

Posted by Zonk
from the when-consumer-electronics-attack dept.
Ant writes "MacNN reports that the thin design of Apple's MacBook Air is causing some confusion for the technically ignorant, according to one blogger who says that the ultra-portable caused him to miss his flight. When going through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport security checkpoint, blogger Michael Nygard was held up as security staff gathered around his MacBook Air, trying to make sense of the slender laptop/notebook. One of the less technically knowledgeable staff points out the lack of standard features as cause for alarm..."
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MacBook Air Confuses Airport Security

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  • by QuantumG (50515) *
    Besides that, it seems they were confused as to which set of procedures they had to apply to it. Is it a laptop or is it an "electronic device".. Seems the definition of a laptop included a hard drive.

    • Ooga Chaka (Score:5, Funny)

      by ZeroFactorial (1025676) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:38PM (#22711758)
      In other news, the Ooga Chaka tribe brutally murdered a tourist to their village who was carrying a double-blunt-ended walking stick.

      Apparently, the "spear with a lack of features" was cause for great alarm among the Ooga-Chakas.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:02AM (#22712322)
        Dude, blunt spears are no joke. Ever tried catching a fish with one? You can't just stab & enjoy, you've gotta beat the sucker senseless first. Ever tried clubbing a bass to death. Its hard work.

        But with the new MacBook Air, I don't need to bludgeon my trout anymore. I can just pluck it out of the water with my newly developed mind powers and have it baked with a side of waterfowl before it even hits the ground. Yummers, pyrokineticly cooked duck! Thanks MacBook Air!
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by klubar (591384)
          Like many mac laptops the air gets so hot that not only can you use it as a computer, but it doubles as a cooking implement. And in case of an emergency you can always use the battery as a firestarter. It's really three tools in one!

          Nothing like the smell of baked trout on your mac toy.
    • by innerweb (721995) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:59PM (#22711954)

      It really boils down to the technically ignorant doing work that requires at some point a certain minimum level of technical competence. Kind of like a PHB making computer and networking decisions. I have not flown commercial in many years. The more stories I hear from my friends who still fly, the more I will take the train. There may be a case where I will fly again some day, but not if a viable alternative is available. I used to like to fly. I liked zipping into different cities, doing my job and popping back. It was exciting. Now, it would just be painful. Not my cup of tea.

      BTW, if you fly on private craft, my experience so far has been a decided lack of idiots to deal with. Kind of makes the cost and time to get a pilots license that much more attractive.

      InnerWeb

      • by Suzuran (163234) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:34AM (#22712180)
        Don't bother. End of this year the government has a new tax package and special user fees that will increase the costs by over 400% (proceeds going to fund tax breaks for the airlines, of course) and "increase security" for private airfields as well. It was nice while it lasted but the party's over.

      • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:53AM (#22712282) Journal
        "It really boils down to the technically ignorant doing work that requires at some point a certain minimum level of technical competence. Kind of like a PHB making computer and networking decisions."

        I don't think you are being fair.

        Protecting travelers from new attack vectors in real time based on an x-ray and basic visual inspection is not a job that can be performed reliably with any standard skill set. What the TSA actually appears to be aiming for is people who can identify a gun/knife/conventionally designed incendiary device, so that nobody has to stand in front of the cameras after an incident and explain how we missed the conventional threat during screening.

        Unconventional threats cannot reliably be prevented through the methods the TSA is currently employing, but no one wants to admit this and pierce the illusion of security that these measures provide the average traveler.

        Instead of relating TSA grunts to PHBs making decisions they are not qualified to make you could keep it simple and call it what it is: Politicians fronting like they have solutions, and average citizens (TSA workers) set up to take the blame when those flimsy solutions fail.
        • by CrossChris (806549) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:03AM (#22712610)
          It's entirely fair! The airport "security" is just silly "security theatre" and does nothing to improve safety. At the risk of a holiday in Cuba: it's trivially easy to knock an airliner out of the sky with ordinary, innocuous materials. No amount of "security" checks can prevent this!
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            "The airport "security" is just silly "security theatre" and does nothing to improve safety."

            I think you need to re-read my post. My entire point was that the current security schemes will only work against obvious conventional threats, nothing more.

            And yet we have built this egregiously cumbersome security mechanism... which will most likely fail against the first unconventional threat that comes its way.

            And who will be blamed for that failure? Surely not the architects of the system, because they will c
            • Re:slashvertisement (Score:5, Informative)

              by Skreems (598317) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @03:15AM (#22712916) Homepage
              It doesn't even succeed against known threats. They have regular security screenings where a TSA agent sneaks through a fake bomb disguised as a back brace or something innocuous. Less than a 50% success rate at stopping it. If "the terrorists" actually get to that point, it's more likely than not that TSA will let them through.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by bigdavesmith (928732)
          If you can't tell the difference between a laptop, and a bomb, you are not security.

          What the TSA actually appears to be aiming for is people who can identify a gun/knife/conventionally designed incendiary device, so that nobody has to stand in front of the cameras after an incident and explain how we missed the conventional threat during screening.

          There is a difference between people doing their best with limited resources, and airport security, which continually employs the most inadequate individuals I h

      • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:23AM (#22712444) Journal

        Kind of like a PHB making computer and networking decisions

        I categorically resent that. Historically our business transformation architecture achieves multipoint synergies by the close-tracking of business channel optimisation strategies, and our decision workshopping with regard to procurement of necessary infrastructure precludes the detail assessment quid-pro-quo with regard to non-executive decision makers. If I say we need duplicate DHCP servers then by god I want them to be exact duplicates, from their highly redundant address lists right down to the tiny little rubber feet!

        And I have great hair! Just ... not much of it any more.

      • by StrategicIrony (1183007) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:24AM (#22712450)
        See.... "private craft" is all well and good, but unless you can afford a Gulfstream or some other such ridiculousness, you're stuck in a Cessna 172 doing about 140knots. After paying for the aviation fuel and spending and hour dicking around getting it out of the hangar, checklists, etc, then worrying about where to put it when you arrive... and what to drive...

        Your break-even distance is almost 8 hours... in other words... if you aren't expecting to have to drive 8 hours, use your car or take a bus.

        If you're going further than 8 hours by car, it's going to be like 5+ hours by Cessna and just suck up the 45 minutes to get through security (and the $500 in fuel) and take Southwest Airlines for $99.

        I've only ever heard of about 3 situations where it was actually ECONOMICAL (both time and money) to take a private plane, unless you're god-awful rich and can afford a pilot to handle the checklists before you arrive.

        SI
        • by daviddennis (10926) <david@amazing.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:45AM (#22712820) Homepage
          A former boss of mine owned a Mooney prop plane (a bit faster than the Cessna, I think about 170 knots) and I found the routine at private airports refreshingly easy - go to the plane, walk around it to make sure nothing's fallen off, run up the engine and take off. The checklist isn't that hard, and much of it can be done during the brief wait for a take off slot.

          I loved the freedom associated with being able to take off and land at any time, at any airport. In this particular case, he could leave out of Van Nuys airport, about 15 minutes from his home, instead of LAX which would have taken a grinding hour and a half to get to.

          I will admit that flying a private plane is disappointingly non-luxurious - his interior felt more like a Subaru than a Mercedes - but even though I was not very good at physically flying the plane I enjoyed changing the frequencies on the radios and navigation systems. (This was before GPS took off in a big way - we used the old beacon system.)

          I would have surely preferred a jet but I liked flying private better than commercial. As I remember it cost him about $55 per flight hour to run, including overhauls, and he certainly believed it penciled out for him economically. He had to carry fairly heavy amounts of baggage for the trade shows we went to and that definitely helped.

          D

        • by aadvancedGIR (959466) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @04:38AM (#22713258)
          "I've only ever heard of about 3 situations where it was actually ECONOMICAL (both time and money) to take a private plane"

          How many of them did not involve drugs?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Alioth (221270)
          No one flies light planes because it's economical. They do it because they love it.

          It doesn't take an hour to get going in a light plane, even if you need to file IFR. In my situation, the typical IFR trip was: drive to the local GA airport (5 minutes) and park. Walk to the hangar, pull the club's Beech Bonanza out. Pre-flight would take around 15 minutes. If the weather looked shitty, I'd probably have already filed the IFR flight plan the evening before. The airport line man would have already fuelled it,
      • by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:50AM (#22712548) Journal
        That sort of thing is not their fault.

        The whole thing is actually more of a "show" nowadays, put on to make people feel safe and that the government is doing something. I mean banning liquids= joke.

        After 9/11, the odds of such an incident being repeated went down a lot. In fact one of the planes didn't hit the target because of the passengers (who learnt what was happening), so that proves my point.

        Now:
        1) Cockpit doors are reinforced
        2) The "unwritten rules of hijacking" have been invalidated- so more than a few passengers might think it is worth losing their lives to take down hijackers (esp if they think the hijackers are going to kill them all anyway). More importantly, serious hijackers know that (the crazy ones are a different matter).
        3) The bomb scanning stuff has already been around for years, so the small stuff is invalidated by 2).

        So, if terrorists now wanted to use planes to kill lots of people, they'll use private aircraft like you suggest ;).

        AFAIK private planes don't have as stringent luggage requirements as long as you know the pilot (or are the pilot). Those stars don't appear to have problems putting illicit drugs and stuff on their planes.

        • by Stanislav_J (947290) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @06:38AM (#22713672)

          After 9/11, the odds of such an incident being repeated went down a lot. In fact one of the planes didn't hit the target because of the passengers (who learnt what was happening), so that proves my point.

          Hell, before 9/11 the odds were slim to none. If security was so piss-poor before, then why had there only been maybe half a dozen or so (I don't have a list in front of me at the moment) incidents of, say, bombs being used to blow us U.S. originated airliners? And hardly any incidents of hijackers actually taking control of a plane and crashing it? For that matter, why have there never been mass suicide bombings in our malls or other public places a la what happens in some other corners of the world? In theory, it should be stupidly easy to walk into the Mall of America at lunchtime and blow yourself up, taking a few dozens shoppers with you.

          It boils down to this: 9/11 was an anomaly. It was so far out of the norm that it had never been done before, and is not likely to be replicated anytime soon. The risk is always there, but it is infinitesimally small in relation to the number of flights and passengers annually. You can be 99.9% safe and, in the process, majorly disrupt and complicate airline travel, negatively affect the economy by costing businesses and their travelers added expense and delays, plus expend billions of taxpayer dollars on added security. Or, you can use the same common sense precautions that had always been used, and still be, say, 99.5% safe. The difference is not worth the expense. Of course, if you happen to have a loved one killed in such an incident, you will say that ANY improvement in security is worth ANY additional effort and expense, but when it comes to the big picture, common sense must trump emotionalism or we will all be held hostage to fear.

      • Re:slashvertisement (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @03:36AM (#22712998) Journal
        Kind of makes the cost and time to get a pilots license that much more attractive.

        I will SECOND that motion! It's a rare month that I don't fly, I often fly 3-4 times per month. I recently got my private pilot's license. (yay!)

        Flying to Oakland, CA? Go on a commercial jet, and you experience:

        1) 1.5 hour trip to the nearest "major" airport.
        2) 1-2 hour long wait at the security line.
        3) Rude staff.
        4) Lousy amenities.
        5) Destination airport virtually guaranteed to be 1-2 hours drive away from the actual destination.
        6) Cramped seat.

        Now, I'm flying more and more privately, I'm in negotiations to buy into a partnership. Here's what I see so far:

        1) Local airport, 5 minute drive.
        2) 10 minute wait checking the plane out before flight. Effectively no security check.
        3) Friendly staff that make it a point to remember your name.
        4) Gorgeous bathrooms, with plants, tile, and free hygiene kits. (shave, toothbrush, etc) Free coffee, dough nuts, etc. Often catered luncheons for free as well. Leather seats, free waiting rooms with DVD collection, free conference room!
        5) Destination virtually guaranteed to be anywhere from 10 minutes drive to ACROSS THE STREET from a small, local airport.
        6) Cramped seat. (Hey, some things never change!)

        Seriously, the difference is NIGHT AND DAY. Commercial = cattle. Private = red carpet. And, for shorter flights, the price difference is less than you might think.
  • by The Ancients (626689) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:29PM (#22711684) Homepage
    Now even the (supposed?) lack of features in the MacBookAir is a security issue??? I knew some individuals got a little worked up about it, but really!
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:33PM (#22711708)
    TSA agents have a difficult job as it is. How much harder do Apple fanboys have to make it for them by insisting that their toys are "computers"?
  • by Ironclad2 (697456) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:35PM (#22711730)
    Anyone who's ever tried to bring a less-than-common piece of electronics through airport security has probably had them happen to this. I've had TSA agents inquire about my TI-89 on two separate occasions. Is this story really news? or just cleverly embedded marketing?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:36PM (#22711738)
    He should've gotten to the airport earlier. It sounds like he was operating on razor-thin margins, and got bit. Tough. Deal with it.
    • mod this troll but he was probably a typical "mac" user and was just getting hassled by airport security. 1. Possibly wearing John Lennon glasses 2. Maybe wearing a save padro t shirt or whatever the fuck 3. Answered whats this with "Thats THE Laptop what are you a caveman beige box wielding fuck" and so on until "Travel Companion" stepped in 4. Perhaps wearing sandals well if he had linux on it he probably would have got the cavity search, at least he wouldn't have liked it Christ i have a Compaq evo wit
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by T-Bone-T (1048702)
      If everyone left earlier enough to account for everything, nothing would get done because everyone would be waiting around somewhere else.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cerberusss (660701)
        What is this straw man argument? He's not saying that people should account for everything, just to try to be on time. This is slashdot, it's better to not use logical fallacies ;-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:37PM (#22711752)
    Just more viral advertising by Apple Corp.
    • The sad thing is, I'm sure that not only are there people who will thing MacBook Air owners have an educational MBA, but there are probably even a few people who will buy them for that reason.
  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:39PM (#22711770) Homepage Journal
    Its a real bummer that these TSA guys end up being no better than night club bouncers, but heck I suppose technology is not their forte, which is kind of ironic given they need to understand recognise what's going through the machine.

    Anyhow, my question is if you miss a flight because of these TSA guys, does your airline put you on the next available flight at no extra cost?
    • by p0tat03 (985078)
      Actually, I know some night club bouncers, and they would probably be insulted to be compared to TSA screeners. The bouncers I know are in general quite intelligent, capable of quick, rational risk assessment, in addition to being built like a castle. They might not have Ph.D's in quantum physics, but their intelligence is WAY further along the scale than your average TSA monkey.
      • by megaditto (982598) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:51AM (#22712556)
        Hey give them a break. You try working full-time for $20k/year, lifting heavy bags all day and dealing with smug assholes that think they are better than you.

        Frankly, I am surprized one of those guys/gals doesn't pull a gun and go postal.
        • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:29AM (#22712742)

          Frankly, I am surprized one of those guys/gals doesn't pull a gun and go postal.

          Patience, my friend, patience.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by grassy_knoll (412409)

          Frankly, I am surprized one of those guys/gals doesn't pull a gun and go postal.


          The TSA screeners at my local airport appear to be unarmed. There are armed airport police, but they're not Federal employees.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by halber_mensch (851834)

          Frankly, I am surprized one of those guys/gals doesn't pull a gun and go postal.
          I think the government pension system deters most TSA employees from seeking employment in the postal system, and even so I hope you don't think that bringing a gun to an interview is an acceptable substitute for submitting a well written resume.
  • by Ekhymosis (949557) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:39PM (#22711772) Homepage
    Whilst this might be construed as a troll, and my moderation hit might reflect that, you have to think about the people who are hired as airport security. They are not the best or brightest, and seeing the amount of problems that are caused by simple misunderstandings, ignorance, etc. (although many of these problems are the administrations problems NOT the airport security people), this is just another drop in the bucket. Of course, there are exceptions and I have personally met very bright airport security people, but mostly in the international section of the airport.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) *
      Umm.. they're given a bunch of rules that they have to follow. It's not like they are bomb experts. If they were they would be working a higher paid job. This doesn't mean they are idiots. It doesn't even mean they are ignorant, unless you want to compare them to said bomb experts, in which case every one of us who isn't a bomb expert is ignorant.

      One of the rules happens to be: separate laptops from other electronic devices. So what makes it a laptop and what makes it a "dvd player"? The keyboard? Yo
  • by arse maker (1058608) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:45PM (#22711820)
    Look how small it is, it must be a bomb. I personally would try to make something larger to hold a bomb, but hey thats just me. Steve jobs is the only one trying to make bombs smaller and sexier.

    Humm, and I going to go to jail for that last comment, its hard to tell what's a crime any more...
  • goatse them (Score:4, Funny)

    by timmarhy (659436) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:46PM (#22711832)
    just load up a nice big picture of goatse on your background, or maybe some tubgirl.

    if enough people did it TSA agents would quickly lose their taste for looking at our laptops.

    on a more serious note, has there ever been a record of someone attempting to sneak a bomb onto a plane via a laptop? no? then pay attention to real dangers pls just for once.

  • One time, when flying from Melbourne to Brisbane, I had two cans of coke wrapped side by side in a tea-towel (to stop condensation from wetting other stuff) in my backpack. In front of the coke was my Nintendo DS's charger, wrapped up neatly. It did look pretty suspicious on the screen, I must admit, but they wouldn't let me go until they'd used what I guess was a portable mass spectrometer to check every inch of clothing and backpack for explosives residue.
  • Just again [usatoday.com], this hints at the fact that TSA screening is at best a security simulation [wikipedia.org] and not real security.

    Meanwhile, check out this neat music video [youtube.com] (via Schneiers blog [schneier.com]).
  • by urbanriot (924981) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:49PM (#22711860)
    Everyone else should read the original blog post, and note that his flight was taking off AS he was talking to customs. Meaning he showed up at or after boarding time. Airlines suggest showing up 1 to 1.5 hours before takeoff, not at the last minute. Furthermore, I call bullshit on this story. I've recently traveled internationally and went through 8 major airports (plus 'random selection' secondary inspection in Philadelphia) throughout the world, with a laptop, Nintendo DS, two Ipod Mini's, and a case of DVD's all stuffed into my laptop bag, while returning from an Islamic nation and nobody asked me to show them anything.
    • Not always true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by forand (530402) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:15AM (#22712050) Homepage
      I too have been through countless security check points with enough electronics in my bags to make my back hurt. I have never had a problem with the people at security. However, I travel with a wife and colleagues who are not always so lucky. The difference? I am a white guy and they are not. Sad but true. Next time you are in line watch who is being searched or detained.
      • by FlightTest (90079) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:53AM (#22712288) Homepage
        A company I worked for in the past was very slow at paying expense accounts. Since I knew it was ending anyways, I just told them I was happy to travel, but they had to pay me cash up front and I'd document my expenses and return what I didn't spend. Strangely, they didn't have a problem with this, and always gave me more than I spent (but then, I never was the type to pad expense accounts). Since I was ferrying airplanes for them, I was traveling on the airlines one-way.

        So, I was a middle-aged white male, paying cash at the last minute for a one-way ticket traveler, with an airplane headset and flying charts in my bag. How many times do you think I got the extra-special treatment?

        Every. Single. Time.
    • by pavera (320634) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:50AM (#22712262) Homepage Journal
      well.. see you came from an islamic country so they couldn't touch you cause they'd get sued for profiling... They aren't allowed to screen people coming from/going to islamic countries...

      Seriously, every time I've flown with my family my 8 year old brother gets selected for the "secondary" inspection. It's pretty funny, last time he didn't even try to walk through, walked straight to the yellow feet... and they actually had him selected, they asked "how did you know?" He said 'you always pick me, I must look like a terrorist I guess..."

  • This story reminds me of a similar hassle with new technology and security lines...

    I had a Rio PMP300 MP3 player back in late 90s when no one knew what an mp3 player was. I went into a US Court House for some business and the guard at the metal detector couldn't figure it out. Wanted to know where to stick the tape in. I tried explaining it to him but eventually he just insisted I check it and pick it up on the way out at the end of the day.

    Gotta wonder what they did with the thing while I was up in t

  • Incompetence!
  • by Mr. Roadkill (731328) on Monday March 10, 2008 @11:56PM (#22711932)
    What kind of world of hurt would the person in TFA have had to go through if the battery was flat, or the laptop was defective?
  • by iabervon (1971) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:02AM (#22711982) Homepage Journal
    People make fun of the TSA for this, but it's only a matter of time before somebody mounts an Air on a pole and starts wielding it as a battle axe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dzimas (547818)
      it's referred to as a scythe, as the grim reaper just informed me when he sfhq290h H xa, . 42
  • by morcheeba (260908) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:17AM (#22712060) Journal
    One morning the fate of the free world depended on my screener's determination on if a pair of Vibram Five Fingers [vibramfivefingers.com] was a shoe or not. Never mind that I own bulkier socks than this, but apparently it's a shoe.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @12:47AM (#22712250)
    When faced with new and strange technology first

    A) Strike with hand, grunt and run away.

    B) Strike with rock, grunt and run away.

    C) Strike with club, grunt and run away.

    D) If first three methods fail strike passenger with club, grunt and run away.
  • by Ace905 (163071) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:16AM (#22712408) Homepage
    "I'm sick of some guy with a triple digit income and a double digit IQ rooting around inside my bag and never finding anything" -- George Carlin
  • by Aqua OS X (458522) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @01:34AM (#22712502)
    I don't know who is dumber, the TSA screeners, or the guy who paid $3100 for an SSD MacBook Air.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mjwx (966435)

      I don't know who is dumber, the TSA screeners, or the guy who paid $3100 for an SSD MacBook Air.
      I sincerely doubt the Macbook owner could get a job as an airport screener, they are required to think for themselves occasionally.
  • by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:23AM (#22712722) Journal
    I mean... what did he expect? He wasn't using the MacAir properly.

    The commercial clearly shows that it should be MAILED to its destination.
  • by transiit (33489) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:50AM (#22712842) Homepage Journal
    Note that the article reads like a press release, with the exception of playing into everyone's dislike of the TSA.

    Note that the "linux to mac" section of the blog has one article, not once mentioning linux.

    Read through it, and ask yourself, who the f*#@ is Michael Nygard, and why should I care?
  • by carvalhao (774969) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @06:20AM (#22713606) Journal
    When will they fix these compatib... oh, forget it!

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Mother Nature cannot be fooled. -- R.P. Feynman

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