Bandits on the roads

Bruce Nussbaum and Seth Godin have got me thinking about some ways to "fix" air travel.  As a boy reading about medieval history, I used to wonder what it was like to have bandits on the roads.  Now we know.  The ultimate solution would be to "fix" the root causes of the hatred which drive people to blow each other up, but short of that, how might we improve the current situation?

I agree with Seth that we can do — and will have to do — a lot without getting on airplanes.  The state of world affairs is going to sell a lot of Halo systems and iSight cameras alike.  My friend Anthony Pigliacampo runs his cool startup company on Skype.  The tools are already there, and they’re going to get pushed hard.  Expect lots of innovation in this space.

But what about the airplanes?  What happens when we have to move atoms and not bits?  I just brainstormed with my buddies Ryan and Omar for three (3!) minutes and it’s clear that opportunities abound (just to be clear, and to preserve the reputations of the two gentlemen, some of these ideas (the stupid ones) are mine and mine alone) :

  1. Brand Differentiation:  can an American airline step up and provide a substantially higher level of security than what government agencies can provide?  How much would you (or your company or your insurance agency) pay to reduce your flight risk?  What a great way to differentiate a brand.
  2. Process Improvement: there’s a human threat on a plane, and there’s a threat from the stuff we haul on board.  Why not separate the two?  Fly bags on a second airliner.  What if FedEx picked up your bag the day of your flight and delivered it to your final destination?  Lease a laptop from Apple and automatically have one available at your final destination with all your data synched up?  I’ve had bags transported for me between hotels in Japan and it’s cool. 
  3. Asset Improvement: what’s the civilian airliner equivalent of an A-10 Warthog?  Could a catastrophic incident be contained to merely dangerous?
  4. Business Model Innovation:  what’s the low-end disruptive business model which utilizes small jets to ferry smaller groups of business travelers to all the places they currently go?  Reduce the size of the target.

And so on and so forth.  The current situation is unacceptable, some good thinking and some guts could make it better.

10 thoughts on “Bandits on the roads

  1. James has it partially right by invoking El Al. However, there are some issues associated with El Al. 1) They are expensive. 2) Privacy issues are a problem with extensive profiling, questions and interviews that many Americans would be reluctant to agree to. That said, smaller, more efficient airlines are absolutely the way to go with many travelers. I expect air taxies to build business significantly over the next decade.

  2. Another lesson from Israel: don’t let lines form outside a security checkpoint. It creates an easy target for a suicide bomber.
    Now look at the typical major airport, like Atlanta: upwards of 1000 people, packed in tight, waiting to go through security. A bomb there would kill hundreds and shut down air service all over again.
    There are limits on how much airport security can accomplish; we may be past the point of diminishing returns already. Some of the potential improvements may just make things worse — if an airline tries to differentiate itself on security, it might just become a target for terrorists trying to prove that security can’t stop them.

  3. Terrorism Is Changing The Dynamic of Air Travel And We Need To Innovate New Models As Well As New Technologies.

    For business travelers, the new dynamic of travel, especially to Britain and probably around the world in general, is making that travel increasingly problematic. Our technology to uncover and foil terrorist technology has fallen behind and it will be …

  4. Terrorism Is Changing The Dynamic of Air Travel. Take The Halo, Not the Plane.

    For business travelers, the new dynamic of travel, especially to Britain and probably around the world in general, is making that travel increasingly problematic. An innovation gap has opened up between terrorists and democracies and we are now behind….

  5. I believe it´s a part of a bigger issue. Providing new security systems will not stop the suicide bombers.
    wouldn´t be interesting convincing the bombers not to bomb hiself?

  6. Hi Diego – cool question! That’s design thinking at work…
    If you think we have a problem now, just wait until those double-decker A380s start flying. They will present a logistical nightmare from a security and boarding standpoint.
    In the process category, I would offer a mandatory check-in of all luggage (carry-on and suitcases) at check-in so they get screened together. You would then collect your carry-on when boarding. (Kind of the reverse process you experience when you have an oversized carry-on and board a prop flight: you are asked to part with your carry-on just before you board). Apparently the scanners for belly cargo pick up just about everything and it would save an enormous amount of personal frisking: only the baggage handlers would need to be searched thoroughly everyday.
    BTW, so much misery could become history if someone really bothered to see how people move through terminals. Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense: we all stand in line, make it through security and then spend 30 mins or more by the gate doing nothing (when was the last time your flight actually boarded at the time printed on your borading pass?)
    There are oodles of time bits to be utilized better on airside. De-centralize security search by doing this at the gates, and invest in communicating how much time passengers have left while in the terminal. Ask people how much time they spend in a terminal, and they have no idea (I asked hundreds of them!). Perception of time is the biggest logistical enemy….errr, opportunity.

  7. What a fantastic question!
    I think that personally involving and empowering passengers would be an excellent first step in improving air travel, especially from the security angle. Humanizing the experience would make it much more difficult for potential saboteurs to sneak by; they’d know they’d have to run the gauntlet of personal interaction, which is far more sophisticated than any system we’ve yet designed.
    While the question of how to do this is another matter entirely, it’s definitely one I’d be interested in exploring. I remember stories of smaller airlines in the 60s (such as People’s Air); perhaps revisiting these models might help.

  8. I think that this is more of the traditional security paradigm of closing exposed vulnera bilities rather than attempting to assess new vulnerabilities. A large number of minor attempts, destabilizing attempts on airlines, an exposed weakness, serve as an efficient feint. Hit someone over the head once, and then feint for their head again and again while the real next threat is elsewhere. Given limited resources, look at how much we’re investing in airline security, how fast we respond to new threats in that arena while there’s still no unifying protocol for EMS, still underdeveloped bridge/tunnel security – still a limit on the # of beds/ED procedures for triage in case of mass urban cas events. And a continued ability to cause billions (trillions?) of dollars in economic damage just through lost TIME spent in airport security.

  9. I believe it´s a part of a bigger issue. Providing new security systems will not stop the suicide bombers.
    wouldn´t be interesting convincing the bombers not to bomb hiself?

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