Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Cleared for Takeoff: Air Passenger Efficiency Training in the Post-9/11 Era

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Cleared for Takeoff: Air Passenger Efficiency Training in the Post-9/11 Era

Article excerpt

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other security agencies internationally began requiring passengers to place their regulation-size liquids, gels, and aerosols in a clear plastic bag in the fall of 2006. The policy was instituted in response to a thwarted attempt to blow up a British airplane using liquid explosives. Initially, the TSA banned all liquids, gels, and aerosols. The agency subsequently loosened its restrictions. It would allow each passenger to carry three-ounce or smaller containers of liquids or gels, sealed in a one quart-size clear plastic, zip-top bag, to be placed in a gray security bin for inspection by TSA officers stationed at security checkpoints. The zip -top bag rule is merely one example of a broader pattern by which the TSA defines safety in visual terms as the absence of threat. Passengers and their belongings are made safe or "cleared" for takeoff once they have been seen through by security officials. "Safe" is the aesthetic effect of transparency: produced in passengers and their belongings via processes of seeing through the exterior to the interior, and a regulatory achievement: the governmental status of having been "cleared" for takeoff is bestowed upon passengers and their belongings once they have passed visual inspection.

But to understand airport security screening as a unidirectional process of mediation by the security state is to miss the extent to which passengers are expected to play an active role in rendering their bodies and belongings "safe" for flight (i.e., transparent). In addition to being an aesthetic effect and regulatory achievement, "safe" also refers to the passenger s efficient performance of submission to security screening: her live demonstration of a state of readiness-for-inspection. Just as the passenger demonstrates the literal absence of the threat of explosives by showing her regulation-size bag of liquids and gels to security officers, she must also demonstrate the absence of the threat of disobethence by showing security officials how well she takes direction. The "safe" passenger performs metaphoric transparency by showing TSA officers that she is adept at the art of self-assessment (i.e., she knows whether she belongs in the slow or fast lane) and via her affective performance as she moves through the security checkpoint. The passenger performs nothing-to-hide by demonstrating her lack of aggression, frustration, or hostility as she waits in line to submit to federal security regulations.

To be fair, the TSA places a premium on efficient passenger submission to screening at the checkpoint because the agency is under tremendous public pressure to prevent another terrorist attack without unnecessarily delaying the flow of people, goods, and materials vital to global capitalism. The global citizens mobility is productive, but the global suspects mobility is threatening. Spokespersons for the TSA regularly state that the agency considers its two most important jobs to be security and customer service. This was not always or immediately the case: "When we started we had more of a military thing," said Lori Potoczek, a screening supervisor at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. "Now we need to be more businesslike" (Bailey and Peters 2005). And, she might have added, passengers will also need to retool themselves in order to meet the TSAs efficiency standards.

Taking its cue from American consumer and media cultures, the TSA has adopted the ruse of interactivity in order to promote reflexive governance at the checkpoint, whereby passengers take on more of the responsibility for making the checkpoint function in a smooth and efficient manner.1 Passenger performances of efficient submission operate on multiple registers of transparency. On a primary level, the passengers literal transparency promotes efficient inspection as in the case of the ziptop bags used to display the passenger s regulation-size toiletries to TSA officers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.