Ask they’ll such an unforgettable experience. Like me, for instance. I most quickly people recite when thethey datelast because flew on airline theflying airlines, is, well, and ust returned from a 15-hour one-way trip between our Chicago office and a client project in Dubai.I can recall—with excruciating detail—every element of the trip along the way that made the ourney one of the most exhausting I’ve had in years.
Most people don’t enjoy flying on the airlines and haven’t for many years. Since 9/11, the ramp-up in aviation security has transformed airline travel from a once convenient and fun method of getting around to an event that now tips the miserable scales right up there with having a tooth pulled or filing for divorce.One of the major reasons flying has become so uncomfortable are the sweeping changes to aviation security since 9/11.
As the old saying goes, “You’re not paranoid if people really are out to get you.” In the case of the United States, that’s an acknowledgement that quite a few, very-motivated bad guys around the world love nothing more than causing as much havoc as possible to Western interests. But that doesn’t account for all airline security problems. Since 9/11, the U.S. has its very own Department of Homeland Security (DHS) division dedicated to keeping airborne travelers safe—the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These are the people who recently brought airline passengers the luxury of being fully patted down—in detail—if they choose not to use the standard new airport full-body x-ray screening machines.
The airline industry knows they hold the upper hand here, which is why they fell confident reminding passengers that flying is a privilege, not a right. To enjoy that privilege, passengers must be willing to accept increasingly invasive security measures, all in the name of protecting us from terrorists. The core of the security problem facing the airlines and the TSA, of course, is that they never really know who is attempting to climb aboard an airliner at any given point in time, so they must secure everyone and everything all the time—no small task.
To the great surprise—and sometimes righteous indignation—of some,flying is actually not this chaotic for everyone.To business travelers who use private aircraft, even a last-minute trip can become a relaxing opportunity to get a little extra work finished or prepare for the next presentation before they reach their destination. That’s because traveling aboard a private business airplane means the flight is scheduled around the passenger, not the other way around, as with the airlines. Business aviation flights aboard today’s modern corporate jets often bypass busy hub airports and leave from reliever fields in major cities like Teterboro in NJ, or Peachtree in Atlanta or Chicago Executive Airport rather than O’Hare International. Along with the differences in how business aircraft are scheduled, there is a significant difference between how security is handled for private aircraft, and with good reason. Although everyone uses an airplane for their transportation needs, the intent of the people in the back of the aircraft is the defining difference between airline passengers and those on board a business aviation aircraft.
Essentially, the airlines must protect everyone from everyone else, from the moment they arrive at the airport until they leave at the other end with their bags in hand. In business aviation, critics—usually folks from the airlines, by the way—try to convince the public there’s a huge hole in our nation’s security system because, they say, no one knows who’s actually climbing aboard those business jets full of thousands of gallons of volatile jet fuel. If that were the case, I’d be worried too. But this worry is simply unfounded. Security for business aviation is actually more stringent than on the airlines. It’s just different. The difference between whether or not business aircraft flying is less secure than the airlines is in the perception, not the execution of aviation security procedures. Here’s why:
Before anyone flies on board an airliner, the most difficult element of the approval process is verifying the identity of any particular passenger. Airline booking sites ask for details—residence verification, date of birth, citizenship, for starters—and then run that data through a number of DHS, Department of Justice, and Department of State databases, trying to be certain the passenger is not on some terror watch list. And sometimes they make mistakes. Both the underwear and the shoe bomber, who were caught in the middle of their attempts to blow up an airliner, got past all the airline security checks in the foreign countries where their journeys began.
On a business aviation flight (notice the word business in that title), no such checks are made for one simple reason. The pilot and co-pilot normally know the passengers personally, which relieves a great deal of the uncertainty from the flight. In cases in which a business aviation pilot does not personally know a passenger, the only way someone can climb on board is if someone personally vouches for them long before they arrived at the airport. Without that, these people don’t go, plain and simple.
These passengers could be company employees, customers, or even vendors, all of whom are there to aid the company in its mission, meaning their intent for flying is already clear, as well. Business aviation pilots simply don’t carry people on board whom they don’t know. Call it profiling of sorts, but this kind of personal attention and identity verification beats the airline system hands down. This is the reason people climbing on board a business airplane don’t walk through a security scanner. The pilot has learned to trust the person they’ve been working with for the past 10 years. Pilots also wouldn’t frist their grandmother before she got on my airplane either for the same reason. The airlines can’t take that risk, because they don’t know anyone.
What about luggage? At the airlines, all bags are x-rayed to prevent dangerous bits from getting on an airplane. TSA folks still go through most bags personally, too. On the business aviation side, the pilots know the passengers and vouch for them personally—and their bags. Remember, no one who isn’t already known ever climbs aboard a private airplane, nor do his or her bags.
Business aviation critics claim private aircraft flying is a huge threat to the population because of all the unknowns. The truth is that there really aren’t any unknowns in business flying, except perhaps what people actually know about business aviation versus what they think they know. People use business airplanes in order to save time and money traveling to and from locations that bypass major airport hubs. Business aviation is a unique travel service that delivers company employees where they want to go, when they want to go.
I’d fly on a business airplane in a heartbeat if security were my only concern, because there is no real risk—everyone knows everyone else. Snuggle down in Seat 27F on an airliner, though, and you never know who might be sitting next to you. To me, that’s really scary.