Aviation security and safety evolves and intensifies in response to failures. Here's a brief look at landmarks in aviation and how they've influenced security and safety:
Ancient Greece: Aviation's first tragedy occurs as a novice pilot named Icarus ignores his father's advice and flies too close to the sun. As a result, his wax-coated wings melt and he plummets to his death. After an investigation, the Mythological Aviation Administration rules that wax can no longer be used in the manufacture of wings and that Icarus should live on in mythology as a symbol of over-exuberant youth.
France, 1782: Passenger profiling is introduced when the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, launch the first successful hot-air balloon flight. Unable to find a Frenchmen to their liking, they launch their balloon with only a sheep and duck on board.
New Jersey, May 6, 1937: The German passenger balloon Hindenburg bursts into flames while docking in New Jersey. Aviation security officials decide that flying with huge quantities of highly flammable gas encased in a highly flammable shell is probably a security risk. In a side note, the blood-curdling exclamation, "Oh, the humanity!" also became popular as a result of this tragedy.
September, 1970: Pal-estinians simultaneously hijack four passenger jets and blow them up. Fortunately, the passengers were all released first, but this event marked the beginning of the Arab militant tradition of fucking things up for us during Septembers. It also marked the beginning of a dramatic wave of politically motivated hijackings. As a result, the decade would see the introduction of the Sky Marshal program, metal-detectors for passengers, X-rays for carry-on bags, and the movie Airplane.
Late 1990s: In response to the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, airline officials begin to ask all passengers if their bags have been with them at all times. In addition to being about as effective a security measure as simply asking each passenger if they're a terrorist, it's also a rather odd response to Flight 800, whose demise was caused not by unlawfully packed bags but by a mechanical malfunction.
Late 2001: Post 9-11 aviation security measures are put in place. Armed Sky Marshals and pilots are no longer allowed to clip their fingernails during flights. Cell phone use by passengers is still prohibited, even though their widespread use alerted Flight 93's passengers of their hijacker's intentions and probably saved either the White House or Capitol building.
Unfortunately, despite the general hubbub about aviation security since 9-11, measures sufficient to protect us have still not been put into place. According to USA Today, recent tests by the Transportation Security Administration showed that 24 percent of the weapons that they tried to smuggle onto airplanes got through security. At Los Angeles International Airport, the rate of failure was worse, with 41 percent of weapons getting through. The TSA has thus concluded that airline security screeners aren't sufficiently trained (translation: not very good). Amazingly, it took them until June 2002 to conclude what everyone who's been through an airport recently figured out ages ago.
Despite the mess though, air travel is still relatively safe. Airlines are safer than cars if you measure the number of injuries or deaths per miles traveled. If you measure the number injuries and deaths per trip though, airline flight is less safe than cars, but still about as safe as motorcycle travel. With more explosives detectors coming on line and airports, and hopefully better tracking of known terrorists on the way, the chances of another 9-11, while not completely eliminated, are at least reduced.