In defence of Al Kyder

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The Chaser team have made headlines today with a story about a prank at Sydney Airport this week. The War On Everything team bought tickets on a Virgin Blue flight as Al Kyder and Terry Wrist, and when these individuals failed to board the plane, Virgin helpfully read their names out, giving the piece an excellent punchline. (View the clip here.) The SMH has been running a poll on the prank, and I’m glad to see “Excellent” has 62%! Because although it’s Bart Simpsonesque in its silliness, the prank does make a worthwhile point.

When not moderating Sian’s comments on this website, my other gigs include writing for the War on Everything, so I’m glad most people have taken the gag in the spirit in which we intended it – as a really silly idea that illustrates the massive loophole in web check-ins.

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News Limited’s papers made a massive fuss about these loopholes in e-ticketing earlier in the week. It’s not exactly an original observation – in fact a certain humble Radar blogger made an identical point last year. (Incidentally, the “friend” that Virgin detained was Chas Licciardello, of subsequent Bulldogs-prank fame.)

We can reasonably assume that there are terrorist cells in Australia – or at least suspected cells. We know that in the UK, a massive plot to blow up 10 aeroplanes was just foiled. The names of any suspect in Australia probably appears, or at least should appear, on a no-fly list – the FBI uses them all the time. The point is that if we aren’t bothering to check identities as people board the aircraft, someone on one of these lists could easily board an aircraft. And – because it evidently isn’t obvious to the Department of Transport – that would be bad.

This loophole is particularly terrifying when we’ve just learned that you can make a bomb out of an easily-disguised liquid and the battery from an iPod or something like it – that was the basis of the plot they just foiled last Thursday. Sydney Airport has decided not to check liquids except on US flights. Because obviously copycat terrorists aren’t intelligent enough to try the same thing on flights to other destinations. So, thanks to our current security policies, you could have someone on a no-fly list boarding a plane with explosive liquids.

And as I said in my last piece on this, the only check is when they ask you whether you are carrying any dangerous goods. I reckon someone bent on blowing up a plane would probably be willing to lie to the Virgin Blue website about that.

It’s a bizarre double standard when you still have to show photo ID when you check in the old way via queueing.

I’m not in favour of US-style over-the-top security, but it would hardly be onerous for the government to require all passengers boarding a flight to show photo ID that matches their boarding pass at the gate. That’s what they do at every other airport I’ve been to anywhere in the world, whether for a domestic or international flight.

Besides, accurate passenger lists are surely crucial in any case. What if a plane did go down, and the list of who was on board it was incorrect? I know people who’ve taken others’ web bookings at the last minute to avoid the $30 name-change fee. Can you imagine if an airline got that call to the family wrong?

If this publicity gets this policy changed, then Al Kyder and Terry Wrist’s work will be done. Virgin Blue have a sign saying they take jokes about security seriously. Well, it’s their security, and Qantas’, that’s the joke.

PS While I’m in Chaser plugorama mode, I guess I really should mention that the show is on at 10 tonight, or downloadable via video podcast thereafter. Let’s just say that Al Kyder wasn’t the only silly prank we pulled at Sydney Airport this week…

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