I used to be able to blaze into an airport parking lot with my turn signals actually on fire, 10 minutes before takeoff, and still make the plane.

No longer. Thanks be to Allah and his misguided minions, I now have to get up before daybreak and arrive two hours early for a morning flight to Timbuktu, stand in a long line, take off my coat and shoes, divest myself of metallic knickknacks and sometimes do the scarecrow.

Back in the ’70s, I had a rustic camp on Catalina Island, which I would visit from time to time by way of Catalina Airlines. Taking off from Long Beach, their aging Grumman Geese (Gooses?), which were even older than I, would occasionally be overbooked, and I would get bumped into the co-pilot’s seat.

I got a great view. One time I also got an earful of damn! … damn! … damn! etc. on a windy day when the plane kept bouncing off the waves in Catalina Harbor. The image of that irate pilot trying to find a benign trough came to mind years later when they had two fatal accidents back to back. As I recall, the second one had aboard two FAA inspectors en route to investigating the first one. (After two more fatal crashes, they went belly up.)

The nostalgic element here is that I sat next to the pilot in my camping gear – with a nine-inch knife strapped to my belt – and nobody gave a fig about hijacking. Everyone knew that the rusted relics would be lucky to make Catalina, and Havana was completely out of the question.

But enough rambling. Fast-forward 30 years to Frankfurt Airport last month, where I’m being frisked, and the guard feels something in my pocket.

“What’s that?” he asks.

“My comb,” I reply calmly.

“Put it on the X-ray belt,” he says.

Pulling it out and waving it, I protest, “But it’s wooden! I bought it especially so I wouldn’t have to have it X-rayed! Nobody ever wanted to X-ray it before!” I squawked.

“Put it on the belt,” the drone replied.

By dint of this token resistance, I was graciously allowed to pass through their gantlet without taking off my specs. The less lucky American in the adjoining aisle was squealing, “But I can’t see without my glasses! If I take them off, you’ll have to lead me by the hand!”

Ah, civilization. Ah, bureaucracy.

This nonsense was based on the absurd London baby-bottle incident. Why absurd? Because (as reported by theregister.com and the Journal of the American Chemical Society) the TATP-bomb-making process is impossibly elaborate for in-flight conditions. Their oft-quoted instructions for terrorist wannabees are:

“You actually have to transform the liquids into a solid on the plane. …

“After chilling for 10 hours, take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone and sulphuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. Don’t forget to bring several frozen gel-packs, a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, a medicine dropper, gloves and protective goggles. You’re going to need them.

“It’s best to fly first class and order champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate.

“Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Carrying an ice bucket to the lavatory could be particularly tricky in terms of suspicious behavior, but the explosive can’t be made without it. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide/acetone mixture into the ice water bath (champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. This will take some time. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat. If it goes only a little above the required temperature, you’ll end up with a weak explosive, but if it goes too high, you’ll likely get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

“After a few hours – assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven’t overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities – you’ll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. … Now all you need to do is dry it out for another hour or two.”

… which you could do, I suppose, by slowly stirring it with a wooden comb.

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