Victor’s Insider Scoop on How the Aftermath of 9.11 Has Personally Affected Me …
September 1st, 2011 | top of page

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since the attacks on New York and Washington, DC. And, sure, I, like you, have had to put up with the longer security lines and increasingly invasive searches at airports.

Though I won’t dwell on it here, disasters—like Hurricane Irene—pose a perplexing conundrum for government officials. If the government overstates the danger of the threat and it does not come to pass then the public is upset that the government has hyped up the danger and cried wolf. But, if the government downplays or is wrong about the danger, and the public is damaged by the threat then the public is looking for someone to blame.

It turns out the public wants government to focus on dangers that are most likely to happen and, at the same time, wants government to protect the public against the things they fear the most even though these fear-based events are extremely unlikely.

Government’s dilemma is how to keep the public safe while risking making them angry vs. keeping the public happy while risking making them unsafe.

It turns out that a psychological principal called hindsight bias comes in to play here. Hindsight bias says that when looking back at events that happened in the past, the events appear to be way more predictable than they actually were. Hindsight bias allows people to blame others for their own actions or inactions.

OK, end of digression and back to my personal story.

If you’ve been a regular reader of my newsletters you know I take a boating trip with my son every summer. We leave Phoenix in July (like who doesn’t want to do that!?) for cool Vancouver and travel up the Sunshine Coast to Desolation Sound in a friend’s motor yacht.

This year was no exception and I had our airline tickets purchased well in advance of our departure date. Less than 12 hours before our flight I went online to secure our boarding passes. It was only then that it hit me square between the eyes: my son Elliot’s passport was 2 weeks expired!

My mistake was my belief that a child’s passport has the same 10 year expiration period as an adults’ passport. WrongO! It’s only five years!

“Dad’s in big trouble” is all I could say breaking the bad news to Elliot and my wife Catherine. There was no one to blame but myself.

Desperation set in since it was impossible to get a new passport in less than 12 overnight hours. First, I called Canadian immigration officials at Vancouver airport. “No passport, no problem” they cheerfully told me. All Elliot will need is proof of citizenship (i.e. a birth certificate) and a photo ID and he can get in to Canada. “Bingo!”, I thought to myself.

I then called a U.S. Customs official at Vancouver airport and posed a theoretical question: “What will happen if my son and I show up at Vancouver airport expecting to board a flight for Phoenix and my son has an expired passport?” His response was not so rosy: “How old is your son?” Twelve, I told him. “What’s his citizenship?” American, I said. After some more banter I was left with the opinion that upon arrival at U.S. Customs we would be pulled out of line, taken into a small, back room where they would shine bright lights in our faces and grill us with questions. But, eventually we would be permitted to re-enter the U.S. after a scolding and perhaps an hour or two of sweating.

So I figured the worse case scenario is that we show up at Vancouver airport with an additional cushion of 2 hours over and above the normally recommended 2 hours and be prepared for an ordeal.

“Let’s go for it”, I told Elliot. Knowing we still had one final hurdle to overcome, Catherine drove us to the airport with our packed bags and accompanied us to the ticket counter. The automatic boarding pass machine quickly spit out my boarding pass. Elliot’s passport was rejected by the ticket machine so it was time to engage with and plead our case to the ticket agent.

Despite the fact that I had documentation from Canada Customs stating that entry into Canada does not require a passport and Elliot’s long face telegraphed his disappointment, the ticket agent (US Air in case you are interested) would do nothing but quote company policy stating that no passport means no boarding pass. Period. No exceptions. And $300 ticket went down the toilet as quickly at the ticket agent said “No”!

Elliot returned home disappointed and relegated himself to two weeks of hanging out around home instead of enjoying a greatly anticipated four days in Vancouver and eight days at sea.

I arrived in Vancouver on time but missing my kid and pining for the good old days when all you needed was any form of ID and a reasonable story to cross back and forth between the US and Canada.

So now, thanks to the events of 9.11 and what I think is an over reaction and unbendable rules bent of keeping the public safe without regard for making them angry, kids can have their vacation plans ruined if their dads are doofuses like me.

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