July 17, 2004

Change the federal marshals' dress code?

The dress code imposed on federal air marshals presents a bit of a problem, as described in this NYT article:
The marshals fear that their appearance makes it easier for terrorists to identify them, according to a professional group representing more than 1,300 air marshals. …

Federal air marshals must have neatly trimmed hair and men must be clean-shaven, the documents say. Some of the service's 21 field offices have mandated that male officers wear suits, ties and dress shoes while on duty, even in summer heat. Women are required to wear blouses and skirts or dress slacks. Jeans, athletic shoes and noncollared shirts are prohibited. …

Andrea Houck, 52, who was traveling through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport this week, said that she thought federal air marshals should be "totally undercover."

"Look around you," Ms. Houck said as she pointed to other passengers waiting in the food court. "Most people are traveling in T-shirts, sweatshirts and khakis." She added: "If I was a terrorist and I spotted someone dressed like an air marshal in a suit, I wouldn't get on that flight. I would get on another one."

Clearly, there is a downside to this policy, but I see an opportunity. Why don't more ordinary passengers adopt the dress code? If wearing a sports jacket or a blouse along with nonsneaker shoes is itself a deterrent to terrorism, everyone going on a flight ought to want to dress this way. You know, people used to think they should dress well to go on an airline flight. It would be nice to see people looking less slovenly anyway.

The feds have a reason for their dress code: "In order to gain respect in a situation, you must be attired to gain respect." They don't need to change to blend in with us: we should change. Not only would we look better, but we would give the impression of alertness and readiness that might suggest to terrorists that ordinary passengers, like the heroic passengers on Flight 93, stand ready to stop them. Let's all "be attired to gain respect."

UPDATE: Here's another (Wisconsin) blogger who made the same proposal, way back on July 4th. I hadn't seen that (he emailed me). I tried Googling a little to see if I could find other bloggers who'd come up with the same idea independently, but without any luck. I also got an email from someone who asserted that Americans wouldn't sacrifice comfort. Talk about being unwilling to make any sacrifices!

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