Security Theatre

Almost everything that happens before you fly on a plane is not as it seems. In order to deal with anxiety, the airlines put on a show. They’ve been doing it for a long, long time, and it’s starting to show signs of wear and tear. The show is getting old and the lies are starting to show. Here’s some snips from an Economist article (hat tip to the Freaknomics blog):

“GOOD morning, ladies and
gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the
airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is
fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At
Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is
not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those
in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency
landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not
remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the
event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have
occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied
aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This
aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life
rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled
shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets
and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention
the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with
the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always
been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere
with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn’t sound
quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by
mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on
board at all, if you think about it…"

The list is endless (plastic forks, etc.) but the lesson is subtle: every business does this. From the standardized layout of a doctor’s waiting room to the forms you fill out at the bank, we subject our clients and prospects to a little show that is not directly related to what we’re doing for them. We’re all doing theatre. We want our waiter to be better dressed than us, and the stockbroker’s office to be as far away from an off track betting facility (or a laundromat) as possible.

Of course, the show is related to what we’re selling. It’s related for the same reason that the price of a cup of coffee varies by a factor of 120 depending on who made it and where you consume it. You don’t have to like the fact that a show is going on, but you’re part of it. The most successful organizations understand this and work hard to put on a show that works. One that doesn’t get in the way of what we set out to purchase in the first place.