One Crazy Brit

What economic damage was caused when Richard Reid tried to blow up an airplane in December 2001?

January 30, 2003

What economic damage was caused when Richard Reid tried to blow up an airplane in December 2001?

Richard Reid, of course. Just being unkempt and scruffy and British — as he certainly is — does not mean that you could not be a very productive citizen of the universe.

Just consider the scores of young British rock stars — from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols — who achieved global fame despite (and because of) their long hair and unshaved appearance. They are clear examples of the tremendous economic value that can be created by young and wild anti-establishmentarians.

More typically, however, young scruffy Brits these days create problems, not economic value. Consider the football hooligans, for example, who have repeatedly struck terror into the hearts of policemen around Europe whenever U.K. soccer teams play in their cities.

But none of the destruction caused by unruly British soccer fans can compare to the damage caused by 28 year-old Mr. Reid, when on December 22, 2001 he boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. By the end of his journey, the world of aviation would be changed for good.

To vent his frustration, this young man a while ago had converted to Islam. To him, religion was but a prop to re-direct his anger, to give it some panache — and a sense of being different.

Militant Islam was something the U.K. establishment seemed to be frightened of. That, coincidentally, was also the reason Islam appealed to many young African Americans in the United States during the 1960s.

And even though Mr. Reid was allegedly trained by al Qaeda, his bumbling attempt to blow up his flight by using explosives concealed in his shoes had a distinctly amateurish, home-made feel.

Nevertheless, the impact of Mr. Reid's actions on the world economy was anything but minor.

Millions of airline passengers across the world have since been forced to go through strenuous gymnastics to remove their shoes — and get them x-rayed at security checkpoints.

That consequence of his crazy deed has made middle-aged, overweight men and women engage in some extra physical exercise in restricted spaces and under severe time pressure — as they rush to catch their flights.

Mr. Reid's action is also bound to have increased the sales of medicated foot-powder worldwide. But more important, it is convincing people who used to go on short flights — say from New York to Washington — to drive or to take a train instead of putting up with all the Reid-related hassle or gymnastics.

The lost time from choosing slower ground transport will amount to a considerable economic loss for the airlines and the overall economy — not to mention the additional traffic congestion on the ground.

Meanwhile, airport security bills — already on the rise in the wake of 9/11 — went up even further. Now, not only do security guards confiscate scissors and nail clippers.

But also, they randomly require that certain passengers remove their shoes. All of that adds up to more security personnel and more time spent by passengers waiting for security checks.

And add to the already considerable expense of high-quality baggage screeners the additional equipment to screen passengers for hard-to-find plastic explosives. It all adds up to hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions of additional dollars of expense beyond what even the response to 9/11 required.

Not bad for a scruffy young man. Not many his age could claim to have had such a large — albeit negative — impact on the global economy. Of course, not many his age would want to be responsible for that type of impact either.