Price-elastic terrorists?

When an admitted al-Qaida operative planned his itinerary for a Christmas 2009 airline bombing, he considered launching the strike in the skies above Houston or Chicago, The Associated Press has learned. But tickets were too expensive, so he refocused the mission on a cheaper destination: Detroit.

The full story is here and I thank M.R. for the pointer.  If nothing else, this example plays up how hard it is to understand the motives of terrorists.


Detroit? Would anyone notice?

Too bad Detroit already succumbed to Western Decadence.

I think we can fix this problem with a subsidy.

by this logic, undercover air-marshals shouldn't be placed on flights at random. There should be some correlation to price....until potential terrorists figure this correlation out, of course.

There you go again, attempting to read their minds using 'logic'. Good luck.

I don't know that its reading their minds with logic. As it happens, suicide bombers often (def not always) are strapped for cash. Their families are often "compensated" for their sacrifice. It's not necessarily that the bomber says, "I'd like to save money here", but that he just doesn't have the cash to afford a more expensive ticket or doesn't want to take that money from the family he leaves behind.

also, obviously one anecdote is nothing to build a theory off of. These are just some thoughts.

You would think a group of people that concerned with the after life would have unimaginably low discount rates, which doesn't exactly square with balking at ticket prices.

I wonder if Allah uses revealed preference on judgement day... if he does, this guy might be in trouble.

The motivations may not be as mysterious as you think - there is a good incentives story as to why this may happen systematically in terrorist organizations. See

I read somewhere (New York Times?) that according to the cab driver, once Loughner had reached what would be the site of the Tucson shooting, he insisted that the two of them enter a store to break a large bill. That way he could get change rather than leave a large tip. Seems like an unnecessary hassle, considering what followed.

Al-Qaida operatives are not james bond villains. They don't have a massive sharks-with-lasers budget that they could skim some money off of. He had to pay for his ticket so bought a cheap one. Seems reasonable to me.

It fits with the larger picture of suicides. As in Hamlet, most suicides have too much care for the world not too little.

Didn't we know this already? One of the red-flag criteria for DHS is foreign nationals who purchase ONE-WAY tickets.

Worse if in cash.

The way you can tell a terrorist from a non-terrorist:

The terrorist has no interest in frequent flyer miles.

What does it matter the cost of the plane ticket if you are going to blow yourself up?

Really? You think this is about making the prudent budgetary choice?

The amount of money matters because these people don't have any of it. That's generally why they're okay with blowing themselves up - because they feel like they have nothing to lose.

Changing the destination from Houston to Detroit might have meant he could travel a few months earlier.

He probably has a family to whom he wants to leave as much money as possible.

There are a lot of wannabes who are self-financed and not very smart.

First time in my life I have been happy about (IAH) Houston's high ticket prices.

By this logic, Spokane (GEG) must be really safe, I usually pay about a huge premium to fly in and out of there

By lots of other logics Spokane is really safe...if that's a target, I really wonder about the brainpower of the attackers.

"Spokane is in ruins! Up next, Coeur d'Alene!

That probably explains why Spokane's recent bombing attempt was by someone from the next county over rather than someone from Saudi Arabia.

If true, it was a stupid decision because when flying into Detroit, transatlantic flights are over U.S. airspace for only a couple of minutes before landing, which leaves no margin for error, and you're not allowed out of your seat during that time (BTW, how is it that none of these terrorists are smart enough to use the toilet when trying to set off their devices?) I can see why transatlantic to Houston would be more -- it's a much longer trip. But Chicago? My experience is that prices are about the same. Although I'd rather fly in and out of Detroit Metro than O'Hare. Surprisingly Detroit's airport is nicer (the terminals are all new) and has much easier access.


I thought both the underpants bomber and the shoe bomber tried setting it off in the bathroom first, but couldn't get it to ignite. (I'm guessing Al Qaida doesn't have much of a QA team in place, testing their products thoroughly and fixing the bugs before shipping them. Perhaps this is a kind of market failure involving asymmetric information, since one way or another, suicide bombers rarely provide repeat business, and don't write a lot of product reviews from either the afterlife, federal prisons, or secret black sites where their rights are being carefully respected with rubber hoses and electrodes.)

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