Last week, NORAD twice scrambled fighter jets in response to unruly passengers. Now, I understand that everybody is being hyper-vigilant in the wake of the "undie bomber", but I fail to see how F-15's or F-16's are an effective way to deal with the problem. The fighter escorts can force a commercial aircraft to the ground based only on the implicit threat of shooting it down. Which doesn't strike me as much of a deterrent to a terrorist. "Don't blow up the plane, or we'll blow up the plane" has a bit of a logical flaw as a tactic against terrorism. Maybe I'm missing something, but blowing something up to prevent it from being blown up, while a common military approach, seems counterproductive.
And I don't quite understand how this helps control "unruly" passengers. Saying "quit being an asshole, or we'll blow you (and everyone around you) to smithereens", while emotionally satisfying, seems to be a bit of overkill. Sure, we've all had the urge to blow up an obnoxious drunk (OK, at least I have; you may be more tolerant), but no sane person would actually do it, especially when it means killing a couple hundred other people along with the jerk.
So the scrambled fighters are a purely symbolic gesture, allowing the TSA to say "see, we are doing something." It's just that the "something" won't make anybody any safer.
Or am I missing something?