Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Romance of Travel
Ah, remember the days when flying was a dashing and romantic pursuit? Picture travelers striding purposefully through airports, dressed to the nines for the occasion, the bright, clean lines of the concourse reflected in their brilliant mirrored glasses. No more. Now, getting to your plane is invariably a series of humiliating trials you endure: removing you shoes to pad through a metal detector with padded feet. Trudging through with your pants slipping about your hips, after you've whipped off your belt before a line full of fellow passengers to send it through the scanner after your laptop (which might picked up by someone else who has one of those same Dells companies buy by the thousands).
I stood there today, here at Dulles Airport outside DC, waiting for my shoes, which I could see stuck in the chute just ahead of me as the security officer checked out someone else's luggage, and I watched a 90-year old African woman in a wheelchair getting patted down; long, lean fingers, reaching behind her to her backside to ferret out whatever contraband she might be smuggling through. The nun who accompanied her stood by watching silently. I'm sure the tall, thin young girl executing this search felt awkward doing it, though likely not as uncomfortable as the elderly woman experiencing it.
In these moments, I'm prompted to wonder, how many lives have been saved by millions of people removing their sneakers at a security checkpoint since September 2001? How many terrorists have been foiled because we've abandoned our belts and tripped over our pants cuffs for a 15-foot perp walk? I'm sure some would say, "We'll never know." I'd be willing to bet I could make a stab at an estimate though: zero.
We'll probably cease with some of these measures eventually, whether or not the terrorist threat continues. Why? Because we've abandoned useless measures before. Remember the three questions we used to get asked for years before boarding a plane? (Did you pack your bags yourself? Have you kept your luggage with you at all times? Did anyone give you anything to add to your luggage.) Those questions proved useless against a handful of box cutters, and were dropped after 9/11. Because we realized that since they'd been implemented they'd done demonstrably nothing to increase our travel safety. Besides, if you were a terrorist, were you likely to answer those questions honestly?
So, no doubt, eventually, we'll reverse some of these procedures and/or new technologies will streamline the process. In the meantime, however, we'll just have to learn to accept being treated like chattel. Contented cows, patiently stepping through the requisite chutes in order to reach our desired vehicle: a plane upon, which we're now expected to pay for every additional amenity beyond our seats. Moo!