Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Flying the Friendly Skies (Not)

Hello from Baltimore... at last.

It started this morning by arriving at LAX three hours before our flight was due to depart. By a stroke of luck, we ended up checking in via the First Class queue, so we navigated that obstacle quickly and pleasantly. As a consequence, we were allowed to ride up the First Class escalator, which sent us through a very short security line. It was pretty much a breeze -- more pleasant than many trips I've taken! (I heard it was dreadful in the "regular" security lines.)

Next we found our departure gate and settled in for a two-hour wait to catch our plane. Thank heavens for computers and iPods, since two hours waiting in the airport is not very comfortable.

When it came time to board, National Guardsman and TSA officials descended on the boarding area and lined up trestle tables in front of the boarding ramp. When our "groups" were called, we were subjected to random luggage searches by about ten of these security personnel. An over-aged Boy Scout rifled my purse thoroughly, no doubt hoping to find contraband chapstick or hand lotion. He seemed friendly albeit disappointed when none was found.

As he rooted enthusiastically through my purse, I found myelf thinking about how I grew up in farmland -- America's heartland -- a native-born citizen of this country. In fact, I was born on an Air Force base while both parents served active duty. I thought about how my high school drill team marched in patriotic parades. My father was active in the American Legion, so I was occasionally pressed into service to support their activities, from supplying beer to helping with graveside ceremonies. Dad also served in the National Guard, so I spent time hanging around the local armory and knew several servicemen.

It seemed ironic to be subjected to a handbag search with such a red, white and blue background. I never imagined I would be subjected to such treatment in my own country. It made me feel like crying. This irony turned unexpectedly bitter when I learned that my dark, bearded, Australian, non-citizen husband breezed through the same checkpoint pulling his rollaboard without getting any challenge whatsoever. Does this make sense to anybody??

When we changed planes in Dallas, the procedure was significantly less formal. As part of their boarding announcement, they mentioned how we probably already knew we were not allowed to have liquids, gels, or creams aboard the plane, and would everyone abide by that? There was no show of force during the boarding phase -- no uniforms, no random searches, not even a question asked by airline personnel.

Once aboard, there was an announcement over the PA that if we bought drinks in the airport, we were not allowed to have them aboard (you naughty children). So someone would be coming down the aisle soon with a trashbag to collect any such drinks from us, thank you. It was about the lamest "security measure" I have ever encountered. The contrast with Los Angeles was startling.

To aggravate matters, it began to rain in Dallas and we were trapped on the tarmac for two hours before we took off. The annoyance of that delay made the security nightmare pale in comparison.

But just when you think you might laugh it off, you remember how the British crew that attends this conference every season -- friends of ours, all of them -- were told on Friday they could not come. IBM announced they are key personnel and not allowed to travel to the U.S. due to the risks involved. I wonder how many more faces will be missing tomorrow once the sessions start. :-(

Some things can really take the joy out of travel.

-Vicky Jo, who has logged over 100 flights since 9/11

4 comments:

PV said...

Been there, done that.
PV

devongirlie said...

Thanks for the insight. Beginning to dread dragging three kids on a ten hour flight to Florida next year.

Vicky Jo said...

Follow-up:

The trip coming home from Baltimore was no big deal, outside of the sour woman at check-in. I also got annoyed by the security guy who made the 6-year-old walk through the metal detector twice because he wasn't "walking normally." Yeah, a 6-year-old is a major security risk.

Husband is flying off to Atlanta today. We spent the past couple days getting him ready. We swapped his Oil of Olay for Oil of Olay "wipes." We changed his Body Shop shower gel to a soap bar. His Betadine throat gargle is traveling in one-ounce containers, the limit for non-prescription medicine. And we're relying on his hotel to supply him with toothpaste. SO! I think we beat the system! No checked luggage! YAY!

Of course, he took his rollaboard through Security and right onboard without anyone checking a thing. So maybe on the next trip we'll try smuggling toothpaste aboard.

Y'know, airports are about as depressing as prisons (I imagine). All the joy and romance have gone out of travel. Sigh!

Vicky Jo said...

I love this!
click on: new security measures

LOLOL!