January 04, 2010

Air Travel: Then and Now


Sky Hostess I first flew on a plane in probably 1988.  It was continental airlines from San Francisco, Ca to St. Louis MO.  I would have been 11, and I was returning from my summer spent with my Dad and Grandpa in CA.   We walked into the airport, and went to the ticket counter. A ticket agent found our reservation,and printed out our tickets and boarding passes.  They told you to lock your checked luggage, then took our checked baggage and threw it on a conveyor.    We carried our carry on bags to the terminal.  Placed the baggage on a conveyor to run through an X ray machine, emptied our pockets of our keys, change, and pocket knives (I am almost sure I had a knife on me, I remember it, and yes I carried a sharp knife in my pocket to school and elsewhere starting at about age 10) and walked through the scanner, picked up our luggage and proceeded to the gate area where we then boarded the plane and went about our lives.  Total check in time, 30 minutes, Security screening, 1 minute.  Hijackings happened but usually only on flights with overseas destinations, or from one crappy country to another crappy country.  We were unafraid.  Our President did not negotiate with terrorists, we shot them in the head and moved on.

I flew by myself for the first time in probably 1990.  It was a Southwest flight from Los Angeles through Phoenix with a connection, final destination St. Louis, Mo.  By this time having knives in your pocket was verboten.  It seemed somewhat sensible, so I put the knife in the checked baggage.  Southwest was different, you had your ticket and so you went directly to your gate bypassing the ticket counter.  The gate agent gave you a boarding pass.  Anyone in the world could go to the gate, no ticket needed, nothing needed. We checked my checked baggage at the curb, Dad carried one of my carry-ons.   We took off our belts (it was easier, we both used to sport the big cowboy buckles), dropped our change in the bowl threw my carry-on on the Metal detector belt; no buzzers buzzed so we were cool. Dad walked me to my gate got my boarding pass and waited until I boarded the plane.   This was common practice.  Total time Check in, 5 minutes, total security screening 1 minute.  Because I was under 14 I had a seriously HOT stewardess (that is what they were called back then) who was not officially on flight duty, I know because she was out of uniform and was instead wearing black shiny spandex pants, escort me across the Phoenix airport holding my hand the whole way to my gate.  There was NO way I would have gotten lost following that rear-end, I assure you, but I digress.

I made that trip several more times over the next few years, although never holding the hand of, and being accompanied by, such a lovely escort.  And it was the same old drill, time after time.

Then 9/11 happened.  Now you would not-so-randomly be pulled out of line at the gate and inspected.    White young guy –check, old white lady – check. Middle aged black man- check.  Three dudes wearing towels on their heads praising allah and giving us dirty looks- check.  It was ridiculous.

Then some moron tried to blow up a plane using something in a shampoo bottle. And instead of picking out the swarthy allah worshippers for a little extra attention,  Now we have to put everything in a baggie.  No containers larger than 2 oz.  Although as long as you have liquid in a baggie you are usually ok to put other liquids in your bag, because the water heads in the TSA don’t look for that.

Then some dirtbag tried to blow up his shoes.  So now we have to go through the indignity of taking off our shoes as well, while going through the other mind numbing processes.  We would not want to treat anyone differently.  Now little old ladies get frisked right along with achmed the camel riding bomb maker.  I shit you not I saw the Hulkster, Hulk Hogan, getting patted down and wanded in the Memphis airport two years ago.  I think Hulk is about as far from the plane blowing up terrorist sort as it gets. 

Oh yeah average security time 30 minutes.  That is if they decide that my many -work required- gadgets and cables and chargers do not scare them and they have to dump everything I carry onto the table and look at it like monkeys doing calculus for five minutes.  Then they usually say something intelligent like, “if you didn't carry all of this stuff…”  to which I usually say, “If i didn’t carry all this stuff there would be no reason for the trip, which I would appreciate right now.”  But they are just trying to do their jobs with the stupid rules they have been saddled with.

So now some A-hole tries to blow up his fruit of the looms and every traveler in the U.S. is probably going to have to go through the (slow) full body scanner, and air puffers.  WHY?  For the FEELING of security.  Everyone knows this. 

If we wanted to have more than the illusion of security we would make a certified traveler program.  That way business travelers on domestic flights, like me, who have never been arrested, look like a cornfed midwesterner and have been employed at the same company for over ten years, travel every month,  and do not even know the proper spelling for the Koran?…Quaran? can just do it like back in the days and go on about our business.  Let the tourists and other infrequent travelers go through a different line and give them a little more attention.  Pull out anyone that  *gasp* fits the profile a full inspection and lets be SAFE.  Let them be sniffed by dogs…leave me, and granny, alone.

What we are doing now is letting the Terrorists win.  Their goal is to change our way of life and we are letting them. 


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