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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Begging For Mercy

By Karen Swift

Can we all agree that going anywhere on earth by plane nowadays is an experience bereft of any sort of charm? Let’s admit, right here, right now, that no matter what the destination, be it Cleveland or Beirut, flying there is as pleasant as being set upon by stinging bugs?

Though it’s popular to complain about the lines to check bags, the inconvenience of having to strip down at the security checkpoint, the violation of the x-ray machines, the irritable gate agents and most certainly the TSA, I think the blame belongs elsewhere.

In the immortal words of Pogo: I have met the enemy and they are us.

It’s been more than 10 years since the towers went down. How many years will it be before the average traveler realizes that the rules are here to stay?

No, you are not going to be able to take that Swiss Army Knife onto the plane. Nor the wine. Nor the Gatorade. Nor the Chanel Number 5, no matter what it cost or how thirsty you are.

Will those people in front of me at security ever learn that they can’t go through while wearing a coat?

And, please, I beg of you, do not wear lace-up shoes or boots to the airport! What planet do all these people live on where they have never heard that, unless they are under the age of 10 or over the age of 70, the shoes must come off?

Can they not at the very least read the 50 signs leading to the screening station that tell them these very same rules? Perhaps they are illiterate or blind. But are they all deaf as well as blind?

Must be, because no matter how many times the poor TSA guy screams it out that all coins must come out of pockets, they still forget to remove them!

Just picture, if you will, how different the experience might be if you were in line behind my imaginary friend PT - Perfect Traveler.

PT removes his coat and belt while waiting in line. PT steps up to the bins, places the plastic baggie filled with containers (three ounces or less) into a tray. PT then removes his shoes and adds them to the tray. His coat, folded, is placed on top of the baggie and the shoes.

Then PT takes a laptop out of his bag and puts it alone into a second tray. All these steps are completed with precision that can only be gained from forethought.

There are no coins to remove from pockets because PT did it before arriving at the checkpoint while standing in line. Slick as a whistle, Perfect Traveler lifts a regulation size carry-on bag onto the belt, waits for it to be drawn into the machine, adds the two trays behind the bag and then steps briskly to the x-ray, turning to his right and raising his arms overhead at the same moment.

Is this too much to ask?

Yes. It. Is. They can’t get it. Instead they “forget” to remove their belt. They argue about the bottle of water. The process of removing their own shoes befuddles them. The screener must view, reverse and review their bag that apparently contains at least one, if not two, forbidden items.

Once through the line, what level of intelligence is required to understand that removing one’s belongings and oneself from the belt area will enable everybody behind to move along? Just think. Just read. Plan ahead. Move out of the way. But no…

What’s the most asinine thing you’ve ever witnessed at the security checkpoint? I bet those overworked, underappreciated TSA agents have some stories to tell! If you ask me, every single one of them has the patience of a saint. How do they resist smacking themselves in the head over and over as they see the look of total surprise on the faces of travelers who must turn around because their shoes are still on their feet, or they have 15 nickels in their pants pocket?

What miracle of modern chemistry do the TSA personnel ingest to put up with this over and over again? I can’t imagine. I just know I couldn’t do it all day long. I’m struggling with doing it once, as a passenger.

All this stubborn resistance is wearing. It makes travel twice as annoying as it once was and means we all arrive feeling put-upon, grouchy and ready to explode. The rules are here to stay. Following them is possible, no matter your age or experience.

Just do it, please.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Karen - You have written a terrific dissertation on why my wife and I no longer fly. We now rent the video.

Soon we hope to travel again - but only after the technology is perfected to 'beam' us to Italy, etc! - Sandy

Couldn't agree more. But I do find it interesting that TSA agents often give me different directions - one computer per tub vs. all electronics in one tub and is a tablet a computer? When I take off my shoes the agent says I don't need to; then on the return trip a agent demands I take off my shoes. So, I will continue to take off my shoes, place my laptop in a bin, and leave my tablet and cell phone in my carry on bag - at least until the next TSA agent tells me differently.

Sidney and Sandy - It's really confusing in Europe where every airport has different requirements for shoes, especially. As for tubs - I try to think about the screener and why we must subdivide in the first place. Don't stack unless it's clothes.

We usually just look at the folks entering ahead of us and follow suit.

The real issue is not what one does, but that one pays attention in the first place instead of entering in a fog.


Since my knee replacement I set off the alarm and then I have to be patted down. If I travel alone I have not one to watch my tubs and bags and I have to stand in one place not touch anything and wait for TSA to process me meanwhile all my possessions are at risk for being stolen. I'm not flying anywhere until I can be secure in my person and belongings.

We Americans grumble and fuss a lot. But there are other nations where people just get in line and do what's needed and don't give it a second thought. Our younger generation won't care either. It's because we remember "the good old days" when people got on the plane and off with no fuss at all. Then in the 70s thing changed. The tragedy is not that we are not PTs, that the TSA can't agree on what is needed or not, or that we are inconvenienced. The tragedy is that we need to have this kind of security at all. Oh well.

Your essay was so well written. I hope to read more from you here.

The trick to keeping yourself from upset is to get to the airport an extra 1/2 hour early and expect those problems. Since you are early you can actually get a convenient and comfortable seat by the gate and relax patiently. Maybe learn to meditate or walk the terminal for exercise (like mall walking).

Are you directing this advice to me? We arrive 2 hours early for all international flights, 11/2 hours early, minimum, for domestic. Doesn't solve the problem of the tiresome, Groundhog Day- like slog through security. However, any additional serenity would be welcomed.

Thank you for your hat tip.


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