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Bad Air

Last week I was forced to fly coast-to-coast on several commercial airlines.  Beginning in Santa Barbara, I flew to Los Angeles, on to New York, back to Chicago, south to Phoenix, and back to Santa Barbara over a whirlwind week. 

Given all the publicity given to the current enhanced security measures, I anticipated many unpleasant encounters with groping TSA agents checking for bombs strapped to my penis, or perhaps a box cutter protruding from my rectum. Rather than fight the system and travel in anger, I decided to embrace it, and hope for the best.  Perhaps Salma Hayak will be researching a role as an airline security specialist and have to strip search me in a private room at LAX.

But much to my delight, for most of the trip security seemed pretty much the same as past trips.  TSA lines were well-organized and efficient.  Not a single hand grabbed my junk, yet I felt good that there was a reasonable level of security without having my privacy invaded.  I easily navigated security checkpoints in America’s biggest airports.  Until I reached Phoenix….

For some reason they take their security seriously in the immigrant-hating state of Arizona.  I was attempting to board a tiny commuter flight to Santa Barbara, but spent an hour in a security line that circled the concourse. Security men angrily barked out orders at the crowd.  “These people just can’t follow directions”, complained one TSA to the crowd as we approached the metal detectors.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please put your shampoo in the plastic bags!”  My computer case was dismantled, I took off every piece of clothing that would still allow a modicum of modesty in a public place before having my body completely scanned, and when I finally passed the   gauntlet a TSA agent lectured me on the proper way to pack my bag.

When I was finally cleared I boarded a small jet with twenty other passengers, and I could not help but consider the complete lack of common sense that infects our approach towards security.  Let’s face it – if I were a terrorist I would not hijack a commuter jet with twenty passengers destined for a tiny isolated airport, yet the most stringent security I encountered was protecting this route. 

Our system is so “anti-profiling” it becomes “anti-common sense”.  In our attempt to be fair and impartial we leave our intellect at the door.  I watched 90 year old grandmothers in wheel chairs be roughly patted down and forced to do a perp walk through the X-ray machine.

Certainly as a society we need to respect the broad rights of religious and ethnic groups and avoid discriminatory practices, but we should also use our heads.  All airports and aircraft are not created equal when it comes to terrorist threats. We don’t need the most stringent security in commuter jet terminals or in small towns isolated from major targets. (The tightest security I routinely experience is in Missoula, Montana – which would only be useful if the target was Walla Walla, Washington.)  While I don’t unduly advocate hassling passengers with Middle-Eastern names or darker skin, I do think common sense would have use ease-up a bit on crippled 90 year olds.

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