Friday, November 26, 2010

Flying, body scans, and pat-downs

  I never liked flying even before 9-11. Maybe I don’t like flying because I never was on a plane until the ripe old age of 25. There is something about flying over water that gets me especially sick to my stomach.

  Most of my plane trips were to visit relatives and involved travel to and from Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey. They mostly went smoothly, but I’d rather spend an extra day and drive to where I want to go. When the company I worked for in Des Moines was purchased by a company from Indianapolis, I had to fly there around every 2 months. There was no direct flight so I’d end up having to connect through St. Louis or Minneapolis or Detroit. A flight to St. Louis was delayed when it was discovered that there wasn’t enough fuel loaded on the plane to get us there. I still made the connecting flight when it was also delayed because they were waiting on a part. They didn’t say what part, but I’m glad it wasn’t the part that told you there wasn’t enough fuel on the plane to arrive at the destination.

  After 9-11, the security was a lot more stringent. I had to take off my shoes a few times, my son’s backpack got searched in the back room once, but nothing more than that. My good friend and mentor Dale Steiger once complained to me how he was patted down at the airport. Dale was wondering what the point was of patting down an 80 year old man. I told Dale that if word go out that old men weren’t being patted down, there would be a lot of terrorists buying canes and white wigs.

  After a terrorist managed to board a plane last Christmas with explosives in his underwear, government authorities have frantically working on a way to prevent terrorists from smuggling concealed explosives into planes. The latest effort is the ‘full-body scanner’, which seems to work a lot like the x-ray specs that were advertised inside comic books when I was a kid (samples here). Some people are complaining about being seen by airport personnel in a ‘naked’ state or are worried about the levels of radiation from the scanners and may ‘opt-out’ of the scan. If they do, they are subjected to a full body search which will require security agents to do a pat-down of the traveler including the ‘crotch and chest’. This takes 4 minutes or longer as opposed to the 10 seconds for a randomly chosen body scan.

I could never afford the X-ray Specs, but now I could just get a job as an airport screener. The only down side is I'd have to look at EVERYONE.

  A protest movement has now erupted to protest the full body scans and searches, citing personal privacy issues. They tried to get travelers to refuse the body scan in order to cause long delays at the airports. The apparent thinking behind this protest is that by delaying the boarding of the flights, the authorities will suspend both the full body scans and the full body searches.

  Of course this protest failed to cause any meaningful delays since no one wants to be delayed any more that they have to when they are traveling. The only way a protest like this would have a chance of succeeding is if someone would bankroll large numbers of airplane tickets for the protesters who could insist on their pat-down, leave the terminal, and reenter for another pat down.

  Perhaps the protesters should put the free market system to work and start their own airlines with no pat downs or scans. It would be very popular with supporters of ‘personal freedom’. I hope they have a lot of replacement airplanes because they will be very popular with the ‘Harry the Human Bomb’ crowd also.