Little Kristin’s hazel eyes were as big as saucers and began to fill with tears as she stood there, spread-eagle, while some stranger frisked up and down her little body. I hovered close by with a weak, forced smile, in a lousy attempt to reassure my daughter while at the same time trying to hold back my anger over the absurd situation. I could do nothing to stop this groping of my little nine-year-old girl – we were in the Atlanta airport trying to catch a plane to my grandmother’s funeral.
Kristin and I had passed through the metal detector with no beeps, no delays. Yet, we were ordered to step aside and endured the electronic wand rubbing across our bodies as “security” looked for weapons. No alarms went off – again no beeps. Still, another “security” officer said we had to be patted down. I gently pushed Kristin aside and told the officer that I needed to go first so that my daughter would know what to expect. I remained calm as I was thoroughly – and I mean thoroughly – frisked by the female officer. As she ran her hands across my breasts and up my thighs, Kristin was, understandably, nervous. And, then, it was her turn.
Now, mind you, I have no problem with added security in the wake of the dreadful terror of Sept. 11 – I even welcome it. But what really bugs me, and should worry every American, is the inconsistency, the stupidity, and the invasion into our personal lives that is taking place at airports around the country. I have flown four separate flight segments since Sept. 11, and every single time the security measures are different. For all the flights, an airline employee has stared at my driver’s license picture, then me, then back at my license. Now I don’t know how that adds security – remember, the murderous thugs who hijacked the planes all had tickets and licenses in their names.
At every gate and security check point, I have been asked the typical numskull questions, “Have you had your bags with you at all times?” “Has anyone you don’t know given you anything to take on the plane?” With the “increased security” I’m now asked, “Do you have any sharp items like knives, nail clippers, scissors or box-cutters on your person or in your carry-on luggage?” I’m absolutely certain that several hijackings have been prevented with this question because we all know that murderous suicidal terrorist thugs are really honest people at heart and will always answer “yes” if someone just bothers to ask them if they are carrying concealed weapons.
At one airport, my husband and I had our checked baggage opened and searched. You could tell the three women had no training in an effective search, and didn’t really want to be doing it anyway. Although they pulled out our underwear and shoes, no one checked the lining of the suitcases or tested any of my cosmetics. One officer held up a small vial of clear liquid she found in my cosmetic case and peered through squinted eyes at the label, “That’s Vitamin B, for my wrinkles,” I said sheepishly. “OK” she answered as she shrugged her shoulders and quickly returned it to its pouch.
If the agents are willing to take us at our word, why conduct the search at all? Can these minimum-wage employees really tell the difference between Vitamin B and deadly, poisonous chemical weapons? Do they really believe anyone is going to admit to carrying mysterious packages for strangers or hiding potential weapons? I don’t think so. And I don’t think we’re gaining any safety just because the trash cans beside the metal detectors are being filled with nail clippers taken from the purses of grandmas and pilots. And as far as my little Kristin is concerned, exactly how many nine-year-old American girls have been involved in any hijacking at any time during the history of aviation?
What’s going on here folks is the appearance of added security. That’s right, almost every move undertaken thus far since Sept. 11 has been done to make us feel better. So why do I fly? Because I know that many of the flights now carry plain-clothes U.S. Marshals packing loaded guns. That’s it. Put a cop on a plane with a loaded gun that he knows how to use and I’m ready to go.
I’ll feel even safer once steel doors enclose the cockpit. The only other measures we need are upgraded, more sensitive metal detectors that everyone walks through. Anything else is just for show, and only provides a false sense of security for those unwilling to stop and think about it.
Why more sensitive metal detectors and scanners? After all the questions, all the searching, all the frisking, we still managed to fly four segments with a potential weapon in our carry-on luggage. That’s right. Just before our return flight home from my grandmother’s funeral, I was looking for something in Kristin’s backpack. As I ran my hand across the bottom through the crumpled papers, cookie crumbs and pencils, my face grew white as my fingers came across an unexpected, but familiar shape. I grasped the item and pulled it from the bottomless dark pit into the light to discover Kristin’s long-forgotten scissors that had probably been there since last school year. They had made it through the metal detectors and scanners in Atlanta, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; and Little Rock, Arkansas.
All the frisking and patting of little girls, all the dumb questions, all the photo ID’s in the world won’t do a thing to make air travel safer. It’s time we adopt some basic standards – across the board – that ensure airline safety without destroying civil liberties.
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