Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to fly. I will go somewhere on a private plane; you may have seen the pictures I posted, after going for a ride on my pastor’s plane, last Fourth of July. Nor am I worried about a plane crash; it has been four years since the last one that made headlines around the country. But these days I would much rather travel by car, bus or train – anything but the airlines.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, traveling on the airlines was fun in many ways. And a lot less of a hassle, too. So what took the fun away? First, all the delays. Back in the day you could arrive at the airport an hour before takeoff and everything would be fine. Now you are pushing your luck if you don’t arrive at least three hours early. And that doesn’t include delays caused by overbooking and traffic; you’ve heard the horror stories of planes stuck on the runway all day. In my case, the most recent story was in Houston last year, when I was bumped out of my seat because of an overbooked flight, and at the last minute reassigned to a seat in the back of the plane; my new seat was so cramped that only a small child or a Vietnamese woman would have been comfortable there!
Then the airlines cut corners, in the name of the bottom line. I haven’t had an in-flight meal since I flew to the Philippines in 1985. Nowadays if you want more than a coke and a bag of nuts or pretzels, you can expect to pay through the nose, even for a bottle of water. You can bet that one of these days an airline will charge for use of a safety cushion, too (the ones that double as flotation devices in the event of a water landing). Next, they started charging extra for more than one suitcase in the cargo hold. But they didn’t stop there; now you can expect to pay extra if you put one suitcase in the hold. And you’ve probably heard about the airline that charges you extra for carry-on bags.
But the worst party-pooper of all has to be the TSA, which can mean either Transportation Security Agency or Totally Stupid and Arrogant. Sure, terrorism is a real threat – I’m one of those who knew it before 9/11. But you still have to admit that the average American is smarter than the average terrorist. I mean, how many Americans believe that if they carry a bomb in their shoes, in their underwear, or shoved up the rectum, and detonate it in a crowd of innocent civilians, they will spend eternity in Paradise with seventy-two virgins? Still, the TSA’s lack of a proactive response, and their unwillingness to learn from those who do a better job than they do (especially the Israelis), tells me that they aren’t even as smart as the terrorists.
Look at how flying has gotten worse since 9/11. First the TSA was created, and because the 9/11 hijackers were armed with box cutters, we couldn’t carry anything that looked like a box cutter, not even a butter knife or nail clipper. Along came Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber,” so now we have to take off our shoes before passing through a TSA scanner. Then Britain foiled a plot to smuggle explosive liquids on several planes, so now I can’t bring a shampoo bottle in my carry-on bag anymore, or drink a cup of coffee while I’m waiting to board my plane. Then last year came the Underwear Bomber, so now we have the pornographic scanners, and pat-downs that would be called “sexual assault” if anybody else did them on children and senior citizens.
As far as I’m concerned, the new system with the scanners and pat-downs is blatantly unconstitutional, and our government doesn’t care. I thought searches without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment, and even worse, they assume that every passenger is guilty until proven innocent – definitely not the American way. One of these days – you can bet your last dollar on it – a terrorist is going to try to sneak on an airliner with a butt bomb or some explosive surgically implanted in him. After that happens, will we be subject to body cavity searches, too?
Last month, I learned that L-3 Communications, my former employer, made the full-body scanners. I wasn’t in that division of the company; my department worked with army helicopters, but maybe it’s not so bad that I got laid off, when L-3 moved out of Kentucky. If I still worked for them, I might get blamed for the scanners.
On second thought, maybe I am afraid to fly after all. Not because of the terrorists; these days I fear my own government more. The horror stories are piling up; we hear about toddlers on the no-fly lists, former “Baywatch” stars and the Indian ambassador getting extra scrutiny (yeah right, being attractive and female has nothing to do with it), patients being forced to remove breast implants and colostomy bags, etc. In the past nine years, the TSA has not caught one real terrorist; all those bombing attempts were foiled by somebody else. It looks like the TSA’s only real purpose is to annoy every law-abiding person and provide jobs for people too stupid to flip hamburgers. Perhaps it is time to add a new line to an old saying about who’s competent:
- Those that can, do.
- Those that can’t do, teach.
- Those that can’t teach, administrate.
- Those that can’t administrate, work for the TSA.