Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The skies are friendly, it's the ground that'll get you
The FAA's directive to start screening all luggage by Friday has sent reporters back to the airports. Well, great! I'd like a closer look at the people who are doing the screening -- who are they, how are they trained...

What? What's that? That's not what the stories are about? They're about how travelers feel about the longer lines this will probably create? And this informal, unscientific (yet highly influential, since it's on television) survey reports...what?

"I think it's a great idea." "We flight attendants have been lobbying for this for years." "Considering the recent events, I agree with it." "Well, it'll be inconvenient, of course, but it's worth it for the additional security."

I think the national press is just bound and determined not to cover the actual story here.

Flying is already unpleasant. How often do you meet an airline employee who actually cares whether you make your flight? Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the best you can hope for is indifference. Veiled hostility is not uncommon.

Airport security's only job is to keep you off the plane: If they do that, they win. Failing that, they can keep some of your belongings off the plane -- or at least, they get to paw through them while you wait.

Theft prevention is nobody's job. What are you going to say when you get to your gate and your cell phone is missing (assuming you notice that soon)? You could go back and complain, but you'd probably miss your flight. And your only hope of getting it back is if the security guard took it himself.

Now, what has changed?

The same security people are still there. You know, the "undertrained minimum-wage workers" who were there before September 11? The ones they were going to replace when we federalized airport security and put Real Professionals in place? They're still there, grandfathered into place. They have far more work to do, little additional training, no additional pay, and now that they're federal employees, they're almost impossible to fire.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that airport security is far more invasive, and no more effective. Senators are pantsed, pilots have their nail clippers confiscated, and your confidential essentials are publicly frisked with bored condescension and glacial speed. Time saved by flying is lost in lines. Travelers are dehumanized at best, infuriated and humiliated at worst. Yes, I realize anecdotal evidence (a nice way of saying "somebody said...") isn't conclusive.

But the television reporters couldn't find one passenger to say any of that?

[Disclaimer: I don't fly. The swift travel time and the coolness of actually being airborne is far outweighed by the miserable experience of getting to the airport and dealing with the people who work at the airport. (And the killer headache I get in a pressurized cabin.) But that's just me.]

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