Thursday, November 25, 2010

Radiation and Groping and Blurry Groins, Oh My!

Due to the nature of my job and lifestyle, I travel frequently.  Which means spending a lot of time in airports and on planes.  So I've been observing the growing hubbub about airport body scans and enhanced pat downs with curiosity and horror.  So I'm going to vent in the following paragraphs.  It's my blog, after all. 

My mother said something the other day that made a whole lot of sense.  She noted that people COULD complain about so much having to do with airline travel, but they are choosing to complain about the one thing that is being done FOR them.  Look at it this way:  we now pay for checked baggage, food and drinks, leg room, early boarding, pillows, head phones, and all manner of other things we used to get for free when we flew.  We put up with surly flight attendants, even surlier fellow passengers, and seats that are less comfortable than those in a doctor's waiting room.  All of these issues deserve complaining about, and we've seen some as changes have been instituted.  But the complaints and public outrage about full-body scanners and enhanced pat downs, which are there to keep us safe, is  way, way out of proportion, in my opinion.  This is not being done to us so much as for us.  There's a big difference.

I was lucky enough not to lose loved ones on 9/11, but I watched the Pentagon burn from my college campus, encountered tanks on the street corners in Georgetown, and mourned along with the entire nation.  And maybe it's just because I've been living in Saudi Arabia, where the media has been heavily covering the recent toner cartridge bombs, but I feel we came very very close to another horrific tragedy just a few weeks ago.  I wonder if our collective memories don't extend back to last year and the underwear bomber?  Is that why we're so up in arms about the implementation of scanners and pat downs?  Are we focused on cargo and checked baggage these days and don't recall last year?

I agree, there are definitely concerns about the technology and/or radiation of the scanners and about the invasiveness of pat downs.  And I think those who simplify the issue by saying, "if you don't like it, don't fly," aren't acknowledging the very real concerns of millions of people.  But I do think we need to work with TSA to find solutions rather than trying to disrupt travel by opting for pat downs.  I am glad National Opt-Out Day wasn't a success (for the sake of so many holiday travelers), and I laughed when I read accounts such as, "That's it? That's all there is to it? Why is the media making such a big deal? I've received more invasive pat downs just going to a rock concert." 

When it comes right down to it, enhanced pat downs need to occur privately and preserve as much dignity as possible for both parties.  And we need to address radiation and privacy concerns for full body scanners.  But TSA has been tasked with keeping air travel safe, and it's a daunting task, and they are not implementing these measures for fun, no matter what the critics may say.  And speaking as someone who flies a lot, I want my fellow passengers adequately screened.  I want to be able to relax.  In my teeny, tiny seat.  With a teeny, tiny soda.  Under my own blanket and resting my head on my own pillow, with my own headphones.  With no leg room.  With a crying toddler in the row in front of me.  And in back of me.  With an inedible meal on my tray that doesn't lie flat because the person in front of me is reclining their seat.  With flight attendants who wake me up frequently with long advertisements about credit cards over the PA system.  And a fellow passenger in the window seat next to me who insists on getting up every five minutes but refuses to switch seats.  And $200 poorer because I checked bags.  And, most probably, on an American carrier on a trans-Atlantic flight that doesn't have in-seat entertainment...  Can you tell I'm really looking forward to twenty-seven hours of travel this weekend?  But, and it must be said, going through security at Logan and Heathrow is the least of my concerns.  Bring on the screening!

*The blurry groins reference in the blog title comes from Dave Barry's airport security experience


Augie said...

Well said!


Connie said...

You nailed it! TSA has been tasked to do this job. People whine (the polite term) that TSA folk are doing the job we have demanded they do. Of course, if they did NOT do their job (or even if they do) and something happens, or is even threatened, people are going to whine even more. Being searched isn't 'fun', but I am happy that they are trying to err on the side of 'nothing happens'.

I also agree with the real problem with flying being shoddy airline service. I am usually blessed with good attendants and other staff trying to make things work right, but flying is NOT a pleasant experience. Poor boarding, poor control over who carries what on board that will NOT fit in the overhead bin, over-booking, etc.

Whatever... I focus on the fact that the "you have been randomly selected (yet again, after they see the visas in your passport) for extra screening" security line is usually the shortest, the agents most polite, and you don't have 5000 people shoving you from behind trying to push through.