Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Delights of Air Travel

The first sign of the new world of flying is all the people, in the area of the airport for people flying to the US, clutching laptops.  Not in bags, the computers are hugged protectively to chests or tucked under arms.  No carry-on bags are allowed, you see, other than something small.  A purse, perhaps, but not a backpack nor, in my case, a laptop-sized bag.  I could take valuables on, but they had to be carried separately  My camera bag was allowed, but I also carried a book, a magazine, my Gameboy, two ziplock bags of jewelry and one containing medication, a small purse, and my laptop.
  I'd heard that there are stringent new security measures in place for anyone flying to the US, and that I should get to the airport three hours early.  Being an obedient air traveler, I did so.  Fifteen minutes later, after emptying the laptop bag and giving it to my kind friend Terri, who'd driven me to the airport, I was at the gate, somewhat amazed at how quickly and smoothly everything had gone.  I later went through security again, because I'd left my phone in the laptop bag, and Terri was kind enough to make another trip to the airport to bring it to me.  (Thank you, thank you, Terri).  The second time through was as easy as the first, and they even let me put most of the items I was carrying in a plastic bag from the Relay store, which made life much easier since I no longer had to keep stooping to pick up things that I'd dropped.
  But then, (cue the ominous music) came the second round of security.  Several earnest-looking people set up a table in front of the door through which we had to pass to get to the plane,  We were directed into two lines, one for men, the other for women,  At the front of the line, we were each patted down.  It was a little strange, standing there in front of everyone, arms held out to the side, while a stranger ran her hands up the inside of my legs and over my chest.  The female patter was very pleasant, though, joking about how strong her thighs are getting since for each person she starts with the front, then squats to reach the ankles and lower legs, then stands again to get the back. 
  Everyone's carry-on items were examined again, even though the first security people had done a thorough job.  We were then directed into a hall lined with chairs on both sides, and told to sit and wait.
  A friendly security guy, directing traffic in the hall, told us that all flights into the US are required to do this extra level of security.  The costs are all borne by the country in which the flight originates, and not by the US.  I saw at least eight extra security people involved patting, searching, and keeping people moving.
  Most pattees, or passengers who are supposedly being welcomed to the friendly skies, took this all with good humour, doing no more than shrugging or rolling their eyes at each other.  We were told that we wouldn't have to go through this again when we returned to Canada, or for our connecting flights within the US. 
  I have to confess I'm skeptical about the value of all this.  It often seems that security measures brought in after an attack or a near tragedy such as the one that sparked this latest round of security measures, are put in place so it seems that the airlines are keeping us safe, rather than actually doing anything useful.  The patting, to everyone's relief, didn't actually reach the area in which the would-be terrorist had hidden his explosives.
  The frendly security guy also told me that he suspects the airlines will not return to the old rules for carry-on bags.  He said that allowing big bags again would be signaling terrorists that it is open season on airplanes.  I don't quite get that, but his additional remarks did make sense - that carry-ons have been getting larger and heavier to the point where many people bring bags of up to fifty pounds and get upset when there isn't room for all of them in the overhead bins.  Distribution of weight is an important factor on planes (I've been on a couple of sparesely populated flights in which passengers were asked to move to different seats in order to better distribute weight.)  It's better for the airlines to have luggage in the cargo holds than in overhead bins.
  I don't know if this man's information is valid or not, but it is interesting.  Some people said airlines are going to lose passengers if air travel continues to become more uncomfortable and passengers are made to feel even more like cattle.  It is the best way, though, to get somewhere that is distant, and to do so quickly.  Someone else said that airlines make much of their profit from business travel, and that large corporations may decide that it's more efficient to invest in private airliners.  If any of you are more knowledgeable about any of this, I'd love to learn more.
  In any event, I made it to my hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The other people in the shuttle from the airport were also headed for the same cruise as me.  There was a couple from Wales who'd been traveling forty-eight hours, and a young man from Seattle, a jazz guitarist, who plays with assorted bands on the ship.
  One last thing before I close - a confession.  I brought a lot of luggage.  Two suitcases, one duffle bag, and a sewing machine.  The couple from Wales have done several long cruises, and they each had one suitcase and a small bag.  Of course, they probably their suitcases probably weren't crammed full with books and fabric.


  1. I agree that a lot of these security measures seem designed more to make people feel safe than to actually make people safe. And I do see people bring enormous bags into the airplane cabin and complain when they don't fit in the overhead bins, although I don't know if carryon luggage will continue to be so strongly controlled.

  2. This is very interesting, Judy. Yesterday we sent my eighteen-year-old and his friends on their working holiday to NZ. I've been wondering what had changed security-wise, besides the limited carry-on bags. You've given me much more information than I'll ever get from the kids. With the windchill it's -30C. Wish I was with you!