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Leaving the Sky to the Birds

Now hear this, terrorists... I'm not going to take it anymore!

by Rita Ayers
August 23, 2006

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Leaving the Sky to the Birds
August 10, 2006
So here I am in the Atlanta airport, having just made a life-changing decision, which is this - If I get home safely, I will never fly again.
I really can't believe my luck. Could it possibly be that when I fly, terrorists have a chip implanted in my brain that lets them know I'll be in the air and vulnerable?   Whether that's the case or not, I have decided that the freedom to fly is not worth the price of admission: namely, the invasion of privacy and the loss of personal control.
I had no way of knowing when I left the house this morning at 4:00 a.m., bound for the Pensacola airport, that I would encounter even more stringent security than I had after September 11. The long lines caused many to miss their flights; all available agents had been called in from their days off to assist in following the new guidelines. People dumped hundreds of dollars of cosmetics and personal hygiene products in the trash in order to be able to board the aircraft. I strongly recommend purchase in Revlon, L'Oreal, and Johnson & Johnson at this point. Sales will be high for quite some time with these regulations in place, especially since consumers will be buying the little high-priced travel versions at each new locale they visit.
I was lucky. I was checking bags and they let me move my cosmetics into that luggage. All of the businessmen, accustomed to carrying on their overnight cases, had to throw out shaving cream, after shave, toothpaste, mouthwash – anything in liquid or gel form – as they had nowhere to move it to.
My bags were checked three times before I was allowed to board the plane. When I say checked, I mean they were opened, pilfered through, tested for chemical traces, and thoroughly examined in every way imaginable. My purse had each item taken out and I was asked what some of them were. My underwear was inspected piece by piece in front of all the other travelers, making me wish I hadn't packed any granny panties.
I do not fault the airport security with all of this – they were just doing their job, and they were exceptionally conscientious and working very hard. I do not fault our government for issuing this decree. They are simply trying to protect us.
Time, at last, to get on the next plane to Madison. More later.
August 14, 2006
Well, I did make it home safely, although I had quite a bit of time in the Atlanta airport as flights were delayed in order to allow additional time for security checks. Actually, what we were told was that our inbound flight was late because the pilots themselves were delayed coming through security at their points of origin. It seems they were subjected to the same routine the rest of us were. These are the guys we trust every day to fly us to the far reaches of the globe, but we wanted to make sure they didn't bring any deodorant in the cockpit with them.
Now I'm all the way back home and I'm still fuming. I'm fuming because when I departed Madison, a security agent threw away two brand new $12 lipsticks without so much as giving me a chance to perhaps give them away to someone who was seeing me off at the gate. These were the same lipsticks the original Pensacola agent told me were okay. It struck me then that if there is no consistency from airport to airport, or from agent to agent, then what is the point of the whole thing anyway?  Depending on your point of entry, you may still be able to walk in with knives, guns, or bombs disguised as hair gel.  And, depending on the luck of the draw, your belongings may be searched three times – or not at all.
I'm still fuming because when I opened my bags at home, I got cards from TSA telling me that my bag had been one of the ones selected for inspection. That means that I was one of those selected at every single available checkpoint – a total of twelve in all, three per airport. Amazing! They didn't choose to pat me down, but they did others and I was humiliated on their behalf. It had to have felt like being arrested.  What was their crime? Flying on August 10? The little lady who sat next to me on the flight from Atlanta to Madison was 85 years old; she was helped onto the plane by agents who lifted her from the wheelchair. She had purchased travel-size items of everything for her special trip to see her first great-grandchild; they threw out everything except her prescription glaucoma drops, which she begged to keep. She waxed nostalgic over how glamorous and exciting flying used to be; how you were pampered and spoiled and made to feel special. She even missed the days when you embarked directly from the tarmac, saying the impersonal tubes made her feel claustrophobic.
I don't know why I've let this bother me so much, as it is just one more in a long line of diminishing freedoms experienced by those of us in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. I would like to personally thank those responsible for creating each of these disheartening losses. Since I don't have the desire or financial resources to meet each of them face to face, especially if I have to fly to do so, I will do it via this column.
Thank you to the creep who killed Adam Walsh 25 years ago last month. Because of you, I raised my children with a healthy dose of fear in my heart that has still not eased to this day. Unlike me, my kids did not have the liberty to hop on their bikes and roam the neighborhood aimlessly. They couldn't go over to the next aisle in the grocery store without me. They were never dropped off at someone's house for a visit with a classmate until I had run background checks on the parents. They didn't skip along the sidewalk to the corner grocery to pick up a loaf of bread or a dozen eggs, all shiny-eyed with newfound responsibility. Instead, they lived tethered to their car seats or my hand or my eyes.
Thank you to the still-unknown Tylenol poisoner of Chicago, who introduced the concept of product tampering to America back in 1982. Your actions back then continue to have an impact on the way household products are packaged and delivered. Now, I get a headache when I attempt to open a bottle of medicine designed to help me feel better. And, of course, I pay more for the product because the packaging costs more.
Great job, Timothy McVeigh! In 1995, you and your accomplice, Terry Nichols, chose to destroy the lives of hundreds of innocent people in Oklahoma City merely because they were in a government building and you were angry at some of the actions of your government. Now I'm subjected to personal searches every time I go to my local courthouse for any reason. And, even more frightening, I always glance around to see who might be entering with me.  Of course, I have to give credit where credit is due: you actually ripped off Ramzi Yousef's idea of renting a Ryder truck and filling it with explosives to do your dirty work. Yousef beat you to the punch by two years, planting the first bomb at the World Trade Center in 1993.
Thanks to Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who changed school safety policies and procedures on April 20, 1999. Because of you, I'm now videotaped at work every time I walk down the hall or come in and out of the building. I also have to enforce a uniform dress code that was instituted within weeks after you felt the need to destroy your fellow classmates and their families.
It goes without saying that I must thank Al-Qaeda, who so hated America that they sent members of their network to forever change our way of life, along with our concept of ourselves and our country. I happened to be flying at this time as well, and found myself having to rent a car and drive home from California to Alabama after all flights were grounded. 
Thanks to would-be tennis shoe bomber Richard Reid, who has ensured that I have to take off my shoes and walk barefooted through public places. I love following people who've just removed tennis shoes sprinkled liberally with athlete's foot powder.
And thanks to these last knuckleheads, who concocted this devious plan to build bombs out of everyday products on planes bound for the U.S., I can't plan to fly, arrive, and then take a nice hot shower with my own shampoo. 
I'm tired of listening to people tell me, "Well, if you choose not to fly, then the terrorists have won." I don't view it that way at all. If I choose to fly and subject myself to these new protocols, which change with every new emerging situation, then the terrorists have won. They are causing me to lose my freedom to have items I want with me; to purchase items on the trip and bring them home; to get on a plane without being subjected to embarrassing searches; and to even save time and money by flying rather than driving. 
I certainly don't want the aviation industry to cease to exist; in fact, my daughter is a college senior majoring in aerospace engineering and I most definitely want her to have a job. There will always be those who have no choice other than to fly and I hope they continue to provide her with a career for many years to come.
For my money, though, I think I'll choose future destinations that can be reached by car. When I consider the amounts of time I have to waste driving to the nearest airport, going through the endless inspections, waiting during layovers and at baggage claim, then add to that the amounts of money I have to spend for rental cars, parking and over-priced food at the airports, I believe I would fare better to simply drive my own car from the beginning.
Think of the advantages! I can buy cheese the next time I go to Wisconsin and actually bring it home with me. If I want to carry my laptop and my video camera, I can do so. As it stands now, you cannot check electronics and you are allowed only one carry-on bag. I can stop anywhere along the road and eat something that catches my fancy, rather than waiting my turn for a couple of peanuts (if I'm lucky) and a tiny cup of soda with two ice cubes. If I want to lean my car seat back and take a little nap, I can do so without bumping into the knees of the person behind me or falling over onto the shoulder of the stranger in the too-close-for-comfort seat next to me. If I want to stay an extra day somewhere special, I have the flexibility to do so. Have you ever tried to change flights? It is nearly impossible to do unless they choose to bump you, which they seemingly can do with no penalty whatsoever. And, best of all, I've noticed that my knuckles don't usually turn white when we take off in the car.
August 18, 2006
I've had a few days at home to reflect on my trip and read back over what I wrote about my ordeal. I guess I'm finally turning into the old shrew who complains about how great things used to be. But you know what? They really were.

Comments (2)

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Keith Kanne from Silverhill, AL writes:
August 23, 2006
How timely! Earlier this summer (July 3rd) I flew for the first time in 17 years. Things had changed, but through Rita's experience and insight, it is quite obvious that things changed even more in August. It is a sad state of affairs, and I agree with the 85-year-old lady about the way things used to be.

I think I'd rather drive to my destination, too, even if it's not a trip to America's Dairyland.

mary beth culp from Mobile, Alabama writes:
August 29, 2006
I can really identify with this one! I just got back from Barcelona and it was a nightmare. The security procedures took even longer coming from Europe that they did going over, and there was no consistency. They confiscated my Aleve, which I had carried on board from Mobile, and they patted down every single person, not with a wand but with hands. It took an hour for passengers to board the plane, a process which normally takes 20 minutes, according to one of the airport security people. I thought to myself, just as Rita did, that I'll never fly again. Maybe I'll change my mind, but not for a long time.

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