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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

Airline Travel Isn't Fun Anymore

The future of flight

Donít get me wrong, Iím not afraid to fly. Twice in recent years, I have gone for a ride in a private plane. Nor am I worried about a plane crash; we haven't had one make headlines around the country since the one that happened right here in Lexington, in 2006 (except for the 2009 splashdown in the Hudson River, where everyone survived). But these days I would much rather travel by car, bus, train, or even by boat -- anything but the airlines.


Back in the 1970s and 80s, flying with an airline wasn't a hassle. If you're too young to remember flying in those days, click on the link above.

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 donít arrive at least three hours early. And that doesnít include delays caused by overbooking and traffic; youíve heard the horror stories of planes stuck on the runway all day.

Then the airlines cut corners, in the name of the bottom line. I havenít 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, it will be terribly overpriced. Next, they started charging extra for more than one suitcase in the cargo hold. But they didnít stop there; now you have to pay extra if you put one suitcase in the hold. And youíve probably heard about the airline that charges you extra for carry-on bags. Maybe the day is coming when an airline will even charge extra for use of the oxygen masks or safety cushions!

Along came September 11, and one of the things the government did in response was to create the color-coded alarm system. What a joke. Maybe even a kid can understand that red is worse than orange, and that green is the best situation to be in, but they never made it clear what we're supposed to do when the color changes. Jay Leno once suggested that the color "plaid" should be added to the code, so we'll know when the danger is coming from Scotland! And with the explosive liquid scare of 2006, the color went to orange and stayed there for the next four years. Are we really supposed to believe the terrorist threat was high for all that time? I for one stopped paying attention, except to wonder if it would ever go to blue or green again. Nope. It looks like the government eventually realized the color scheme wasn't working, because they dropped it in 2010.

Sesame Street characters by color
The Sesame Street version of the color-coded alarm system.

But the worst party-pooper of all has to be the TSA, which can mean Transportation Security Agency, Totally Stupid and Arrogant, or Testicle Safety Assessors. Sure, terrorism is a real threat -- Iím 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 TSAís lack of a proactive response, and their unwillingness to learn from those who do a better job than they do, tells me that they arenít even as smart as the terrorists.

Look at how flying has gotten worse since the TSA was created. First, because the 9/11 hijackers were armed with box cutters, we cannot carry anything that has a blade, not even a butter knife or nail clipper. Anything that looks like a weapon is out, too, including charm bracelets and inch-long toy guns. Well, the terrorists responded to that by sending 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 blow up several planes with a liquid explosive. The terrorists probably wouldn't have gotten away with it--the instructions for putting together the explosive were as complicated as anything Rube Goldberg thought up--but because of that plot, now I canít bring a shampoo bottle in my carry-on bag anymore, or carry a cup of coffee past the security gate. Then in 2009 came the Underwear Bomber, so now we have to choose between pornographic scanners that emit unsafe levels of radiation, or pat-downs that would be called "sexual assault" if anybody else did them to children and senior citizens. Either way, the TSA perverts have got us. You may have heard the new term coined to describe the passenger screening process -- "gate rape."

As far as Iím concerned, the new system with the scanners and pat-downs is blatantly unconstitutional, and our government doesnít 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 airplane with a butt bomb or some explosive surgically implanted in him. After that happens, will we be subject to body cavity searches, too?

It's not hard to see why our government doesn't care. Most members of that aristocracy don't get the same treatment when they fly (though Barney Frank would enjoy the pat-downs). Funny, when I look at the reckless spending Congress has passed since the twenty-first century began, I could make a case that Congress is doing more harm to the country than the terrorists could inflict. Nor do they care how these procedures will hurt the airlines, when passengers like myself choose to travel some other way; not even business-minded Republicans are speaking up for the airlines. Therefore I don't expect the politicians will be on our side until a major airline goes out of business because of the TSA. All the more reason why we need a law or constitutional amendment to stop Congress from passing laws that they themselves aren't subject to, but that's a topic for another essay.

Well, there is a simple, but politically incorrect alternative to our screening process that is much more efficient -- profiling. I think it's safe to say that no child is likely to be a terrorist, and women traveling with their kids aren't terrorists, either. As for senior citizens, only among the Palestinians do we find old men and women eager to become martyrs. My goodness, the TSA was even screening pilots for a while, until it was pointed out that a pilot doesn't need a weapon to bring the plane down, if he decides to go out in a blaze of glory. There have been exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority of terrorists are Moslem men between the ages of 17 and 40. As Don Feder put it a few years ago:

"Would you be more likely to have an anxiety attack at 20,000 feet if the passenger seated next to you was: A) An Irish nun saying the Rosary? B) A Mormon missionary in regulation white shirt and narrow, black tie? C) A Hari Krishna in a standard-issue saffron robe? or D) A bearded bloke of Middle Eastern complexion holding a well-thumbed Koran?"

I'm sure that some people reading this will say, "Wait a minute, why single out Moslems? Christians are just as bad!" Oh, really? In my essay calling for an Islamic reformation, I noted that most religions can turn militant under the right conditions. But the point is that other religions aren't the problem right now; when was the last time you heard that a militant Christian/Jew/Buddhist/Hindu/environmentalist hijacked a plane? I will call for the profiling of Amish, Scientologists, Confucians, Wiccans, or whomever, when those groups become a problem for flight safety. Those currently worried about Christians are playing the moral equivalency game, like the time in May 2010 when Tavis Smiley of PBS claimed that more Christians than Moslems blow up people every day, but failed to give a credible example of what he was talking about (he mentioned the Columbine massacre, but that was perpetrated by atheists, not Christians). Well, go to note #9 on this page to see what I think about moral equivalency.

Political correctness is the opposite of what we used to call common sense, and it's going to kill us someday if we let it run its course. Consider the situation of a police chief who lives in a town that is half Buddhist, half Moslem. If he doesn't have enough cops to patrol every neighborhood regularly, and the Buddhists are overwhelmingly law-abiding, where is he going to concentrate his limited resources? It's the same story with airline safety. We'll do a much more efficient job if the TSA concentrates its attention on those who travel without luggage, buy one-way tickets, come from countries that are known trouble spots, or otherwise fit the description of a typical terrorist. If our government wants advice on how to screen passengers this way, just ask the Israelis how they do it; no El Al plane has been hijacked in decades.

Santa Claus with the TSA

And if you still don't think that profiling is better than "gate rape," there's another option, but you might find it even more politically incorrect. Let the pilot and crew carry guns, or have armed air marshalls fly more often. Then you can expect to hear in-flight announcements like this one.

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. A classic example of the cure being worse than the disease. Since its creation, the TSA has not caught one real terrorist. The only two things that have made air travel safer since 9/11 are reinforced cockpit doors, and passengers willing to subdue hijackers; the TSA did not provide either of these. It looks like the TSAís 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 whoís competent:

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