Monday, January 11, 2010

The Pat Down

As you probably have heard, those traveling to the U.S. will have to deal with heightened security measures in response to the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. After flying yesterday, I can give you a little preview of what to expect if you are flying to a U.S. destination anytime soon.

Ticketing went pretty much as normal and was perhaps even more efficient than in the past as airlines are really pushing online check-in, which eliminates most of the long lines at the check-in counter. One recent change is the restriction on carry-on items. Only one carry-on is now allowed if you are flying to a U.S. destination. You can take a small piece of luggage OR a purse/laptop, but you are not permitted to take both. Be prepared to check the rest of your bags. If you are flyig internationally, you'll probably be allowed to checked bags, free of charge. Domestic flights, on the other hand, are an entirely different story. Be prepared to pay $15-25 per bag. Some discounts may be available if you pay online for this prior to your flight.

Security to enter the gate area at London Heathrow--it was a dream, a marvel of efficiency. I didn't have to wait in line, a first for me, but I did have to take off my jacket and shoes. After passing through the metal detectors I received a fairly thorough pat down. None of this was too out of the ordinary and the security process moved along suspiciously fast, which made me wonder why the 'one carry-on item' restriction was in place.

Into the gates and past the duty free shops I went, business as normal. Bailey's, two for 22 pounds; select perfumes, two for one; and enormous Toblerone bars all tempted me. I had over 4 pounds in spare change, which I put to rather practical use by purchasing an overpriced ham sandwich and vinegar flavored crisps, err, chips.

Approahing my gate, still nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then they began boarding the plane AN HOUR AND A HALF BEFORE TAKE-OFF. Women queued to the right and men to the left. My line was curiously short--I never realized that the male to female ration of airplane passengers was so disproportionate. Despite my short line, we moved at a snail's pace. Between the passengers and the walkway to the plane were several tables--three for the men and three for the women. On my side, all three tables were manned by a female security employee. One-by-one were were called up to a table. I watched others being searched, patted, and prodded from my comfortable position in line. Inevitably my turn came and I approached the table nervously; being treated suspect creates a false sense of guilt in me that I've always struggled with.

Each pocked of my purse was carefully inspected, my book was picked up and fanned through quickly, my jacket was searched, and my wallet was opened. After ever crevice of my personal items had been examined, I was given another thorough pat down. Now it was the people in line looking on at me. At last I passed all the tests, no stip search or further questioning needed. My ticket was checked and I proceeded down the ramp to the plane.

The whole process took about 2 minutes, but was performed on all of the 500 odd flight passengers; therefore, a boarding that would normally take 20 minutes took 2 hours. How do I feel about this? I'm still forming an opinion, I suppose. While standing in the queue, there was a small part of me that found it ridiculous and a part of me that felt somewhat violated. Not violated by these acts themselves--the bag search, the pat down, and the ocassional questioning, but by what they imply: Guilty until proven Innocent. I'm also concerned about what this all leads to. How far will we go in our quest to deter the terrorists? How far will the terrorists go to overcome the ever increasing security measures? I fear that one will continue to outwit the other, but not for long. . . on and on down the spiral we shall go.

Yes, I can admit I feel a little angry. But with whom or what am I angry? The rules or the people who enforce them? The terrorists or the ideologies that motivate them? On this I haven't decided, but I can tell you with much certainty that I am not looking forward to my next flight. If I can give you any advice on flying it would be this: please be patient and don't pack a lot in your carry-on bag.

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