This past week, Jim and I attended a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. If you know anything about me, you know that I began researching our travel arrangements six months ago. Where to stay? Where to eat? I love traveling and I love the process of planning to travel almost just as much. It brims with endless possibilities—a whole city just waiting to be experienced. But there is one aspect of travel that I find terribly unpleasant and that is flying. Note that I said I find airplane travel unpleasant, not terrifying or even unnerving. Not that there is anything wrong with people who are afraid to fly. I mean, really they are probably the more sane ones, right? Shouldn’t all of us get a little white-knuckled at the thought of hurdling through the air at 500 miles an hour in a twenty-ton piece of metal? Rational or not, it isn’t fear that keeps me out of the friendly skies, its snobbery. I think flying is a negative aesthetic experience, and therefore I drive whenever possible. In the car, I am the captain. I can get snacks whenever I please and am not limited to peanuts and small plastic cups of soda. I can get a potty break without having to sidestep anyone. And this is not to mention the legroom issue.
Then there is the airport. Due to our post-9/11 need for reassurance, one must arrive at least an hour and a half early in order to clear security. With each foiled attempt to terrorize, we are asked to sacrifice one more aspect of dignity and freedom. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having to walk shoeless over a floor that doesn’t look like it has been mopped recently (in response to the so-called Shoe Bomber). Nor would I mind having to travel with tubes of toothpaste so small they might as well be labeled as individual servings (in response to unnamed terrorists we might call Medicine Cabinet Bombers). I wouldn’t mind, that is, if I actually thought that any of these measures actually kept us safe. But standing shoeless and toothpaste deprived, waiting for TSA to finish frisking the ninety-year-old in a wheelchair in front of me, I can almost hear Osama bin Laden’s laugh echoing through the terminal. He may not have succeed in further U.S. attacks, but perhaps his new plan is for us to all die of embarrassment.
And now we are to subject ourselves to intrusive pat downs or full body scans (in response to the underwear bomber). Forget the fact that experts say none of these procedures would actually have prevented Mr. Explosive Pants from getting on the plane. My question is where does it stop? What will be the response when the Anal Cavity Bomber comes along? And then of course there is the irony that Muslim women might be granted exemptions on the basis of modesty. It isn’t that I think they shouldn’t be granted such status but rather that we all should be exempted, since the whole process seems absurd and pointless. In an attempt to keep from offending the minority, somehow we end up offending the majority instead and compromising our security to boot. I don’t want to see modest women humiliated for no reason but neither do I want to see toddlers being patted down just to make things “fair.”
As I tell my kids on nearly a daily basis, we are all called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. Often we must lay down our freedoms in order to protect society at large. But at what point does the scale tip toward tyranny and the security we gain becomes negligible? Points to ponder as you sip from your plastic cup, knee to knee with your fellow passengers. While you are at it, think of me, cruising the highway, 32 oz beverage in hand, and not a plastic glove in sight.