As we near the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Live and Let’s Fly will feature a series of posts in the coming the days focusing on how travel has changed over the last decade.
Today, I want to bring to your attention a recent story from Columbus Airport in Ohio that sadly demonstrates the lingering demon of fear that characterizes airport security in America. Ten years later, we are all guilty until proven innocent in U.S. airports.
Here’s a snippet from a recent column by Dennis Powell:
Last Thursday I took a friend to the Port Columbus International Airport, as I am called upon to do from time to time. As happens, the flight was delayed. I do not dump people at the airport and drive away I wait until they are safely aloft, lest they get stranded at the airport. So, with an hour or so to wait, I wandered around, at one point thinking that a panoramic picture of the main concourse there, as public a place as you’ll find in all the country, might be worth making. So I did.
Whereupon a woman in a TSA uniform came up and demanded to know what I was doing there, why I was doing it, and so on. I smiled and showed her the picture I had made and even gave her one of my business cards. She seemed suspicious in a bad movie about a third-world dictatorship sort of way.
I was very polite, as is my way. Finally I headed up the escalator toward the car. As I left, I saw the sun reflecting nicely in one of the big windows bordering the parking lot. It looked as if it might make a nice picture, so I raised my camera to my eye.
Just then comes a Columbus policeman on a bicycle. In contrast to the surly, sullen TSA harridan, he was superbly polite and pleasant. The TSA, he said, had reported me as a suspicious person and he had been sent to check me out. We talked amiably, but then he suggested that the TSA was not happy with me, kind of shrugged in a “whatcha gonna do?” fashion, and we both laughed. I left, figuring that at that moment the TSA was trying to find someone who knew the alphabet well enough to enter my name onto a watch list.
But I had my picture. That’s the important thing. I was free, now, to share with you the photograph I took, the one that mobilized the crack storm troopers of the Transportation Safety Administration.
I don’t enjoy it, though, because when I see it I am reminded of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and how our response has been tragic, too.
There will be a lot more discussion centering on the TSA this week, but this anecdote demonstrates so nicely (and so sadly) that in many ways we have regressed over the last ten years in America. Are we really any safer today than we were ten years ago with the billions of dollars that has been invested in security equipment and personnel? Or have we simply avoided subsequent attacks by remaining personally vigilant and through straight-forward precautions like reinforcing flight decks doors?
The facts point to the latter explanation rather than the former.
We play the security game, and for many of the sheep (primarily the non-traveling public), the invasive and expensive security apparatus now engaged is necessary and proper to “keep us safe.”
But what does it really mean to be safe? I will leave you with that question.
Would you rather cling to the thinly-veiled illusion that we are able to stop all of those who wish to inflict harm or reject a cost benefit analysis that places “security” at a higher value than liberty? Afterall, how safe can we really be if we have to justify such simple activities as taking pictures or traveling internally in the United States to government agents?