UPDATE: I wrote and scheduled this column before the Colorado shooting, and then I was away from my computer to comment on this until this afternoon! It seems in supremely bad taste now, and for that I am terribly sorry. Perhaps the shooting makes my case stronger, but I would have much preferred to have made the point on a different day. Nevertheless, I don’t feel right taking this down because it is what appeared in papers today. So here it is! And my prayers to the victims and their families in Colorado.
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s on alternatives to the current airport security situation.
Last week my family and I flew to Minneapolis. I hate flying, mostly because I suffer from this pathological fear that someone, somewhere, may choose a line that is shorter than mine. And airports have tons of lines, most of which lead you towards certain humiliation.
Minneapolis now requires the full intrusive body scanner (the kind that can actually tell if it’s that time of the month). When entering this scanner, I made the mistake of keeping Kleenex in my pocket. That resulted in me becoming far more intimate with a stranger than I have since I was last in labour. Interestingly, my double-pointed, extremely sharp knitting needles pass through security with no problem. I guess they’re not as much of a threat as used, balled up Kleenex.
There is something rather pathetic, too, about watching elderly men take off watches and belts and shoes, and watching elderly women being probed and prodded, and watching toddlers screaming while strangers try to feel up their dresses.
Then there’s the whole liquids issue. You can no longer carry more than 100 mL bottles of anything. But Air Canada also charges you $25.00 a bag when you’re traveling to the United States. My girls were traveling with a bunch of teens on a team, and no one wanted to check bags. But my girls also have so much hair that 100 mL of shampoo isn’t going to cut it for four days. So there they were, frantically trying to fob off shampoo into someone else’s carry-on so they can get through with enough of the stuff to keep the beauty quotient satisfied.
All of this would be an acceptable hassle, I suppose, if I honestly felt it was doing any good. But when you’re walking up to security, signs proclaim that liquids are absolutely NOT allowed, except of course, for baby formula. Now, I absolutely agree that baby formula should be allowed on board. But there’s just one problem. The reason they started prohibiting liquids is because terrorists out of Heathrow tried smuggling liquid explosives in—you guessed it—baby formula. So we’re preventing my kids from having enough conditioner but we haven’t really stopped terrorists from being able to get liquids on board.
And at the same time we’ve collectively gone insane. We’ve allowed governments to harass senior citizens and babies, all to protect air travel. But no one screens you before you go on a subway, or a train, or into a shopping mall. If I were a terrorist I’d just forego the airplanes and hit the subways. If we’re not going to have the same security everywhere, what’s the point of having it to such a level in some places? I guess it’s to give us the illusion that we’re safe, even when we’re not.
I’ve been thinking about all of this since my humiliation with the Kleenex, and I’ve come up with two ways to make security better.
First, now that the scanners can detect what you’ve eaten for breakfast, why not create scanners that can give you a medical check-up at the same time? If, after going through a scanner, I could be given a print-out of my health, I’d gladly step in. It would take medical tourism to a whole new level: “See Pittsburgh and find out if you’re cancer free!”
If technology can’t quite get there yet, though, I have another suggestion. Since 9/11, every airplane terrorist has been stopped because other passengers have beaten them up before they could do anything horrific. Offer discounts to really big guys. I’d feel a lot better knowing that on my plane, there’s a scary dude I can hand my knitting needles to in case he needs a weapon to take out a terrorists. So I say: let’s get big, scary guys on every plane, and let’s stop worrying about the shampoo and Kleenexes. What do you say?
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