Sunday, November 14, 2010

Airport Security & 21st century flight scenarios

New airport security procedures just kicked in, and I had the opportunity to experience all of the various methods of screening, during recent travel.
When we left, the old procedure was in place. Because I had a total knee replacement, I always set the metal detector off, so I tell the TSA agent before I walk through the scanner that I will set off the alarm, due to the titanium knee. Sure enough I do, so I am prepared to be sent to "Area B", for additional scrutiny. Previously this meant another TSA agent would take a hand held scanner wand & have me assume the da Vinci pose (see diagram @ the left), while they checked me out for any metal items. It was not a huge deal, but strange as you stand there in your stocking feet, spread eagle position as some stranger wands you down.
Now, it would appear, those were the good old days. A few new forms of screening have emerged.
In Chicago, one of the world's largest airports, they were geared up with the new whole body scanner x ray machines. You put your hands up over your head & hold still, while Uncle Sam takes an x ray scan of you. Personally, to be more efficient, I think they should make this a two-fer by making it double as a medical diagnostic scan as well.
Just like they hit you up for $25 bucks to check in baggage, they could hit you up for $25 bucks to be able to forward the x ray to your Doctor.
Anyway, in the Columbus airport, they said the x ray scan machine was not yet fired up, so I was sent for the pat down. A blue gloved, same sex agent had me assume the da Vinci pose, as she did the whole body pat down. Gone are the days of the less intrusive wand.... now it's a touchy feely whole body hand exploration. I happened to be having a major hot flash at the time, so I was sweating profusely-- probably made me look like I was harboring something illegal.... she did question the lump in my vest pocket-- a wad of Kleenex did not go by unnoticed!
I suppose they abandoned the metal scan wand, as many terrorists are using plastic explosives these days.
Thankfully, I was traveling w my husband & he was able to catch the stuff on the conveyor belt...
carry on, laptop, shoes, purse, bag of 3 ounce items in a ziplock bag. These whole body scanners may be a few rows away from where your stuff is going through the X ray machine.
They will not let you cross over to the other side till you have passed the test, scan or pat down, but your stuff proceeds on down the conveyor belt, the other way. Intentionally or not, someone could theoretically gab your laptop, or purse in a busy airport & be gone. In our case, the husband was double timing it, gathering up all the stuff in the bins, his & mine, while I endured the bigger scrutiny.

Ok, so I was busted-- now they know about the Kleenex, but they let me through the security screen anyway.

Now onboard the plane, I had to laugh as the flight attendant made this announcement:
"At this time please turn off all electronic devices. This includes cell phones, i pods, MP3 players, electronic books, i pads, 3G phone,  DVD players.... then she said "Look, if you have anything with an on/off switch it needs to be turned OFF!"

Clearly, there are so many *things* in the electronic device world these days, constantly changing, she had given up on trying to name them all. She stopped short of bellowing "Turn off all the electronic crap, dammit!!!"

Another new flight trend I could not help but notice, is because the airlines are charging $25 for the first checked bag, and $35 for a 2nd checked bag, people are now carrying on more stuff to avoid the change. Newer & larger planes can handle the largest rolling luggage carry on, but older planes can not. This means there gets to be a kind of struggle to put your stuff in the carry on compartment.
I also noticed they strive to have full to the max flights, meaning the planes are full to capacity.
One of the flights I was on, we had to do the heave ho to force the overhead bin door to shut.
On several flights, they ran out of space & flight attendants had to scramble to take baggage overage out the door, to be stowed in the checked in baggage compartment.
So many people are loathe to do that because your carry on is your lifeline, should your other checked in baggage take a scenic tour. I am convinced now, that a non rigid carry on in the way to go, because it can be flexed to fit in the overhead bin. In any case, the fees are the crux of the problem. This was a multi destination trip, so our fees for 1 checked in baggage item per person were $150 bucks.
Gone are the day of peanuts or pretzels, you get a cup or can of soda or juice & that's it!

I should mention our extended stay in the Denver airport. We boarded a jumbo jet & the Captain announced we would be arriving in Chicago early. Yay!
Then he announced there was a "hydraulic issue" the mechanics were working on. About 40 minutes later, he ordered everyone off the plane, as the hydraulic issue could not be fixed & the plane was mechanically grounded. As much as that is a pain in the ass, I do embrace the idea that knowing about plane mechanical problems, are best to be discovered while on the ground. That being said..... we happened to be in the last seats in the last row.... consequently the last ones off the plane.
So it was no surprise that there were 300 people ahead of us in the customer service line.
I sought out a United clerk to give me an 800 number. Sure enough, United had automatically rebooked us on a flight leaving 10 hours later, arriving in Chicago @ midnight.
Well, at least we did not have to stand in that very slow moving line & I gave all of the people in the back of the line the 800 number, to spare them the agony of standing in line as well. You know your family loves you when they agree to come pick you up at O'Hare airport @ midnight.

Since Continental & United just merged, we wondered if the new name would be Unitinental, or Continited???  Other than that, the skies were friendly, albeit cramped. But as an almost 6 foot tall person with , ahem, large bones, don't get me started on just how uncomfortable it is to be crammed in those tiny seats. Flying these days is kind of like a root canal- you are just glad when it's all done.

Have you had any interesting flight experiences ?


Billie Greenwood said...

I have not flown in about three years. It used to be really, really fun for me...kinda glamorous. Now it seems like a big pain. I doubt that we're much safer, despite all the grief we are put through. Fran, I love your illustrations here!

nonnie9999 said...

i haven't flown in years, but when i did, i always had to have the pat down, because i have a spinal implant. if i went through the x-ray machine, they'll all hit the floor, because i have wires all over the place. when i need to get an x-ray, i sometimes tell the technician about the implant before, but other times, when i'm in a playful mood, i won't tell them, and i laugh when they freak out.

i have to get patted down at places like the courthouse, too. i really never felt like it was invasive, just annoying.

Anonymous said...

Randi Rhodes made this comment recently on her show re: pat downs. "I wish
the partners we sleep with would pay us this much attention!"

Fran said...

BE ~ It is really not fun anymore, for me anyway- maybe being stuck in Denver for 10 hours took any appeal out of it. I can;t imagine what it was like when they had people stranded there in a winter storm for 4 days.... don't ever want to find out!

OMG Nonnie!!! You are messing with their minds.
The bionic woman. For you they just might include the cavity search. Ladies @ work were speculating on if that will be the next step???
Those crowded airports will be thinning out mighty quick if that is the case.
What freaked me out was all my stuff was sailing on down the conveyor belt. Who the hell thought of this "security" system that sends your stuff to one place & you to another???

Anon- Too funny!

Dada said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dada said...

Revised from previous msg I deleted.

Thanks, Fran, for the informative and most entertaining sketch of the "getting there is half the fun" parts of your trip.

Having last flown in Aug 2001, I can see a whole lot has changed since then. Would love to be able to say I'll never fly again but in lieu of that, your blog has some great tips to help me next time the need arises.

I'm wondering if there's some place online to help me with further hints on how to pack, what NOT to pack (or say to security, flight attendants, etc.), maybe a book on the psychology of sardines, stuff like that?

Anyway, thanks for the heads up (warnings) on what to expect. (Curious: Do TSA personnel keep airport video highlight scans of the day like ESPN's plays of the day?)

F*ck TSA!

Fran said...

I get that this crosses the line, I do....
but at the time I was on my way home & I have a metal implant. I set off the alarm. I was already mentally prepared, because even before the grope or scan program began, I was already doing the daVinci pose in area B w the scan wand.
I figured that was a part of having the bionic knee.

I just wanted to go home after a very long trip visiting my Mom, having a Memorial for Grandpa & my son's wedding. I'd been on a freaking emotional roller coaster of a trip & if the pat down was the path to get home, I was not going to make a scene about it.

For some folks it may be an option to drive instead. But I have family 2500 miles one way.
Driving is not a realistic option in that case.

Maybe enough people will make a fuss that this is changed. Don't touch my junk man made a good point.... bomb sniffing dogs are more reliable & practical.

Maybe people will stage a revolution just before Thanksgiving & opt out & force the slow pat downs. They rolled this out just before the holidays.
I was surprised they gave the guy a refund for his air ticket.

It will be interesting if he gets slapped with an $11,000 fine. I'm sure the ACLU would be all over that.

I felt I had no choice If patting down my ass is what it took to get home.... then so be it.

But I have to wonder-- while all this fuss is going down @ airports-- who is keeping other forms of travel safe???

D.K. Raed said...

I'm so glad I haven't had to fly in many years. Last time I flew I felt it was an invasion of privacy to keep asking me who packed my bags. Gosh those seem like the good ol' days now!

As for the chemical-sensitive dogs, will the dont-touch-my-junk guy allow a big dog to get in ther and really sniff his junk? ya know, big ol' wet nose right up in his crotch, really whiffing and salivating, maybe even pawing to get a better scent ... jus' wondrin' ...

Fran said...

Good point DK ~ "Junk Man" would probably be freaking out about dog drool or teeth.

There is a whole lot of bitching going on about the invasive procedure.
Time will tell if they wind up changing it.

I hear ex homeland security Chertoff has his hand in the selling of the scanners.