Airports Are Getting More Complicated

Have you noticed? For those of us who traveled out of town for Thanksgiving, as I did during my annual pilgrimage to be with family in Tucson - airports have become rather complicated places. I mean, even more complicated than before.

Some years ago I confessed to my mother that I had become a nervous flyer. "Nonsense," she replied, in that no-nonsense tone that moms have perfected over the eons, "You were raised on airplanes." This was only a slight exaggeration as our family lived abroad for most of my childhood.

Air travel used to be a big deal, however, in a very different manner than it is today. One dressed for a flight the way one might dress for Sunday church: My father in a suit and tie, my mother in pearls, and me in patent leather Mary Janes with my sisters likewise decked out in their best.

The stewardesses (we only had stewardesses then; no flight attendants) wore tailored uniforms with jaunty little hats and the pilots all looked as though they were taking a break from filming an after-shave commercial. Flying used to be something of an event - glamorous and a bit adventurous, but in a nice way.

I still have an impressive looking airline certificate dated 1959 congratulating me for "crossing the International Date Line," whatever that means.

The only truly complicated issue regarding airports in those days (pre-jetways; we all used to march across the tarmac and climb into the plane on those rickety wheely stairs) was the p.a. system: Announcements were made in garbled static so that one never knew if a flight was boarding or the airport had caught on fire.

Over time, of course, everything has changed.

The p.a. system works clearly now and passengers throughout the airport are constantly warned to report and stay away from any "unattached" (to a human) package. Worthy advice except for suicide bombers, who generally have their package of explosives strapped to their chests.

Then comes the security gauntlet. Now, we all agree that heightened security is a long overdue, good idea. The security personel are generally patient and courteous, as are the waiting passengers - everyone realizes the times they are a changin' and precautions are necessary.

Unfortunately, the security guard who checked me and the little old lady behind me through to the gates was neither patient nor courteous. "TAKE OFF YOUR BOOTS," he ordered, pointing at my faux Doc Martins. "Where?" I asked, looking around for a chair. "TAKE THEM OFF NOW!" Okay, okay, chill.

I leaned against the corner of a table at the start of the conveyer belt X-ray scanner getting in other passengers' ways as they tried to reach around me to place their keys, laptops and cell phones in various bins for a rolling examination through that mysterious cavity.

My boots went through just fine, but as I walked through the metal detector arch, alarms began to shriek while red lights flashed.

"OFF WITH YOUR -" head, I thought I heard the guard say, until a more sympathetic officer pointed at my bracelets which were sterling silver. Do they make guns out of sterling? After this, all went well except again, there was no place to sit while I tried to relace my boots. A most awkward business.

The elderly lady behind me had it much worse. Barely able to walk, she hobbled along with a sturdy, but lightweight aluminum cane, the type that is shaped like a question mark (or shepherd's crook) with a broad rubber tip.

The cane was taken away from her and put on the conveyer belt for x-ray. She tottered uncertainly, obviously afraid to take a step without her third leg. "C'mon, c'mon," the guard said. "You're holding things up!" I blinked. At this point, we were completely alone.

Using the table for support, the lady with the snow white hair inched her way to the walk-through metal detector and stopped, unsure how to proceed. "Just gimme your hand," the guard said and hauled her bodily through the arch, at which point they returned her suspicious looking cane.

I saw her board the plane 45 minutes later. Her eyes were closed and she was transported, slumped in a wheelchair.

Finally arriving in Tucson, Thanksgiving was one of the best ever: The usual big crowd of cousins, mini-cousins and friends presided over by my Aunt Nan and Uncle Sig, a groaning board of delicious food including multiple selections for the vegetarians; three rotating tables of card games after the feast and much animated discussion of books and politics lasting late, late into the night (well technically, I guess 3 a.m. counts as the following morning).

I returned home to Los Angeles relaxed and well sated - so relaxed, in fact, that I actually began to unpack my bags (a chore I have often managed to put off for up to a week). I discovered an official looking card at the top of my belongings in a suitcase:

"U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration NOTICE OF BAGGAGE INSPECTION.

"To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection."

These remarks were followed by more of the same which I won't bother to quote at length, but you can visit www.tsa.gov if you'd like some security and packing tips.

Darn those faux Doc Martins! Next time, I'm wearing penny loafers. Does copper set off metal detectors?

Fereva can be reached at fereva@earthlink.net.

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