Fear in flight: airport paranoia reigns in a post 9/11 America


Josh Hallett/ FLickr

Sarah Swindell
  Staff Writer

The last time I was in an airport, I remember I was seeing my mother off to Atlanta for a medical conference. It was just the county airport, only ever hosting connector planes, but still I stood behind a thick glass wall as I waited for my mother’s plane to depart.

I could have been on an airplane in March 2016 on a trip to New York City, but I did the math and learned it would be both faster and cheaper to take the train. Between driving to Raleigh, NC and hauling myself through airport security in a timely manner with no delays would have only been an hour faster than the Amtrak. Plus, I saved $80.

These are just two examples of what travel has become since the tragedy of the attacks on the Twin Towers. The romantic notions of Pan Am flights in the 1960s with such comfort and luxury in the sky have long since passed for stress-inducing security measures.

Airplanes are no longer the epitome of decadent and posh travel, and airports are no better. I dread airports like I dread doctor’s appointments, awkward family visits, and the GRE test. They are technically optional, but seem unavoidable when it comes right down to it. The whole system seems inefficient, creates stress, and is sometimes racist.

The verging-on-sexual-assault pat downs and identification scrutiny we see is just the surface of the changes made after the 2001 terror attack. Although, I cannot remember a time without this, I never knew how deep this rabbit hole went.

The list of airport alterations is endless, and I could spend days explaining the ins and outs of it all. However, there were a few I found especially excruciating. Pilots can apply to be federal flight deck officers, allowing them to operate as federal officers on planes and carry a gun. After the agonizing process of being made-sure each and every passenger is free of weaponry, there will more than likely be one on the plane anyway.

That just seems counter-productive and ironic, the more I think about it. In addition to weaponizing the pilots, fees were also tacked onto the plane tickets to pay for your screenings and scrutiny.

The Transport Security Administration charges ticketed passengers based upon their trip’s connections and distances. According to a CNN Report in 2014, the prices rose  $2.50 per flight segment to $5.60 per one-way trip. Fees also vary based upon the layover times, legs, and international travelling.

A single fee is not much more than a specialty coffee order. To some, it might be worth the sacrifice of a cappuccino. However, as Jason Villemez reported for PBS in September 2011, in the nine years after the fee’s creation the 15 billion dollars were generated for the TSA. This was before the spike in price. Not only do you get to watch a stranger rummage through your intimates in your weekend bag, but you are paying them to do it directly.

Compare this to the United States railways, I can get on with bag in hand and a student identification card with no issue. I sit in my fairly large window seat and plug into free wifi, all while sipping the water I brought with me. It is the rose-colored dream of air travel long gone from airports.

When my mother came home from that Atlanta trip, she was furious the TSA took her Williams-Sonoma specialty mayonnaise. They had ripped the little gift set apart just to get at it. If her boss had just taken them on the train, it never would have been an issue.

At the end of the day, the whole setup is excessive. While security measures are important, the claustrophobia and prices just do not seem worth it anymore. The government and the TSA has allowed fear to control us, and we do it each day.

Fear-mongering is a time old political propaganda trick that has been a major part of this election. We are paranoid some “other” will come after us, and have set up a glorified witch hunt to weed out any prospective attackers who will more than likely have darker skin and a foreign-sounding name. Who cares that many of the major shootings on United States soil were done by unstable and hateful white men?

We, as a nation, need to stop letting our phobias control our lives. Leaders can say that we as Americans are not afraid all day long, but it just is not true. We live in fear everyday of our lives with business and industries built around our anxieties. The security surrounding air travel is the embodiment of this issue, so instead of adding more fees and checkpoints we need to ask ourselves whether this is all necessary.

Why is the government afraid of a middle-aged woman’s overpriced mayonnaise? Why is our mental image of “the enemy” a foreigner? On this anniversary of 9/11, ask yourself why we have to live in a world where we fear the stranger beside us and hope there will come a day when we can trust human decency once more.

Also, maybe we should wonder why trains do not uphold their identification policy, in this time of crisis. The last time I was asked for my ID on a locomotive was in 2011, with no apparent urgency.

Categories: Opinions, Uncategorized

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