Whenever we make our annual, epic, far-too-long roadtrip to the Midwest, people tell us we’re crazy. Why don’t you fly, they ask. Which is a legitimate question, I suppose, since one can fly in one day what we can drive in….three.
But, really, have you flown lately?
Because I have, and let me just say that this once exciting experience from my youth, has turned into something rather awful.
There’s of course the matter of ‘security’ which, since 2001, has probably been complained about enough. To no avail. But, as one traveler described, it really is ‘a big joke.’
A few weeks ago, I checked in at the Indianapolis airport with a bag of Pacific Sea Salt in my carry on. I know it sounds odd, but I’d just stocked up at Penzey’s and I was so worried about exceeding that 50lb bag weight limit, that I put the salt in my carry on instead of my suitcase. Because that salt weighed at least a pound.
Sure enough, as I stood in security, at the end of the conveyor belt – without my shoes, my belt, my scarf; having just exited a chamber that undoubtedly violated my non-existing rights to see if I was harboring anything illegal, I saw that my little green carry on had been flagged. The guy monitoring the screen, showed the guy searching the bags what he’d seen.
I watched as the bag-searcher carefully unzipped the top compartment of my bag and unearthed the sealed, labeled, wrapped-in-a-Ziploc-bag salt. Half-amused by the situation, I had an overwhelming urge to tell the guy he could keep the $4 bag of salt. But I kind of wanted the salt because my supply is nearly depleted, so I stood there. And waited while he did the ‘rub’ test on my hermetically sealed bag of Penzey’s sea salt. It’s the test where they rub some special paper over the offensive article and allow it to be analyzed by a machine before letting you walk to your gate with your dumb bag of salt.
Thankfully, the machine determined that the salt was unlikely to be utilized in bringing harm to anyone on the Indianapolis-to-Minneapolis flight.
I wheeled my cleared carry on to the gate where I sat, waiting for my flight to depart. Shortly before departure three TSA employees arrived, pushing a mobile cart. ‘They’re going to select people at random,’ the gate attendant essentially told us, followed with that oft-heard threat of this post nine-eleven era, ‘your cooperation is appreciated.’
Sure enough, I was ‘randomly’ selected for violation by the female employee. She patted me down. Front. Back. Legs. Right in the terminal. ‘Back of my hand,’ she assured me, as if her touching my butt and my chest with the back of her hand somehow made it less invasive, less ‘can you believe I’m being frisked in the terminal after having gone through security?
After ‘testing’ the residue from my clothes, the machine predicted I was not a threat to anyone’s security, and the agent kindly allowed me to board.
I remember those United Airlines commercials from my youth about ‘flying the friendly skies.’ The excitement of getting on a plane and eating the compartmentalized food and watching random things on a screen, or listening to music on complimentary headphones, all while snuggling under an ultrathin complimentary ‘blanket’. The flight attendants were kind or at least not overtly rude. The pilot gave jovial updates about turbulence or the location of the flight with respect to its destination.
But these days, with its uncomplimentary everything, less than 12 inches between the edge of your seat and the magazine pocket, hour-long waits in a crowded plane on the tarmac while some mechanic does who-knows-what, it’s ‘your cooperation is appreciated.’
Spending three days in a Chevy Venture with four boys is not the worst thing. At least the screaming babies are yours and not your one-inch-away-from-you neighbor’s. And when it all gets too much you can pull over…and get out.