Friday, March 14, 2008

Flying the unfriendly skies

I've written before about Pepper Ellis Hagebak, my cousin who is a columnist for the LaGrange (Ga.) Daily News. She wrote Sunday about a recent airline trip:
I don’t like airplanes much. The very thought of being trapped inside a tiny metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere gives me the heebie-jeebies. Any plane trip that I take is spent sitting bolt upright, clutching the arms of the tiny little torture chair, buckled in the entire way.
Beyond the fear factor, what I can't abide is the confinement of air travel, which is not limited to the time spent on the plane. The security procedures instituted since 9/11 have turned airport terminals into concentration camps.

People seem to take this extra security for granted. Maybe they've forgotten what it used to be like. Just a few short years ago, I remember my wife and kids walking me all the way to the boarding gate, and then being there waiting for me at the gate when I returned.

Now, of course, you have to stand in line to have your Fourth Amendment rights violated by federal TSA employees -- am I the only one who remembers the 2002 debate in Congress over whether to federalize airport security guards? -- and once you clear security, you're all alone in the airport.

Passengers are commonly told to be at the airport at least two hours before boarding time. If you heed that advisory, then after you clear the security checkpoint, you're going to spend at least an hour just sitting around in the terminal. And you'll be sitting there alone, because only ticketed passengers are allowed past the security screen.

This federally-imposed solitude is a perfect example of how government typically responds to problems with idiotic non-solutions that bear no relation to any real-life situation. Think about it: Was 9/11 caused by a guy's wife and kids walking him to the airport gate? Has there ever been any terrorist incident involving a passenger's relatives going out to the terminal to greet the returning traveler? No, of course not.

Another favorite: You can never put down your carry-on bag in the airport. Once you carry it into the airport, you must keep it with you at all times, even when you go to the restroom. Try to enjoy browsing a magazine rack at the terminal newsstand while lugging a carry-on bag. Never mind, of course, that every carry-on bag goes through an X-ray machine at the security checkpoint. If left alone in the terminal, your pre-screened carry-on bag is considered a security threat.

Like all government regulations, the security procedures instituted after 9/11 were designed to suit the bureaucrats who are in charge of enforcing the regulations. A little regulatory overkill doesn't bother the bureaucrats. Having more regulations to enforce just gives them an excuse to go to Congress and demand more money to hire more bureaucrats. And in case you haven't noticed, TSA employees frankly don't give a damn about the taxpayers whom they hassle on a daily basis. (Being bossed around by bureaucrats is "for your own safety," after all.)

These degrading and inhumane procedures -- "please remove your shoes and place them in the tray" -- should be considered a preview of what our medical system would be like, if we ever go to "universal" government health care.

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