Talk Story


Thursday, January 3, 2002

The skies still aren’t as
friendly as they used to be

I LOOKED at the badge of the security officer going through my carry-on -- taking the cap off my toothpaste, testing the sharpness of my wife's tweezers and skimming the tables of contents of all our vacation reading. His first name was Abdul.

Normally, the irony of a Middle Eastern immigrant's working as an airport security officer would have amused me sufficiently to overlook the embarrassing inconvenience of a stranger's spreading everything in my hand baggage out on a table, including the contents of my wife's toilet kit and my own.

This time, however, I was annoyed. After all, I'd already gone through security in Omaha and qualified for this search at the Boston airport simply by visiting the restroom while waiting for our connecting flight to Bangor, Maine.

Logan International wasn't designed with today's painstaking security procedures in mind. There were no bathroom facilities in this particular waiting area and any passengers in transit who needed a break had to leave the gate area and re-enter through the security screen.

When our flight was called 30 minutes later, I was randomly selected for yet another carry-on and body search at the gate. Lucky for me, the second security officer wasn't as thorough and didn't read our books or empty the toilet kits. She merely rummaged through them for hidden Kalashnikovs, plutonium, C-4 and corkscrews.

Unfortunately, our Christmas travel adventures weren't over. In Bangor, only two of our three checked bags arrived with us. I wore the same clothes from Thursday morning until Saturday evening when a cheerful driver arrived at my sister's house in Ellsworth with the missing suitcase.

I tell you this not to complain but to report firsthand observations. We're at war and goodness knows every airline and security employee we encountered was working zealously to do whatever was necessary to get us all to our destinations safely, but human resources have been shifted to address the new priorities.

Where two or three workers used to man the security checkpoint, now there are dozens. Meanwhile, there are fewer ticket agents, customer service folks and baggage handlers.

Some uniformed airline employees who took our boarding passes and checked photo IDs at the gate later turned out to be the flight attendants on the crew. Employees the airlines haven't laid off are working harder now than I can remember.

It's an irrefutable fact, however, that air travel in America still isn't much fun. Unfortunately, that's bad news for our Hawaii economy, so dependent on a thriving travel industry.

One elderly passenger on our return flight from Boston to Los Angeles cracked under the new regime. He'd been called out of line at the gate for a thorough search, which didn't sit well with him.

By the time the plane was airborne, he was seething. Nothing the fight attendants did during the next six hours helped cheer him up. In fact, by the time we approached the West Coast, he'd exploded, raising his voice at the flight attendant, complaining he'd been singled out for lousy service and demanding to see her supervisor.

"What a jerk," the man sitting next to me said. All the passengers in the nearby seats clearly shared his opinion. Luckily, the chief flight attendant did a great job of hearing out the complainer while keeping a smile on her face.

"No one else has complained about anyone on this cabin crew in the last month," she told the grouch.

I can believe it. Shared adversity brings people together. Most of us were grateful for the cups of water, miniature bags of pretzels and meager meals. Never mind that someone forgot to load the headphones on our transcontinental flight forcing us to lip-read the movie. We still had the option of chicken or pasta and the crosswords in most of our in-flight magazines weren't already filled in.

For my wife and me, returning to warm, humid Hawaii after ten chapped days in central heating was worth any number of annoying searches, lost suitcases and surly fellow passengers.

Still, I wonder how many Americans are willing to put up with today's air travel when they have the option to drive to Disneyland, Las Vegas or a national park.

Time will tell.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin