Making the skies friendly again

It’s been more than a year since the World Trade Center attacks, and, for the most part, it seems air travel in this country has returned to pre-attack normalcy. Gone are the tanks stationed in front of airports and the armed

The culprit: an Ace Hardware wirecutter/stripper

guards inside. Travelers are reverting to their pre-attack complacency, ignoring the prescribed two-hour-in-advance arrival time. The baggage checkers have ceased their “has anyone unknown to you packed your bags” spiel, and even the feds have lightened up, downgrading their code-red terrorist alert to a less foreboding code orange.

But the question remains: Is the sudden slackening of rules a sign that the FAA has gotten its act together and feels secure enough in its handling of the situation to back off all the precautions? Or have we already gone soft?
I’m sure most Americans would scoff at the former notion, especially in light of repeat breaches of security following the attacks. It seemed a day didn’t go by that we didn’t read or hear something about some wise guy, under the guise of “investigative journalism,” smuggling some sort of forbidden contraband aboard: a nail clipper, tweezers, hunting rifle, cattle prod, what have you. Americans began to wonder if the whole screening process was a joke, and the workers were really just watching Mickey Mouse cartoons on that monitor all day.

Being the steadfast journalist I am, I decided to step up to the plate in a highly covert sting operation to test our local aviation-security professionals. In fact, it was so covert that I myself was unaware I was conducting the mission until halfway through.

My first piece of trickery was to fool airport security into thinking I was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill housewife, so as not to raise suspicion or warrant a random “wanding.” The plan seemed to be working as I set my carry-on bag onto the conveyor belt, emptied the contents of my pockets (my boarding pass and a few pennies) into the basket and silently passed through the metal detector.

As I awaited my bag on the other side, ready to walk a free woman, I saw signs of trouble. The checker had stopped at my bag and called her superior over. Apparently, I was being targeted for one of the random bag checks. With people filing past me, she asked if she could examine the contents of my bag, and I obliged, explaining that I was not nearly as neurotic as the contents belied. She sorted through the usual stuff (wallet, books, magazine, trail mix, address book, gum, keys) and some more personal items (golf glove, industrial supply of Extra-Strength Tums, unwrapped candy covered in lint, dirty tissues). I marveled at her thoroughness and tenacity, she had practically turned the entire thing inside out but still did not seem satisfied.

As I stood there and more people shuffled past, she dug deeper, rooting for some sort of secret compartment. I smugly watched, dreaming up a snide remark for when she handed the bag back to me, defeated. And that’s when she hit pay dirt. Her eyes lit up as she latched onto cold, hard metal deep within the recesses of my bag. As she fished it out into daylight, her look turned to one of befuddlement as she held the bizarre, dangerous-looking contraption in her hand.

“It’s a wire-cutter,” said another screener.

I wanted to correct her and tell her that it was actually a two-in-one wire-cutter/wire-stripper, but I thought it best to play dumb.

“Oops. Guess I forgot I had that in there,” was all I could muster while trying to confine my nervous laughter, knowing full well that jokes of this nature are not taken lightly at airports. But the harder I tried to keep a straight face, the more contorted with convulsive laughter it became. I thought about explaining to the incredulous onlookers how I actually had been using it, not as a weapon, but to pry a Zip disc out of my floppy drive at work. It was in my bag because, after weeks of cluttering up my desk, I had finally remembered to stuff it in my bag to take home – where I promptly forgot all about it.

But before I could get a word out, the screener asked me to step aside and ordered me through two double doors. I was sure this was going to be the interrogation room. I wondered what sort of torture they would subject me to: Floodlights? Electrodes? Firehose? Celine Dion ballads?

As I pushed the doors open, I was elated to realize I was once again back in the lobby; they were going to spring me. The woman who busted me followed and kindly informed me I could not take my wire-cutters on the plane, and they would have to go in my luggage. I one-upped her and offered to put them in my car, which was in the parking lot.

And that was it. As soon as my near-international incident began, it was over. No strip search. No FBI thugs. Not even a brisk “wanding.” All I got was a polite request to take my hand tool back to my car – that and a look of disbelief that anyone could be so stupid as to not know she was toting a 10-inch metal wire-cutting apparatus in her purse.

And as I walked back to my car – the morning air cooling my humiliation-scorned cheeks – I was relieved to know our security officials were standing vigil against terrorist threats, making airline travel once again secure and safe for all Americans `85 that and I now had an explanation for why my bag had been so damned heavy the past few days.

-Missy Votel





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