Originally written in June 2006 for "A Bird's Eye View," this piece has become a little dated. I'd like to say that in the two years since this was written, things have improved somewhat. But as we all know...it's gotten worse. Flights are more expensive, what you get for the price of your ticket is beyond laughable. And yet, we still can't board with a bic...
Airport security...gotta love 'em. They have a thankless job and most try to keep us safe in as gracious a manner as possible. Most. There are definitely some sick, twisted, sadistic bastards in the bunch that secretly enjoy making travellers as miserable as possible. As if your average American doesn't have enough to worry about when it comes to air travel, we are now forced to de-shoe, subject our personal items to intense scrutiny and still manage not to hold up a line of equally harried passengers trying to make their flights. To object would be un-American and make us seem less sensitive to the atrocities that were commited on 9-11. Now...add to this mix the average smoker who has probably gone into nicotine withdrawal already and has on average another three to four hours of this twitchy feeling to look forward to.
There are a few airports that are enlightened enough to have a separate smoking room, usually a smoke-filled closet, for those that wish to take those last few drags before boarding their flight. However at one such airport recently, posted at the security check-in was a sign that stated "cigarette lighters AND matches are prohibited." This presented a bit of a dilemma since the smoking lounge was in the secured section of the airport.
Smokers are a rather sly bunch and realizing that short of carrying flint or two sticks to rub together, smuggling might be necessary.
Upon entering this particular glassed in room, I held up a cigarette and said, "light...anyone?" Before I could blink, several lighters popped out of hiding and were offered for my use. Mine had been confiscated at the security point since I hadn't bothered to try and hide them. Well...all but one. It was mixed in with my various personal products and buried deep in my carry-on bag. I didn't feel like digging around for it at the moment. As we sat around in the unique comraderie found only amongst smokers, in walked a security officer. He paused a moment, reached into his pocket and withdrew a book of matches. He paused to light his cigarette and suddenly noticed another smoker pulling out a lighter to offer to him. The traveler hadn't noticed the uniform and badge...hehehe. He was just trying to be helpful. The security guard made a disgusted face and shook his head as he confiscated the lighter saying "Why couldn't you have just brought matches?"
Excuse me? This brought indignant responses from several of us that pointed out if matches were allowed, it should be reflected on the signs that are posted at the security checkpoint. The hostility level in the room went from 0 to flashpoint in a heartbeat and the security guard squared off his shoulders, stubbed out his barely smoked cigarette and beat a hasty retreat. We may have bowed to public pressure regarding where we can and cannot indulge in our habit...but don't ever accuse us of illiteracy!
We all commiserated with the kindly gentleman that had lost his beloved bic to the security guard. We also pondered what became of our bics that had been taken from us. It seemed fair that they should have some sort of exchange program. If you have to turn one in at one airport, you should be able to pick one up at the next. One passenger reported that in a foreign country he had visited, they actually resold the confiscated lighters outside of the airport. Ouch! Talk about adding salt to the wound!
Later that day I landed at a major and unenlightened airport where no smoking room was available to passengers. Now that wouldn't have been a problem if it had been my final destination, but it was not. I glanced at my watch, quickly calculated the amount of time I had and beat a hasty path to the nearest exit. At the moment a 10 minute cigarette break seemed worth the hour or so it would take to go through security all over again. Of course, once I was back in that line tugging off my shoes, pulling out my laptop, trying to balance all the minutiae that I was carrying...it didn't seem such a good bargain. It was rather funny when one security guard eyed me with suspicion and said, "Haven't I already seen you go through here before?" Of course I hadn't been through this particular security line today but since I have been programmed at birth to feel guilty even when I've done nothing wrong, I could only stammer "Uh...I just went out for a cigarette."
It was about this time I also discovered that smiling in a disarming manner at security guards has just the opposite effect.
I vowed that on the return trip I would just dispose of my lighter ahead of time so I wouldn't have to worry about some snide security officer thanking me for my "contribution" with a look on his/her face that said they thought I ranked right up there with Osama Bin Laden.
But a new problem cropped up! The number of bags I carried on board had been reduced by one since my flight across the country less than five days earlier! It really hadn't...I just hadn't bumped into those particular nazis on my way west. It seems that the lighter nazis all work on the westbound side and the baggage counting ones work on those heading eastward. Without planning to circumvent the system, I managed to by complying with it...immediately. To the security guard's horror, I promptly sat off to the side on the floor as other passengers walked past, laid out my carry-on, my purse and my laptop case and proceeded to gut them and try to rearrange them so I could squish my purse (which only carried a book, some munchies and my wallet) into my carry-on. This made the security person very uncomfortable for some reason and she said, "Never mind...never mind...just go through and when you get to your gate take care of that there before you board. I said MOVE along!!" So I did...and needless to say I never rearranged my bags to be two and not three and nobody said a word at the gate or on the plane.
It is one thing to perform security checks and quite another to rob people of their dignity. About 2 months after 9-11, I had a trip scheduled to Aruba and it was my first experience with these security procedures. Granted they were rather primitive still and nobody was really sure of what they were doing, but everything was conducted in such a way that we felt we were suffering through this together...both security personnel and traveller. It was awkward, it seemed a bit silly...but we had all taken the attack personally as Americans. I remember that it was the U.S. Marines in charge of inspecting our luggage and when one soldier discovered the Cuban cigar I was bringing back for my boss, he merely raised his eyebrows at me and then carefully tucked it back in amongst my underwear. I guess he realized I was not about to hijack a plane with one of those and he was not about to treat me like a criminal.
Now it feels as though we treat eachother like enemies. Security looks at all of us as potential criminals and we look at them as though the sole reason for their existence is to inconvenience us.
My first commercial airline flight was in 1972 when I was a very young girl. I remember a full meal being served along with little tiny salt and pepper shakers and real silverware. I remember stewardesses in uniform and being able to smoke onboard. Each seat had it's own little ashtray. I didn't smoke back then...my parents weren't THAT liberal.
Today there is no glamor in air travel. We move like cattle, bring our own things to eat or pay for snack boxes. There are no complimentary headphones so you can listen to music. Most flight attendants have forgotten how to smile and you cringe when you get one that seems to be having a bad day. Unless you are fortunate to be able to afford a first class seat or are the victim of a first-class screw up by the airline and thereby blessed with one in atonement, you are wedged into a space tinier than that occupied by an astronaut aboard a Mercury capsule. You can pay extra for the privelege of sitting in an exit row which then subjects you to a stern admonishment by an attendant that you had better be prepared to perform your duty by reading the card in the seat pocket in front of you (even though the same directions are slathered on both the door and the seats).
It almost makes you want to get in your car and drive instead...