Posts Tagged ‘Airport security’

In the business of flying, part 1

June 13, 2008

I’m not an habitual traveller. However, about once or twice a year, I do put myself – and my wife – on a plane, for longer or shorter excursions. A breath of something that is not stiflingly Norwegian seems to have a lifesaving effect on the organism that is me. Now, the idiocy of security checks thought up by paranoid minds and executed by officious henchmen – and women – can put a damper on any trip from the get-go. People with limited peopleskills and weak formal training in what they are supposed to accomplish, do their best to instill what can only be described as a prevalent fascistic mood in the security area. Some of us escape unharmed and undetected and can pass the gates to the overpriced paradise that is the waiting area of the airport. Kind of like getting into Switzerland. Behind us we glimpse an unlucky soul who – by some whim of fate – has triggered a detector or alarmed a functionary by making a harmless joke or dared to mention one of the hundreds of words that exists on a list of words the security guards are supposed to take offence to. I could mention some of these words here, but I don’t dare to. I’d like to say that this is merely paranoia on my part, but I’m too afraid it is not.

Google and other search engines send their little robots, millions of them, scurrying throgh the internet, looking for words and phrases. This is, basically how the internet works. You type a keyword, and Google can tell you the thousands of entries in which this word has been used. It doesn’t take much imagination to assume that one can also redlight certain keywords to look out for, and that these entries will find their way to a Pentagon mainframe. (I guess I’ve blown my cover now, by mentioning Pentagon…). In five minutes the FBI or another illboding acronym will be at my door (incert nervous laughter)… Of course, we already know this, but mostly choose not to think about it too much. It is too much like a dystopian fantasy (I was going to say a RIDICULOUS dystopian fantasy, but few dystopies strike me as fitting the adjective).

However, I’m disgressing. Airports, yes. It is one of the wonders of modern social engineering that such a large number of people has so readily accepted, in such a short time, to be reduced to cows every time we feel the need to travel. We get in line. If any of us possess some liquid or other – like water (scary water…), we hurriedly toss the bottle into a nearby container before the security gestapo can begin to suspect that we had a cunning plan to smuggle the water onboard the plane. We take off our belts and chronomatically engineered timekeeping devices (as I’m sure the White House would call it, or CETDs in short), we check our pockets at least two times for anything metallic – or slightly metallic looking (like the tinfoil-like wrapping on the bubblegum), and then we hold our breaths as we pass the detectors with heads held high, as if there is a certain pride still left in us. We wait for either the nod or the stalwart arms guiding us to the side, telling us to remove our shoes. We wait for the manual detector moving up and down our bodies, touching us lightly, but unhesitatingly, and not by invitation. There is a certain strangeness to the feeling of standing barefoot among people in uniforms, among other travellers. As if a part of us that we had not planned to when we left home that day, has been exposed. We leave our homes carrying a portrait of ourselves. Then, on that cold floor, some of that portrait is disfigured by people we never look in the eye. It’s many things, but it is not nice.

Still, we pass also this examination, and we are almost relieved. At least they didn’t find a reason to delay us further, to take us into another room to do what we hope we’ll never know. And why are we relieved? Because we have no rights whatsoever. In an airport, normal principles of “justice” don’t apply. If for any reason one of the security guards should deem us “suspicious”, I can’t see what’s to stop them from detaining us, give us the full body search, etc. So, a part of us is happy that we are not that unlucky, that we are not directly mistreated, that we have kept a smidgen of our projection of ourselves as free citizens in the unfree society that is the airport.

And who are the people performing these checks? The security guards are, at least not in my country, not even police. They are mostly private securiy guards, with a training that is nowhere near what it takes to be a police. If anyone ever wanted to do something seriously bad, my guess is that they would infiltrate this group rather than risk detection – even in the security system we had before 9/11. As it is now, the only reason I can see for the extreme measures “society” has taken, is to give us a sense of (albeit false) security inside the airports. Is it worth the cost?

Oh, well, with the price of oil showing no signs of falling, I guess it is just a matter of time before we all have to take the train, which is generally a good thing. And by the way: More people take the train every day than planes. Attacks on trains can have just as disastrous results as on planes (as in Madrid), but the security on train stations is nowhere near the same as on airports. Could it be that there are more rich people on planes, that they are more necessary for the corporate economy? Nah, surely not.