Zirpoli: A false sense of security in the unfriendly skies

A recent plane trip reminded me of the great victory terrorists have won over the American people. We now spend billions of dollars on airport security doing things that give us a false sense of security while ignoring the real threats around us. If the guys who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks were around to see what Americans must now go through to get on an airplane, they would likely claim victory.

To get through airline security these days, you need to remove your jacket, shoes, and belt because one person unsuccessfully tried to bring down a plane by concealing a small amount of explosives in his shoe. The plan failed — he merely burned his foot — but now millions of Americans must remove their shoes so that they can be X-rayed, along with our cell phones, wallets, and other possessions.


As soon as someone tries to conceal explosives in his pants the government will demand that we disrobe, put on a hospital gown, have all of our clothing X-rayed, and do a colon check to make sure we aren’t concealing anything.

All of this is for show, of course, and is not making us safer considering all the possible alternatives to killing Americans in our gun-loving nation. Consider that someone could walk into an airport and kill hundreds of people with a legally purchased semi-automatic weapon before going through security checks. Our shoes and belts are a security risk, but outside the airplane, anyone can purchase a semi-automatic weapon capable of killing dozens of people in minutes. Shooting children in American schools seem to be a weekly occurrence, yet we don’t invest in their safety unless they get on an airplane. Why don’t we pretend schools are airplanes?

At what point did airports become islands of totalitarianism where everyone who enters must give up their rights and personal dignity? I guarantee that if the wealthy and powerful had to give up their private planes and fly around the country like the rest of us, things would be different.

The dehumanizing continues after boarding, of course, as one is packed like livestock into a place that, in any other normal setting, would exceed the capacity limit. Back in the real world, you can’t have too many people listen to a symphony or sit in a concert hall, but it is not a problem to pack as many people as possible in a metal tube with one primary entrance and exit. Airports have become like meat packing plants where people line up to be packed into a shipping container and transported to the next plant.

Boarding the airplane has become difficult because everyone insists on taking multiple bags onboard instead of checking their luggage. Limits on the size and number of bags seem to be ignored and not enforced. This slows both the boarding and off-boarding as people struggle to store and retrieve large bags over their heads onto the skinny lane airline people call an aisle.

Airports have become so large that airplanes spend a significant portion of the flight driving around the airport for a place to park and unload their human cargo. After boarding a connecting flight from Chicago to BWI last week, the plane drove around the airport for 30 minutes in order to get to the correct runway and wait for its turn to take off on a 90-minute flight.

One has to wonder if the people who design airplane seats understand that 40 percent of Americans are obese. Which brings us to the Boarding Prayer that goes something like this: “God, please don’t seat me next to someone whose body will hang over my limited space or near the couple who thought it would be a wonderful idea to bring their three children, all under the age of 4 years, on a four-hour flight.”

Last week, we sat next to a dad who was flying alone with 18-month-old twins. Neither wanted anything to do with their seat, seat belt, or any other limitations of an airplane filled to capacity. My wife, a teacher with excellent behavior management skills, ended up holding one of the twins while dad wrestled with the other. I did my best to entertain the kids. (Did you know you can make a puppet out of a vomit bag?) At the end of the flight, the flight attendant gave us two small bottles of whiskey and a big “Thank you!”

After having my hand in the inside of a vomit bag for two hours while trying to entertain twins in front of strangers giving us the evil eye because they thought the crying kids were our granddaughters, I thought we earned a ticket to St. Croix.