Thursday, June 01, 2006

Think airport security is a pain in the ass? Guess what: It's your fault.

There are a lot of things in life that straight-up suck but are unavoidable and actually good for you, like taking out the trash. Or going to the dentist. Or getting out of bed in the morning. You know that cavity won’t fill itself, that your apartment will start to smell like an open sore, and that you need to get up and go to work so you can afford that filling and the apartment that won’t have the same stench as the scene in Gone With the Wind with the dead and wounded soldiers lying out in the Atlanta sun, because you’re enough of an adult to take out the trash in a reasonable time frame.

You know these things are necessary, so you do them—but you don’t look forward to doing them. Airport security is in this same category. Bad men got into planes and did bad things, so we need to go through a bit more red tape to get to Florida. Most people understand this and are grateful that security has been tightened and that it is more difficult to get on a plane. What’s a little inconvenience when it makes us safer?

At least, that was the feeling in the year or so following September 11th. National Guardsmen were hanging out with guns, security lines were longer, and old ladies were being searched in ways they probably hadn’t experienced since they snuck away from the dance with their beaus after a long evening of sarsaparillas and the Lindy Hop.

We took the delays in stride and just got to the airport a little earlier. A year passed. Then two. Then three, and there were no more plane-related catastrophes. So we started to slip back into our old habits. And we became impatient. Airport security once again went from our protectors to our enemies. Instead of people who were just doing their job, TSA employees became incompetent yokels hell-bent on making us late for our flight. They were unhappy with their station in life, so they decided to take it out on us. One of my jobs is doing market research in Newark Airport. In this capacity, I go through security sometimes eight times a week. And here’s what I’ve learned: It’s not them, it’s you.

It used to be that anyone could get through security and go right up to the gate. Airports were filled with the intimacy of tearful hellos and family members and loved ones waving goodbye until they saw the plane taxi down the runway. Now, in order to get through security, you have to either have a boarding pass or a TSA badge. With fewer people going through security, it would stand to reason that the lines would move faster, or at least at the same rate at which they moved before, but they don’t. Every day I see security lines that snake around the terminal in such a way that it begins to look and feel more like a figure-eight that is just feeding on itself with no end in sight.

Part of the reason for the wait is simple physics. You have 200 people going through two metal detectors and it’s going to take some time. That’s just a fact. Everyone could be going through naked and the security person still has to wait for that little green light to come on before you can be waved forward. It’s a slow process no matter what, so why do you insist on exacerbating the situation?

Don’t look around, because I am talking to you specifically. Why? Because you’re not John Cusack and you’re not Ross Gellar. You didn’t rush to the airport in a fit of romantic pique. There was no thunderstorm that caused a downed power line, leaving your cab stuck in a horrendous traffic jam this close to the airport. You did not then throw money at the cab driver and take off running through the stopped cars with only your copy of Rolling Stone to shield you from the downpour. You did not arrive at the airport dripping wet, maxing out your credit card to buy a first-class ticket on your true love’s flight because that was all they had left and, as we all know, you have to have a boarding pass to get past security and profess your love for her. None of this happened because you’re going to Phoenix to visit your brother. You’ve been planning this trip for months.

So, you’ve known that you were going to fly on an airplane for a while. You know that part of the deal is going through the security line. So what’s the deal with the studded belt and the dog collar, huh? You really needed to wear that today, Sid Vicious? And hey, Dippity Do-Rag. I understand that your Timberlands are going to be integral to navigating the frozen tundra of Atlanta in July, but they are fucking huge. They are not going to let you through with those on. Seriously. Don’t try. It will not happen. And to the guy in the Hard Rock Orlando sweatshirt? Okay, you’re a smoker. You rock hard, I get it. Oops, you left your lighter in your pocket. No big deal. It’s an understandable oversight. But the Swiss Army Knife on your keychain? Are you fucking kidding me with this? Is it your first day here? And by “here,” I mean, “on this planet,” because come ON, dude. That shit will not fly. And I mean that quite literally. Leave the weapons at home with your children, where they belong.

Because I love/hate all of you, I’m going to give you some tips on getting through the security line in a reasonable fashion.

1. Take off your shoes.
I don’t care what kind of shoes they are. If you are at an airport with the word “International” in the name, do not wear them. I know that the sign says that they “suggest” you remove your shoes, but if you don’t you will automatically be searched. So wear something that you can slip on and off easily. In other words, wear the flip flops, pack the knee-high lace-up Doc Martins.

2. Try not to wear a coat or blazer, and definitely do not wear both.
You will have to remove them and it’s going to be a pain in the ass and take up a lot of time.

3. Don’t pack a laptop in your carryon luggage.
I know that you’re really trying to beat your high score in FreeCell, but it’s not worth it. You’ll have to take the laptop out, put it in a separate bin and put it back in your bag. Unless you practice this a lot, it’s going to be awkward and time-consuming. If you must bring it, when they tell you to take it out of the bag, that does not mean take it out of your rolling briefcase but keep it in the protective cover. Dumbass.

4. Empty out your pockets before you leave the house.
You’re not driving anywhere on the airplane and vending machines take dollar bills, so you don’t need $15.64 in change.

5. Don’t wear a belt.
It’s going to set off the alarm. Try wearing pants that fit instead.

Basically, what it boils down to is realizing that you are, in fact, heading to the airport. Simplify what you have with you, and if your wait isn’t shortened, you will at least have the pleasure of looking down on the unprepared fools with seventeen necklaces and knee-high boots.


Sorta Runner Guy said...

While it's no secret I love/hate you, I gotta disagree with a few points:

- MORE people need to wear belts. That ensures I see LESS crack.

- laptops on flights = work. Not for everybody, but for some. I'm just fine with Joe Executive packing his laptop.

- My pockets are like your purse, if you had individual little purses that I wore. I've got keys, I've guy a wallet, I've got a pen, and I've got a Swiss Army knife. All those things gotta come and be looked at by security.

And, for your information, I have run through the Heathrow airport to catch my flight back to the states, all for love. For love of the game. Of Freecell.

Kona said...

Laptops: I hang out in the Business Class lounges all day and talk to dudes going on trips for work. They all have laptops, but very few of them are actually doing work. If they legitimately need to work on the plane, then fine. Have your laptop out of the bag and it's protective case BEFORE you get to the conveyor belt.

Pockets: Put all of that crap in the front pocket of your carryon bag. Except for the knife: That should go in your checked baggage.

Belts: Okay. Less crack is good, but people can also think about the type of belt they wear. I have a few belts that will make it through the metal detector, so if I know I'm going to the airport, I'll wear that. Just chill with the Hot Topic stud belt, is what I'm saying.

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