A “SENIOR CITIZEN’S” TRIVIAL THOUGHTS ON SECURITY CHECKS WHEN FLYING

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As faithful followers and drop-ins who came upon my last post will be aware, I was on family-based break in Florida last week.  Since I live in New Jersey, this involved flying. I have not flown for nearly two years.

At some point between my last flight and this one, the federal government decided that persons over 75 do not have to take off their shoes when undergoing security checks prior to boarding. It’s a development that’s not posted anywhere. A nice guard at Newark who inspected my driver’s license to be sure I was me noticed my birth date and kindly explained it to me.  Very kindly explained it, as if I were in my dotage.  (Would I be traveling alone in my dotage?  Would I even be driving? Well, maybe.)

I wish I had known this earlier; I would have worn socks.  As it is, I omitted socks to make removing sneakers and socks easier.  I couldn’t remember if the socks had to come off too, and was taking no chances. Walking in sneakers without socks was a new experience for me, one I may not repeat now I know I don’t have to.  (I was in sneakers rather than something more stylish because I anticipated much walking to my designated gate.) On the way back, still sockless, I checked with the Tampa guard to be sure this wasn’t a Newark airport idiosyncrasy; he assured me it was now “a federal regulation” in all United States airports.

While taking the long walk to the designated gate (I wasn’t wrong about that one), I thought about the federal government’s reasoning.  What made 75 the cut-off age for the likelihood one would be planting explosives in one’s shoe?  Was a 65-year-old more likely to be a shoe bomber? Or was it simple kindness for the presumably arthritic 75-year-old passenger who would hold everyone up while struggling with shoelaces?  No, it couldn’t have been kindness; the federal government is not kind.  It takes social security income into account when calculating income taxes owed.

On the other hand — over 75 or even 84, I still had to throw away my water bottle before entering security check.  What is it that an old person who wanted to blow up a plane could do as well as a young person with a twelve-ounce bottle of Poland Springs water? Be imposed on to carry it aboard?  Do I look like someone who can be imposed on after all my years of therapy?  I get all hot and bothered about this because on the other side of security check I had to pay $3.00 to replace the identical bottle of water or go thirsty for over three hours.

Moreover, my age failed to exempt me from being patted down nearly everywhere by a woman guard wearing rubber gloves after a tedious explanation of what she was going to do and where she was going to do it.  Since her hands went nowhere near my breasts or private parts I’m not sure why we had to go through the explanation, except perhaps that some old ladies might be upset at having their bottoms touched without prior notice. I was not spared from a gunpowder check on both palms either.  Me, who hates killing a moth with moth spray?

Finally, I was free to retrieve my one permitted carry-on bag of the approved dimensions plus one “personal item” (meaning handbag), rearrange myself on a bench, and then begin the trudge — on my own elderly two feet — to the designated gate, Once there, and waiting to board after the military, people “needing extra help,”  first class passengers, business class passengers, persons who had paid $40 extra to sit in the front part of economy class, I entertained many other thoughts which have nothing to do with age and everything to do with the now bare-faced greed of airlines for squeezing every possible dollar from its helpless passengers in ways that make flying not too uncomfortably for the price one paid for the e-ticket less and less likely. But that’s a post for another time, if I don’t forget about it until I need to fly again, which is entirely likely.  How long can you go on aggravating yourself about old stuff when there’s something new coming down the pike every day?

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24 thoughts on “A “SENIOR CITIZEN’S” TRIVIAL THOUGHTS ON SECURITY CHECKS WHEN FLYING

  1. I hate flying and haven’t flown in maybe 4 years. Last time I changed planes in O’Hare on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. All the planes were delayed 3 to 4 hours and no one knew why. Crew partying? There wasn’t bad weather anywhere. Oh yes, we had to sit on the floor in the walkway because there were no seats left. It was wall to wall people (on the floor). I made a note never to change planes in O’Hare.

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  2. I stopped flying almost 20 years ago, when there were less discomforts than you mention. One thing that probably didn’t bother you… the seats kept getting closer between the rows, and I have rather long legs.I haven’t regretted it. I understand that mobility is more important for some people, and that distances are relative. When it got uncomfortable, I just stopped. Don’t resent the companies. They’re into it to make money. That’s understood. But we don’t have to suffer.

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    • Shimon, I certainly do resent the packing more and more seats into the plane, which results in the shrinking of “leg room.” I understand from Chryssa you can now pay extra for more leg room, but I would have resisted that on principle. Israel is a much smaller country geographically than the United States. Even if one foregoes international travel, the distances here are too large for dispersed families to get together by car or train, unless you have all the time in the world which even those of us who are “retired” don’t really have. So it’s not really possible to “stop” flying just because flights are wretchedly uncomfortable, except perhaps for those of very small stature. As for airlines being in the business of making money, that’s a given. But there’s a difference between capitalism and untrammeled, uncontrolled capitalism. (Think of child labor, sweat shops, ten-hour working days, six day working weeks: those are now all regulated.) What I object to is sneaking profit in at every turn: charging more for half the economy cabin by limiting the number of seats available at the economy ticket price without advance notice of this practice, so that half the economy ticket holders are forced to pay more than they anticipated at the time they bought their tickets when they reserve their seats; reducing the permitted size of the carry-on bag so that more people will be forced to check their bag (for an additional fee); eliminating the free snack and replacing it not with a modestly priced snack of equivalent size and value but with efforts to sell an overlarge box of extravagantly priced “goodies.” And like that.

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      • You don’t have to convince me. I think the behavior is disgusting. Perhaps, it is just that I have lower expectations than yourself. I wasn’t speaking out of some personal pride, or feeling of justification… or giving anyone advice. I was just sharing with you my own personal reaction to being forced into an uncomfortable situation. As for being in a small country, I have friends abroad, and I did enjoy traveling till it became ‘challenging’, as the young folks say.

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  3. Nina, the age thing, keep your shoes on, didn’t count for me on a flight to NYC from San Diego this past May. And I paid a lot more than 40 bucks for the economy comfort seat (4 inches more for the legs). I noticed Richard Dreyfus on my flight. He’s tottering old and didn’t get any special attention either, except he was in first class! Flying is not that much fun anymore! Chryssa

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    • I don’t understand why you had to remove your shoes, Christine, unless your birthday came after May. What I objected to on the United Airline’s charge of $4o extra for seats in the front half of the economy section is that it wasn’t stated up front. All economy seats were sold for a certain price, but only half of them were allotted to the ticket price. When I went to reserve a seat on the airline webpage after purchasing the ticket on Expedia, it turned out that all but one of the ticket-price seats were already reserved. If I had been three minutes later, I would have been forced to pay the extra $40. This is sneaky. No, flying isn’t fun at all. Although I do believe if Dreyfus had asked for special help in getting to his seat (such as a wheelchair), that would have been provided. Tottering? Really? How old is he? I shall have to look it up. If he’s younger than I am, that will perk me up for the day! 🙂

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    • P.S. Just looked up Richard Dreyfuss. He’s 67! And he’s now — as we type away — shooting a mini-series for television in which he plays Bernie Madoff, with Blythe Danner as his wife. He was tottering on your flight last May? Well, well, well…..

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  4. This post reminds me of flying from our home town, Devonport in Tasmania where they didn’t have an X-ray machine to look to see if there was a gun or worse. On entry to Melbourne airport our carryon luggage, handbags were put through the machine. I remember an American behind me exclaiming how ridiculous it was, saying he could have blown the plane up on the way over Bass Strait. Since then this anomaly has been rectified. 🙂

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    • I think the shoe thing is purely American. It’s because of the guy caught on a London-New York flight with a mini-bomb or explosives in the heel of his shoe. But the American behind you was right. From the airline’s point of view, it does seem like locking the barn door after the horse had left the barn.On the other hand, I can see that Australia might have an interest in checking everything that came into the country.

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  5. I haven’t flown for a while now, and I passed up the chance to go to my nephew’s wedding in Australia, which I’m sure would have been an adventure. I just can’t sit still for the long flight..no matter what the conditions. I understand that you can be sedated, I just don’t want to go through that, and the 2-3 days of recovery from leg cramps.

    Funny about that 75 yr. old benchmark for shoe terrorists. ☺

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    • If one has a choice, I think it’s become wise to forgo flying, Van. I guess your nephew forgave you for not coming — especially if it was going to take you three days to recover from leg cramps after landing. The shoe business is weird any way you look at it, whatever your age! 🙂

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  6. Well I agree with all on how flying has become a horrible chore. ..on a recent trip to San Antonio where my daughter lives…M was patted down (he’s 82 and very suspicious looking of course ) and they wanted to check inside the belt of his jeans. This in full view of all! Well, his pants fell down and fortunately he was wearing nice new briefs…needless to say….they didn’t find the terrorist…this was at Newark!

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  7. I’m catching up after a week away – and a pair of ‘budget’ flights which have made me empathise more acutely than ever with your travel stress. From fulfilling the complex list of luggage demands to checking-in (I thought ‘checking-in’ meant ‘presenting yourself, in person, for a flight’ – but no longer, so it seems, as we ‘check-in’ online, sometimes days in advance).. to printing your own boarding passes, stripping off layers and emptying bags and packing little see-through bags and taking off shoes (or not!) and being scanned and patted and ordered around. Thence to be shoehorned into a shrinking seat (no fun for those of us of more ample proportions) and have a succession of promotional items, food items and lottery tickets waggled in our faces. This time the flight was a little over an hour, but the travel stress does not diminish.

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  8. haha… very amusing and aptly worded. I’ve had many frustrating experiences flying to/from Ireland or UK, either for personal or work reasons. I’ve had a set of electric hair rollers yanked out of my suitcase and held high in the air for lengthy inspection while frantically trying not to miss a transfer flight via London, by a hapless official whose understanding of such items was and always will be very limited. Full body searched many, many times (when I for some silly reason still try out different facial expressions to project my innocence!) and recently had to (almost) sedate my husband (normally a mild man) for having a new can of shaving foam confiscated at the baggage check, en route to Berlin for a relaxing break… He’d forgotten to remove it, c’est la vie. Fun to share! Thanks.

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