The Cosmic Irony of Airport Security

Source: Leave Your Daily Hell

When I stumbled into the security line at Terminal 4 of London’s Heathrow airport early last Saturday morning, it was after a grueling 11-hour flight from Johannesburg, and several days negatively reacting to a malaria preventative that’s supposed to be free of side effects. To say that I was “out of it” would be like characterizing the skies the British capital as partly cloudy: I was fucking dead.

Even in my comatose state, I was aware of exactly what was expected of me before I would be allowed into the sterile area – the megaphone-voiced blonde shouting procedure and protocol like a doomsday prophet made sure of that. That I failed to declare a small bottle of second-rate shampoo I didn’t even intend to swipe from my Johannesburg hotel was a total mistake.

Unfortunately, the oily-looking creature who waddled over to me several minutes after I was told not to proceed to the transfer desk wasn’t buying it. “Presuming this is your luggage,” he droned, and dropped my Swiss Gear Maxxus backpack carelessly on the metal table that separated us, “I’ll need you to open all the pockets and remove everything inside, including coins, documents and anything else that isn’t physically part of the bag.”

Still catatonic, I initially obliged him without thinking much about it. It was only when Giuseppe (it took me a few minutes to come-to enough to read his nametag) began sodomizing my poor rucksack’s now-empty pockets with a sickly-looking handheld metal detector that I called “shenanigans.”

“I’m sorry,” I looked up, and smiled as genuinely as I could. “Is that really necessary?” “Your bag failed the initial screening process,” he explained, “and past that point, we’re the ones who decide what’s ‘necessary,’ not you.”

I took a deep breath to slow my spiking heart rate. “As far as I’m aware, Giuseppe, I neglected to remove a very small toiletry bottle – far smaller than your 100mL-per-bottle maximum, I might add – from my bottle. Did I violate your regulations in a secondary way?”

“You know,” he smiled slightly as he inverted my bag and shook it, to the chagrin of the dustmites lurking in its bowels, no doubt, “this will go a lot faster and easier if you let me ask the questions.” He lifted my camera bag off the floor, and set to molesting the poor Nikon.

“I would’ve been happy to do that. But unfortunately, you’ve only asked me one question since this nonsense started, and have spent the rest of the time acting like a thug.”

He gasped audibly. “You think this is nonsense?”

“Well, if by ‘this,’ you mean your behavior, the tone you’re using with me and the ridiculous thoroughness of this screening, then yes.”

“Sir, I don’t think the victims of 9/11, of 7/7 or of the underwear bomber would’ve agreed with you, were they still with us.”

I tried hard to hold in my laughter. “The underwear bomber didn’t have any victims. And actually, neither did the supposed liquid bomber, whose apparent plot is the reason we’re having this discussion in the first place.”

Of course, this is merely what I wish I’d said: By this point in the exchange, fatigued as I was, I’d suspended rationality in favor of antagonism and civility in favor of shade that would make RuPaul proud.

And yet as catty as I was to the self-important cretin, I did not break any laws, make any threats or go against his instructions – I didn’t even curse!  Still, his “supervisor” threatened me with indefinite detention for simply mentioning his employee’s behavior to him on my way out!

At no point in the process did my words or actions, from my failure to remove an extremely small bottle of liquid from my backpack, to the sharp tongue I used to counter my captor’s idiocy, endanger the security of air travel.

In fact, none of the half-dozen people waiting with me during the half hour or so I was searched had explosives, weapons or anything else that could harm someone or, God forbid, bring down an airliner in their bags or on their persons.

Come to mention it, in all my traveling, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an “additional screening” procedure at an airport produce anything other than a person who is hesitant to travel in the future.

The authorities responsible for regulating and restricting the movements of people who are on the cusp of realizing how little there is to fear in the world want nothing more than for them to stay afraid.

And that fucking sucks.