I never cease to be amazed at the plethora of sometimes entertaining often disappointing experiences of air travel in the US. Forget the disgusting spectacle of domestic bus or mass train travel within this great yet misguided country of ours. I will attempt to refrain from spending any time on the affordable yet disgustingly embarrassing conditions of most bus terminals. That can serve as a stomach-turning topic for another day.
Today I choose to dwell on a couple of observations from my fortunate frequent travel experiences. As an ultra-developed country we supposedly have “written the book” on various things as: safeguarding the skies and making them friendly; helping create a safe and efficient system processing travelers through security check points and ensuring those wild looking grandparents who move so slowly are indeed selected for “additional screening” in case their walkers; or better yet, their hips are not “jam packed” with explosives. Have those evil apple pie grandparents been fooling us this long in preparation of some massive attack aimed at disrupting funding for their kids or grandkids who have been on the allowance payroll far too long. I have seen some very unruly aged travelers capable of taking a real bite out of some of our finer TSA personnel – if only their teeth were either fully intact or at least present in their mouths. (No offense to the TSA personnel; honestly)!
The problem I have is the complete and utter detachment, cluelessness and lack of commitment to a proficient reality within the air travel experience on the part of those establishing policy and rules.
Example 1: I have been so blessed to have been able to see as much of the world as I have. I thank God that those experiences have helped shape my life and understanding of some of the ways of the world. The glimpses into a vast number of other cultures has broadened me as a person and opened me to being a much more accepting and welcoming person – I hope. If you disagree then challenge me on this and I will improve.
As such, I have ventured to a large portion of Asia and the Middle East. Because of the Middle East travel in particular, my passport became “flagged” within the US at Customs entry points occasionally resulting in additional annoying, tedious and truly time-wasting screening for myself and the Customs agents. I understand it is not for them to know and check into my work efforts to address needs of vulnerable children. Plenty of bad people are doing seemingly good things for assorted reasons. However; as someone with such a sordid and crime-ridden past as I do for such things as riding my bicycle through a stop sign as a teenager (and getting pulled over by a police car & ticketed); stealing a pack of gumballs in kindergarten and serving time (in my room as a 10 year old); sneaking a taste of a Budweiser at a family party as a youth (not getting caught – until now); and driving through my neighbor’s lawn because I was too lazy to drive around it into the wee hour of 11 PM as a high school senior. With all of that being said I hope you readers can forgive me. But of course I make these comparisons in jest as we really are an uninformed and clueless law-making body.
Part B of this story is the dagger impaled into this confusing but unsurprising policy.
I traveled extensively (to help bring a voice to the vulnerable children of SE Asia) in 2008 – 2010. Because of this I was quickly depleting my empty passport pages used by assorted Immigration and Customs agents to stamp access and exit marks into. Cool! So with a trip approaching a few months down the road I figured I would be proactive and get the passport renewed early. Smart guy, I know! So off went the passport and back it came a month later. Interesting point to note: I WAS ISSUED A NEW PASSPORT NUMBER. Now, I was not a very solid (read good) student growing up – apart from P.E. classes and I am sure my parents would attest to that. But, having said that I believe I am quite the savvy traveler and pretty in-tune with my surroundings in the world. Does it seem the slightest bit peculiar that having been previously “flagged” as a traveler for who knows what reasons – that I would now be issued a new and different number? Assumedly this would require additional tracking and potential time spent screening my reentry into the US of A? Although I am not privy to security briefings or hearings on screening and monitoring of “subjects of interest” it seems somewhat (perhaps) stupid to issue me a completely new passport number. No? Yes, I understand I would continue to endure that tedious stream of generic and unrevealing security questions when returning to the comforts of the US. But I must admit it seems natural that once that potential “red flag” goes up wouldn’t it stay up for a period of time. It’s not like my travel has diminished. In fact, I eat more ethnic food now; watch Hong Kong gangster movies and even burn Thai incense. I was even seen eating Arabic food twice last year. But yet still, that dogged “red flag” has not returned.
So are you with me in sharing your confusion regarding this questionable practice by our sharp legislators – or whoever makes that decision? I appreciate releasing me from that additional screening burden but how about all of those people who truly have earned the right to be on that list? There are so many people deserving of this extra screening because they have chosen paths that may potentially cause harm to others. I say screen them until they decide to stop traveling. But how many other deserving people of questionable integrity and desires have slipped off the radar just as I did. Granted, I do not belong on the list but understand being on it due to the extensive travel and living in today’s reality. I pray we are not that naive or out-of-touch with this matter. There are countless millions of wonderful people to protect in this country and world.
Story 2: “State your name”
Transiting through New York and its run-of-the-mill airports typically provides some good people watching and on occasion I learn a cuss word that wasn’t previously known to me. However; my last trip there shed some light on an efficient and streamlined practice into the world of terrorism deterrence. Standing in line awaiting the questioning of the person at the security checkpoint is usually a challenging process for whatever reason. But this day provided some interesting fodder for this blog post. As I finally reached the front of the line prior to sending my bags through the x-ray screening process I presented my identification and boarding pass to the TSA gentleman. At this point I was asked how to pronounce my name. Wow! Has this truly been implemented as a screening protocol? What happens if the screener isn’t familiar with the pronunciation of someone’s name? Does that then lead to additional screening and unnecessary stress for some poor and certainly not unruly passenger? Take for example one of my brothers. He has 2 middle names. One of which is French and almost 10 out of 10 non-French speakers would have no idea how to pronounce. I can only imagine him being pulled aside to further explore how in the world someone with his name could ever be traveling on an airplane. There must be some hidden agenda. Does this security check really come down to pronunciation? In all seriousness I understand some people use falsified documents to travel but more times than not at least they will have an idea of how to somewhat properly pronounce the name. Point is: Let’s not give up trying to develop better screening methods to inhibit those traveling with purposes to do harm. Even the screener got a little laugh of acknowledgement when I pointed out the humor in the process.
Please do not think this is in any way a slight of TSA screeners. I have had many, many fun conversations, laughs and expressions of gratitude shared with them. This message goes “up the chain” to those who are collecting their paychecks and establishing protocol over scones, espresso and tax payer money.
Your comments are welcome!