The line was as short as usual at the airline security and check in counter – there were about 20 people in front of him. Jude was glad that he had come 5 hours before his flight, especially with the new rule that was just instituted that day.
It was pretty clear that this would be his last trip ever to the US – either he would demand it back at the office or he would just have to find another job that didn’t require travel to the US. Looking down at the folks in front of him, he felt sorry for the poor chaps who were not even US citizens, who had to endure an extra layer of security when entering or leaving the country.
Jude and his family had endured openly totalitarian governments every generation, so they were all quite sensitive to anything that took away a grain of individuality, security, or control. But, like a family of Cassandras, everyone thought Jude and family were a bunch of shrill nay-sayers, reckless in the face of the threats so clearly pointed out by the reigning US government.
Oh, Jude saw all the small signs clearly enough. He realized that it was unfair to be so fiercely livid with how things have progressed. It was predictable. Yet, livid he still was.
It first started with the weird notion that armed soldiers in uniform and with semi-automatic rifles, mingling with general airline passengers, were a great way to ensure security. And don’t forget the police dogs.
Then came the multiple searches, the separate x-ray screening of suitcases that wasn’t integrated into the normal flow of anything, and the wand.
For some reason, along the way nail clippers and bottle openers became weapons.
When some crazy dude brought Semtex aboard, hidden in his shoe, and tried to light it, a bizarre fascination for removing shoes overtook security agencies. Why couldn’t he just have pulled it out first? Then the whole ‘bomb in the shoe’ fear would never have happened.
Then some suicide bombers hid explosives in their bras, dooming thousands and thousands of innocent women of all ages to public groping and embarrassing shirt removal.
When some hyperactive journalist found that she excelled at racial profiling, feeling threatened by an Arabic music group spread out across her plane, a classic totalitarian regime rule came back: no congregating in the corridors or by the bathrooms. Uh, don’t people get in line to go to the bathroom?
No matter, that didn’t last long, soon folks had to stay seated the whole journey, pressing the call button for the crew to accompany passengers to the bathroom.
Alas, that didn’t last long either. A man who had diarrhea was just too suspicious, was arrested, and, in the ensuing panic, the resulting rules ensured that no one was allowed to leave their seat. Yes, that certainly helped reduce the number of passengers on long-haul flights. It was said that the first flight under this rule that flew from NYC to Singapore was a particularly nasty flight. Especially when the passengers rebelled, only to find the bathrooms barred shut, just like the cockpit. The marshals were busy on that flight.
Yet, it is comforting to know that some rules are complementary. When the London police broke up a ring of fanatics bent on blowing up planes with liquids, all liquids were banned from flights, despite the sharp rise in deaths from deep vein thrombosis. So, for the most part, people end up dehydrated, so don’t need to use the bathrooms on flights anymore. Oh, and folks who need liquids, young and old, have decided that air travel is just not worth it.
It was inevitable, but after liquids were banned, and then carry-on sizes reduced, a tube of lip balm was found in the bathroom. The transatlantic flight was diverted to Greenland and all the passengers sent to Guantanamo for three weeks of questioning. Most were sent home when the tube of lip balm turned out to be lip balm.
Needless to say, it was decided that all carry-ons be banned from US flights. But, it was clear that the pat-downs were insufficient, since a few crafty kids brought some tape and toothpicks aboard to play games with. The kids will be out of jail in a few years. They, of course, join that celebrity black belt kung fu martial artist who struck a pose for fun and reminded the transportation authoritarians to make it illegal for martial artists to fly.
On the ground, rules are keeping apace. Pat-downs were replaced with fancy x-ray machines. Yes, Jude shook his head, x-ray is dangerous, and so folks now have to keep track of their exposure. Business travelers quickly reach their limit and it’s expected that cancer rate among traveling sales folk to sharply spike.
Jude looked to the front of the line and watched as someone walked into the x-ray box. The box could scan through clothing. At first, ‘private’ areas were blurred in the monitors, but panic set in and there is no longer any privacy – all can be seen. And if that is not sufficient, the passenger is asked to strip to their bare skin.
To ensure additional security, the US set up their own checkpoints at foreign airports with flights to the US or flights that connected to flights to the US – in short, practically every airport in the world. For some reason, the foreign governments did not protest. Especially since their rules are nowhere near as draconian, and security is still fine. There just is no evidence that any of the security measures have made flying any safer.
The woman two spots ahead of him sneezed. Out of the blue, three men in isolation suits jumped on her before she could wipe her nose, and covered her in a Mylar tarp. Jude could hear her yelling and kicking, and then screeching as one of the men drove a hypodermic needle through the Mylar and into her moving form (Jude thought it might have been her head). No end to the paranoia, there is now a quick DNA test to make sure that no one is carrying a dangerous virus. Folks who sneeze or cough are best advised to stay home or risk the counter-bioterrorist squad.
The man behind Jude just sighed.
Farther ahead in the line, a man put a pastille in his mouth. That was one of the latest cruelties – laxatives. Afraid that someone would smuggle bomb making materials in their own body, making such items indistinguishable from normal bowel contents, it was decreed that all passengers must defecate and urinate before boarding. At the same time, the counter-bioterrorism squad takes samples for DNA analysis, comparing it with the medical record of the passenger.
A few hours later it was finally Jude’s time. After Jude had been poked, squeezed, felt up, puffed at, pooped and peed, and his medical record scanned and verified, his body shot through with more REMs than necessary, his pockets emptied of all materials and all metal and thread removed, came the newest indignity.
Somehow, after taking a laxative, a constipated person still showed, by x-ray, a mass in the rectum. So, the newest addition to the check-in was an orifice check. For women and men, it was embarrassing and sometimes painful. Eyes, nose, mouth, throat, belly button, and the last private places were now open exploratory territory, claimed in the name of safe travel.
So it’s come to this? How long will folks put up with this?
Jude shook his head and bent over.