Travelchick

My adventures and mis-adventures as I travel here and there

Airport Full-Body Scanners Pose A Travel Conundrum

My husband and I recently had a debate over which would be the better option at the airport, in light of the new security scans and alternative pat-downs. (“Better” could be defined as healthier and/or less traumatizing.)

The usual pat-down is the alternative for those who choose to opt out of the new nude full-body scanners. It might not be as great of a trade-off as it sounds, however, since TSA staff have been instructed to give a more thorough examination than travelers are used to.  How thorough is this, exactly?

My husband did a mock pat-down of me to illustrate how he imagined the new, more invasive procedures might go. When imagining that stranger was doing it, I felt violated and a little upset! I really don’t relish the thought of airport personnel rifling around in my crotch or any other place on my body that I hold near and dear. I’ve had the back-handed pat-down before and didn’t mind it at all, and I had imagined that the new procedure probably wouldn’t be terribly horrendous, but after my husband’s “demo” I almost didn’t want to risk psychological trauma!

On the other hand, who really wants a stranger to see a naked picture of them just so they can get on a plane? My husband has threatened to just show up nude at the airport and save them the trouble… Still, the images probably aren’t saved permanently anywhere and there probably aren’t any health risks from going through the scanners every once in awhile… or are there?  TSA claims that the pictures will never be used or seen anywhere else, that they’re more skeletal than fleshy, and that the scanners are safe for our health, but a whole lot of money was spent on getting these machines into use.  Monetary investments always create bias.

Our next flight is planned for the spring. We’re flying to California, and my husband has threatened to have us drive instead. I think that’s going a little overboard, but at the same time I’m still not sure which is the better choice if faced with a rock and a hard place: nude scanning or invasive groping? I still haven’t been able to decide.

The changes have provided inspiration for everything from cartoons about body scanners and pat-downs to “Don’t Touch my Junk” T-shirts.  The same scanner images appear everywhere, along with illustrations of how easy it would be for someone who got hold of your picture to merely invert the image and see your body in detail.

In the spotlight is Meg Mclain, who relates to Alex Jones a tale of trauma, overreaction, and humilation when she refused both the body scanner and pat-down. Her story, however, isn’t substantiated by video surveillance of the airport. Two videos, one of the scanner area and one of her exit, seem to contradict her story. I think we need to be careful not to get all riled up over accounts like this in which the person in question either deliberately expounded on the facts or remembers the events differently than the way they actually happened…

On the other hand, the stories in this news report sound pretty bad…. I especially feel sorry for the old man who was just trying to go celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife. 😦

On a positive note, anecdotal reports from friends who’ve flown recently indicate that the pat-downs still aren’t so offensive. I look forward to hearing from more people I know before it’s my turn to fly the friendly skies. Your comments on the subject are especially welcomed!

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December 1, 2010 Posted by | Airplane, Airport Security, Transportation, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Airports and Flying: What NOT to put in Luggage

Note to self: do not ever put a can of V8 into a checked luggage bag again!

I should have known better, but when we got to the airport yesterday, I threw some unconsumed liquids into a checked bag so they’d make it through security. This included a can of V8 (I love V8!). This unfortunate can of V8 exploded in my suitcase in the air over Oklahoma or Missouri or Illinois and, when mixed with a similarly burst bag of cashews, made a disgusting mess all over my clothes and roller blades (yes, I had roller blades in my suitcase) and crocheting. So gross.

It seems that I will never be completely trained when it comes to modern air travel. I remember my first few flights after 9-11. I made all kinds of mistakes and am just happy that I manage to have a particularly non-terrorist look. On one flight airport security x-rays found two pairs of scissors and a razor blade in my carry-on…. oops. On another occasion I triumphantly attempted to carry a suitcase onto the plane which contained all of my carefully-wrapped Christmas gifts for my family. I was so proud of myself for having everything done ahead of time, just ready to slide under the Christmas tree. The looks security personnel gave me, however, when they saw a HAMMER in one of the packages was nothing like admiration, but rather dismay. How could this girl be so stupid?! Lucky for me, I was able to check my bag, and my dad still got his hammer. Some people aren’t so lucky, however. Yesterday in the airport the boyfriend and I were noticing the mailing service the airport provides where you can put your taboo items in a little bag and have them mailed to yourself. The prices caught our attention: $20 for a liquid bottle??? I guess this helps people to get their priorities straight, as most items aren’t worth that much in the first place. When the boyfriend mistakenly left his overnight bag in his carry-on and had to forfeit his toothpaste and shower gel, only a few tears were shed. What happens, though, when you make similar mistakes regarding more expensive or sentimental items? $20.

Don’t just assume, however, that you can forget what’s in your bag and then either surrender it or mail it to yourself when the x-ray spots it. Sometimes you can be prosecuted or prevented from flying even if the banned inclusion was an honest mistake. Furthermore, security personnel can decide at their discretion whether or not you may keep a taboo item to mail home or whether they must take it from you forever. It’s a good idea to stay updated regarding what is currently allowed and what is not.

Hey, does anyone have funny airport stories? Stupid things you mistakenly left in your carry-on? I’d love to hear them. A good compilation of stories like that would be extremely entertaining!

One last thing: You know those funny booties airports provide for you to wear on your feet when you have to take your shoes off? The ones that look kind of like shower caps? Well, I tried those for the first time yesterday and kind of fell in love temporarily- they were so comfortable! As a person who spent her entire childhood barefoot, I sometimes bemoan the constriction of shoes (while at the same time having an insatiable love for shoes, which is weird). The booties made me feel like I was going barefoot all through the airport, but without getting my feet dirty or stepping on icky feeling dirt and crumbs. So I kept wearing them. I wore them…. probably longer than anyone who is normal would dare (people gave me funny looks)… but it felt so nice that I didn’t care!

While on the topic of acting a little insane in airports, let me share my favorite bit of airport weirdness, courtesy of Nalts:

April 19, 2010 Posted by | Airplane, Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Break for Freedom

It was the big day and flying to Texas was the main item on the agenda. We meant to leave at 8am, but somehow it was 8:45 before we actually slid down the snow-packed street leading to the highway. FREEDOM! I was thrilled to be leaving the confines of my routine and headed out for one glorious vacation. Those thoughts were quickly replaced, however, by thoughts of time and how we might not have enough of it to get to the airport. Judging by the road we left town on, weather conditions were not going to support hurry. Much to my relief, the highway was mostly clear and continued to be so until no traces of winter white could be seen.

After about an hour, we suddenly realized that, because of the nature of our tickets, we could have just as easily flown out of Spokane instead of Seattle, saving us 2.5 hours of driving both ways. Argh! How stupid. We almost changed plans and headed to Spokane after all, but decided to stick with the original plan. Relegating myself to the long drive, I drifted off to sleep.

Waking momentarily, I glanced up and saw nothing but swirling white all around our car! That and a driver concentrating very intensely on the road. “It’s a blizzard!” he exclaimed, rather excitedly. More than anything else, this would be the kind of news to wake me up properly, but I must have been truly exhausted because after a mumbled “Oh wow” I promptly went back to sleeping. I obviously trusted him completely. Blizzard or no blizzard, sleep took priority.

Blizzard conditions lasted through my nap and I awoke again to a white world of uncleared snow, cars in the ditch, creeping trucks, and lowered speed limits. I was a little worried about getting there again, but it looked like we were still making good time, with my travel companion driving as fast as he safely could (and maybe a tad faster, the daredevil). It felt as if the car was constantly in a slide, though, so I opted to look at the sky instead of the road just to avoid panic. I called my mom to ask her to pray for our safety and timely arrival. I also tried calling my sister as I knew that she and her boyfriend would be traveling a little ahead of us to the airport and may be able to give us an idea of what lay ahead, but was unable to reach them.

About the time we reached the pass, three snowplows appeared ahead, going veeeerrrry slooooooow. Uh-oh. We were creeping along at 20mph and the clock was ticking. A line of vehicles piled up behind us. I guess we should have been grateful for the semi-clear wake they left, but we just impatiently wanted to pass them up and get on our way. Thankfully, we were eventually able to pass one, then two, then all three snowplows. Of course, then the road was worse with big ruts that kept throwing the car around. I’m lucky though that I was with a born-and-raised north Idaho boy. He did an excellent job manhandling that snow and we picked up the pace again. I finally got a hold of my sister and she told us that after the pass the snow would soon turn to rain and then, once we got to Seattle, it would be clear. “Yeah right!” I thought, “There’s no way this can completely clear up!” Soon, however, the snow became rain and, as we neared Seattle, we could see blue sky ahead.

We were nearing the city and had enough time, so I began to relax. My ex-boyfriend (I don’t really want to keep referring to him that way but I’m doing it for the sake of anonymity). Anyway, he has always told me that he thinks you can learn a lot about a person and how you interact with them by traveling together. For all the years we’ve known each other, we haven’t actually done that much traveling together, aside from the occasional local trip and a few excursions to Canada. Because of this, he was really curious to see how things would go this Christmas. I actually was quite sure that I wouldn’t learn a lot that was new. I was wrong. Apparently, I spaz out when traveling and he stays perfectly calm. When we took a highway he wasn’t quite sure was right for getting to the airport, I began to freak out a bit and wonder why we hadn’t found out for sure how to get there ahead of time. When he stopped for directions (yes, some men do ask), I sat in the car, nervous about how long he was taking. “Yep, it’s the right way!” he said upon returning and I felt better…. Until I started to think about parking and how we might have to park and take a shuttle and how much time would that take?!? Mr. Calm might have had similar thoughts, but he didn’t voice his panic and somehow it made me feel that he didn’t realize the graveness of this situation. The entire world could cave in!

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but (per my direction) promptly headed into the wrong parking area ($26/day), asked about cheaper parking, and windingly made our way back out to search for such. After a failed attempt to smoothly choose one of the first options we saw, he decided to get out and walk around to ask. What?! Walk?! There was no time for that! But I patiently sat (fuming) while he parking a million miles from the front door and got out.

Our plane left at 3:45PM and I knew that we had to check our luggage at least 45 minutes before that. Angry that we were cutting it so close, I sternly told God that I wanted to be at the airport by 2:45. It was a little after 2:30. I wasn’t sure about demanding things like that from God, but in my defense I was really worried. He returned back to the car having decided on a place to park for $9 a day, so after moving to some back lot, we lugged our suitcases down to the front. “How often does the shuttle leave?” I quizzed my trusty companion.

“Whenever we’re ready” he replied, and I began to feel better. He, meanwhile, was chuckling at my anxiety. He must have thought it greatly entertaining to see me all atwitter with worry. As we pulled into the airport (at 2:40), he looked at me with amusement, “Feel better now?” He said he knew all along that we were going to get there on time and hadn’t been worried at all. What?! Why am I the one freaking out?!

After checking luggage, making it through security (my belt didn’t set off the buzzer- yay!- but taking off my tall boots and putting them in the little bucket was kind of a pain), and finding our gate, I began to relax. Why was I even worried? Obviously, I stressed for nothing, but I guess I just wanted this trip to go smoothly. He and I laughed about my uptightness as opposed to his calm and happily chatted about how wonderful it was that we were headed to Texas together. That is, until we hit our next snag… My ticket was technically a companion ticket, which meant that I was standby status…. And the flight was FULL! Apparently, at least ten people had decided last minute to also fly from Seattle to Albuquerque to Dallas. Not only that, but there were about 5 other people also waiting for standby spots. It was not looking good! I began to despair once again. Pessimist that I was that day, I said “See, I knew something was going to go wrong with this trip!”

My traveling guru, true to nature, was thinking about food at a time like this. It was probably good that he stuffed that extra large (and really delicious) burrito down me because I did feel better after eating it. It is just like him to pay attention our basic needs while I’m worrying about other things like “AM I GOING TO MAKE IT ON THE FLIGHT?!” We sat and made a plan. If I didn’t get on the plane, he wouldn’t either (his ticket was not standby), and we would wait for tomorrow and both get on another flight. Because we then wouldn’t be in Dallas that night when my parents came to pick us up, we would rent a car and drive to Jefferson the next afternoon. The plan was good, but I still preferred the original.

As the time to fly came closer (and the flight was delayed) we hung around the desk hoping for one tiny little “me” spot. Everyone had boarded. I had called my mom by this time and told her the latest bad news “Please pray that I make it on!”

And then. The blessed words: “Linda Troyer!” (They had written my name down wrong) I looked at my friend in amazement “Really?! Did they really just call my name?”

“Yep, you’re on!”

I fairly danced down the tunnel and into the plane, “I can’t believe it! I actually got on!”

“I knew you would. I wasn’t worried.” What?

I called my mom and excitedly told her. “Oh, really?!” she was happy, “ Good! We just prayed for you, like 2 minutes ago.”

“Mama! That’s just the time they called my name!” Sometimes I wonder at my lack of ability to trust in God. Maybe I can learn a little bit from my friend’s calm willingness to just take what comes and “go with it” when things don’t go exactly according to plan. I could also learn from the number of times God has answered my prayers, even the “demanding” ones.

Two flights later we were in Dallas being greeted by my parents, sister and sister’s boyfriend. They were all a little agitated already from getting lost finding that airport we flew into and the apparently intolerable sound of the windshield wiper scraping the entire time. A suggestion of things to come? I didn’t care. My friend and I were happier than ever and ready to enjoy a wonderful weekend in Texas.

After arriving in Texas...

After arriving in Texas, enjoying a delicious 1:00am breakfast...

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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