Air Travel in the New Society

by Derrick Story


My greatest concern about the flight I had scheduled for Vancouver, BC, had to do with the new airport security rules enacted after the
events on Sept. 11, 2001.

Pamela and I arrived at SFO two and a half hours before our departure
time, and we immediately noticed that there was no activity in front of
the terminals. No more Sky Caps or curbside services -- only passengers
moving in and out through the sliding glass doors.

Quiet Inside the Terminal, Too



Once inside the building, the noise was noticeably quieter. SFO today
reminded me more of some of the smaller European airports I've passed
through, such as in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the atmosphere was more
subdued.

Tighter Security Than Ever Before



Check-in was easy because our flight wasn't crowded, but going
through security was more time consuming than usual. We had to show
photo IDs at the check-in point, then go through a much more detailed
search than usual. The line for inspection was the longest I've ever
seen at SFO, but we did move along at a reasonable pace.

Those carrying laptop computers, which I wasn't, had to pull them
out of their cases and have them inspected separately. As before, it's
always best to keep the computer in sleep mode so it lights up quickly
for the inspector. There's nothing worse than waiting for a full boot of
Windows just to pass security.

But not having a laptop didn't spare me completely from scrutiny. The
security people wanted a closer look at my backpack that contained two
Visor handheld computers, a digital camera, a few small boxes housing
accessories, and my two-way text pager.

As luck would have it, my pager received a message during
inspection. The security officer pulled me aside and said, "Sir, I
believe your backpack is vibrating. " I had taken the pager off my belt
and put it in my backpack so as not to trip the metal detector and draw
too much attention to myself. Obviously my plan had failed.

The message was from a well-wisher hoping that I had a hassle-free
trip through the airport.

A softer, gentler atmosphere



Finally, I was cleared to proceed, and strolled to the boarding area.
Once again I noticed a much softer, gentler atmosphere within the inner
confines of the terminal. We had to show our photo IDs again when
boarding the plane. That was the third time -- once at initial check-in,
once while passing through security, and once again when boarding the
plane.

In all honesty, the security on this trip has been at the level I
would have preferred in the first place. Sure, the lines were a little longer,
but we had planned ahead and had plenty of time. I liked the fact that
everyone had to be accounted for inside the airport. I'm under no
illusion that this is a perfect or foolproof system -- because it isn't.
But certainly it prevents easy boarding access by unidentified persons.

Once on the flight, I was able to relocate to a more comfortable seat
that was unoccupied. I hadn't been able to do that in two years. The
flight attendants were very helpful and in good spirits. They even
served lunch at 2:00 pm. Now when's the last time you received lunch on
a flight that took off well past lunch time?

Overall, I sensed a return of civility to flying. I think over the
last few years we had revved ourselves up to such a fevered pitch that
we were willing to crush anything or anyone that got in our way. We had
stopped saying "please" and "thank you." We had stopped looking each
other in the eye. It's easier to be rude when you don't make eye
contact.

Not that everything is suddenly rosy in the air. It isn't. But it is
more human, more accountable, and less taken for granted.

At least that's the way it seemed today.