At this point in my life, I’m not much of an air traveler.
Being the co-publisher of a hyper-local newspaper, I don’t have the need to travel the country or world “on business.” Our family of four usually takes one major trip a year (if we are lucky), peppered with a few weekends down to one of our area beaches via the family truckster. And if our “big trip” is within eight hours, we are driving to that destination too. It’s just easier with the kids.
I do fly to visit my friend in New York every year, but, at most, I’m on a plane once or twice a year. And I kind of hate that. I know, I know. If I had to do it all the time, I would feel much differently.
But I really find the whole process of air travel quite fascinating. From how they can get everyone’s luggage to the right plane and baggage claim so quickly, to the sharply dressed flight attendants manning the magical beverage carts (Would you like snack mix or cookies? Well, I think I’ll take the cookies this time, thank you very much!), it’s really an impressive worldwide operation. Even the security protocols at the airports are interesting to me.
We just concluded our “big family trip” of the year and this time it did involve air travel.
As we began our journey through our first airport, I told my kids, who are 6 and 8, we would have to empty our pockets and put our bags through the metal detectors and we might have to take off our shoes. My kids had both flown before but it had been a couple of years, so their recollection of airport security was a bit foggy.
My 8-year-old son, who did not question this on his last flight at the ripe old age of 6, asked me why we had to do this.
Images of planes hitting the towers entered into my mind, along with thoughts of the “shoe bomber.” The shoe bomber? A clown who was the most unsuccessful terrorist in the world, but who very successfully forced us all to have to look at toes shaped like Fritos and smell swamp feet at airports worldwide to this day. Curse you, shoe bomber!
I wasn’t about to get into telling my kids about the horrors that changed all of our lives, and in turn, the way we travel still, nearly two decades later, so I just said, “It’s just the rules. Nothing to worry about.”
But as someone who vividly remembers watching those planes crash into the towers, I think about airport security a lot when I travel — almost obsessively. And I am very grateful for it. And while I do hate feet, if they needed us to all to strip down totally naked and have our bunions X-rayed to make sure we weren’t smuggling mini-explosives in them, I would be down.
Which is why after this most recent trip, I am a little concerned there may be cracks in the system.
On our way back, I was randomly selected to be searched by the airline or maybe TSA (I’m not really sure who makes those determinations), as if I could be a terrorist or perhaps a drug mule. I was ready for a very thorough examination and to feel totally violated. I would be gracious after my fondling, though. This was for the safety of everyone on the plane, after all. Maybe to ease the awkwardness, I would make the joke, “And you didn’t even have to buy me dinner. Ha ha.” I’m sure they’ve never heard that one before.
But nope. Even though my security lady was wearing latex gloves (and you know what those can mean — yikes!) I got a very light pat. Not even a first-base kind of patting. I wanted to say, “That’s it?!?! I definitely could have a shiv made out a travel toothbrush tucked in my underwear and you guys would have totally missed it.” I didn’t argue with them, though. I just went on my merry way — my panties free of shivs but my head full of doubt.
On this trip, I also learned I could apparently be a drug mule if I wanted to be.
I had two prescription bottles in my purse — both on the way there and back — one for myself and one for one of my kids. In addition, I also had a bottle of ibuprofen with a few Pepcid thrown in for my husband, who gets heartburn with every vacation meal he eats. No exciting or controlled substances, but bottles full of pills nonetheless.
Before our trip, I made sure to make copies of the prescriptions and put them with our passports, fully expecting to be interrogated about what these pills actually were. Would they pick them up and examine them and raise a suspicious eye? Would they have to send them to “the lab” for testing, I wondered. If so, I sure hope they have one onsite! I knew I would be vindicated in the end, but it could make us miss our flight. Maybe even a full day of our vacation!
Or maybe they could just taste the pills, like they do on TV, and know we were legit. They probably know what the hard stuff tastes like, I reasoned.
But, again, I got nothing. They must have seen the stash in my purse on the X-ray machine, but they just let me right on through. Not even a shake of a single bottle.
“Can you believe that?” I said to my husband. “They didn’t even ask me about our prescriptions. I could have put any kind of pills in those bottles and have been single-handedly fueling the opioid crisis in some small town with what I have in my purse alone.”
Of course, I never would be a drug mule, because of, well, many obvious reasons, but mainly because I have watched too many episodes of “Locked Up Abroad” and I couldn’t handle prison of any kind, much less in a foreign land where you are forced to eat roaches and rice and relieve yourself in a bucket … if you are lucky. I’m just not built for that.
But I was also surprised by the stunning absence of dogs at the various airports we traveled through this time. Didn’t there used to be German shepherds everywhere sniffing your bags and your butt?
We only saw one DEA/TSA dog the whole time and it was in Atlanta on our way back. And get this, it was a geriatric beagle. When exactly did they start using elderly beagles for this line of work? Are the German shepherds in some sort of union dispute and they’ve had to resort to whatever kind of help they can find?
In the very unlikely scenario that I do become a drug mule, I want Rin Tin Tin taking me down and sending me to a Third World prison, not freaking Snoopy. I’d be the laughing stock of the labor camp, for heaven’s sake!
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. And I was reminded of just how much I enjoy flying the friendly skies. Even if they may seem a bit too friendly these days.