Columns 2006

Plane travel in the future…not a pretty picture

It is the year 2010. The war on terrorism continues unabated.  And airline travel has kept up with the need for tighter security with each passing year.  I am preparing to depart from Anchorage for a flight to the East Coast.

I drive my car to the parking lot in Wasilla, the nearest point private vehicles are allowed to Ted Stevens International.  Oops, I mean Ted Stevens National.  All international air travel must go through either Los Angeles or JFK in New York. Traveling to Europe or Asia now involves checking in two days in advance to get through all the security.

An armored bus picks me up in Wasilla.  I show my identification and ticket to the driver.  My bags are screened and transported in another armored vehicle after first being sunk into a tank of salt water for 30 minutes to ensure I have nothing in there that might be dangerous.

I arrive at the terminal 12 hours ahead of my scheduled flight. I am cutting it close.  At the ticket counter, I present my government issued ID that clears me for flying domestic flights; my driver’s license which now has both my fingerprints and corneal imprint scanned on to it; and a letter from a government approved mental health therapist saying that I am able to endure a six hour flight with no books, music, conversation or other external stimuli without going completely crazy.  I am cleared to the next checkpoint.

I enter the security line.  It has a wait time of three to six hours.  I do not make any contact with those around me during the wait for fear I’ll arouse suspicion of being a terrorist reviewing last minute details with my cohorts.

When I finally arrive at security, I am led into a little room where I strip off all my clothes and don the clear paper gown and slippers provided by the airlines free of charge to first class passengers and costing a mere twenty dollars for the rest of us. This is what we all must wear on our flight.

I enter the next waiting area holding my head high and trying not to look down past anyone’s chin.  Some things are better left to the imagination.  The room is once again completely silent.  Having gotten this far, no one wants to risk being asked to leave the departure area for talking to someone else, even if that someone is a spouse or child.

The next security area is the one most dreaded.  It is here that the body cavity searches are conducted.  For a few extra dollars, the attendants will send the results on to your family physician to alleviate the need for your annual woman’s exam or colonoscopy. After spitting in a cup to prove I have not somehow converted my saliva to liquid TNT, I am finally allowed to actually approach the plane.

At the plane I am met by flight attendants carrying bear spray and side arms who are authorized to shoot to kill first and ask questions later.  This has dramatically cut down on the number of arguments flight attendants get into during the flight with passengers. Jittery attendants have been known to kill a passenger and be exonerated based on the fact that the passenger made them nervous when he asked for another peanut.

Yes, peanut.  Because nothing can be brought on the plane by anyone that is wrapped, peanuts are brought around in a bowl and doled out one at a time to avoid anyone trying to build up a supply to use as weapons to take the plane down.  Books have been banished for fear that someone might read something that would upset them. This is called the Franken/Coulter rule. Music is banned because, as we all know, music incites the passions. George of the Jungle 2 is the only movie that can be shown.

So the flight progresses in total silence but for the occasional timid ringing of the call bell when a passenger needs an attendant to accompany him or her to the lavatory.  It’s just as well.  Conversation between strangers sitting next to each other in see through paper gowns is never really going to be anyone’s idea of a fun social moment.

And it occurs to me, at this point, that the terrorists may have already won.