Stop Patting Down Kids, Old Ladies

Susan Page
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Wednesday - December 01, 2010
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Lucy wanted to fly to the Mainland for Christmas to visit family - in fact, some relatives she had never met. Born in Hawaii, she’d never had the chance to take such a big trip, and now, at close to 70 years old, she seemed very excited at the prospect.

Sheltered to the max, Lucy had never been exposed to the greater world. Heck, she had never even been around anyone except her brother, her parents, their friends, her doctors and some visitors.

Then, just as the plans began to take shape, a snag: Unless she met some very stringent government restrictions, she would be denied the chance to fly. She was devastated when, as it turned out, she couldn’t possibly get all the requirements met in time to travel for Christmas.

First, there were the two rabies shots 30 days apart, then the blood tests sent to Kansas, then the microchip.

Yes, Lucy is a dog, a 70-pound yellow Lab mix. And, yes, we, her parents, agree she should not travel without being screened properly. Maybe she has been unfairly profiled, but to prevent an outbreak of rabies in Hawaii, we figure, so what? Would she be OK with a thorough pat-down? No question, she’d lie down and roll over for it and beg for more.


Why the silly dog story? It’s to illustrate a point about how our security screening has gone awry. The, as some claim, “overly zealous” TSA screening and the resulting “don’t touch my junk” hysteria only further illuminate how lame our airport security methods are and have been for years now.

Here is my point: We need to gather travelers’ statistics long before they travel into or around the U.S., even if that means having to book travel well ahead of time - like Lucy has to. Must we really be dragging children and little old ladies out of line?

What frequent traveler doesn’t have stories about how an elderly grandmother or disabled spouse was body searched? My late mother, at 88 and with Alzheimer’s, got pulled over for the pat-down. I’ll never forget the confusion on her face as I stood by helpless.

My husband Jerry has had a knee replacement and now has to go through the most rigorous of searches every single time he travels, which has caused near flight-missing delays. Picturing him with his crutch trying to hurry down a long concourse at SFO on that painful knee makes me furious at how ill-conceived our system is.

Israel has perfected the art of pre-screening before a passenger ever gets to the security area. Upon checking in at El Al, agents ask pointed questions to which they already know the answers, and they are trained to evaluate the responses. Why not model our system after a country that has security down pat (no pun intended)?

I travel to Africa every year to some pretty remote places, and I always try to size up the security at various airports, both large and really tiny (many way smaller than Maui’s Kapalua airport).

Outside the U.S., none I’ve seen have you remove your shoes. Many don’t even have regular body scanners, much less the “X-ray-ted” kind. Often, the screeners are chatting it up among themselves. I’ve identified many airports overseas that could easily wave through a terrorist with a “device” to a major hub connecting flights to the states.

For starters, Homeland Security must know well in advance every flight that enters the U.S., the background of all passengers and where they have traveled to and from.


And those Americans traveling within the U.S. must be statistically evaluated - OK, profiled. That doesn’t mean every person of Middle Eastern descent or every Indonesian needs be pulled out of line, but if the statistics fit ...

I have lived in Japan off and on and traveled there frequently. The security there is tight. Great. I respect every country I visit or live in. I ask myself this question: Would I make a big stink if Japan’s airport security pulled me aside because over the years tall, blond, Caucasian women from America had been committing suicide bombings and had flown planes into Tokyo buildings killing thousands of Japanese citizens?

Answer: No, I would not. I might not roll over on my back like Lucy would, but I sure wouldn’t bite anybody either.

Happy holiday travels!

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