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Butterknives and Toothpaste

Airport Security Check We love to travel and for the past four years we’ve been doing just that – enjoying winters abroad and exploring the far flung bits of the world. Life is amazing and miraculously fresh when you travel. There are ancient sites, new wonders and remarkable people to meet all over the globe. There are fascinating new foods, the delicious tingle of other languages you almost understand and the puzzles, the confusions and the fine art of getting lost – all of which must be savored with patience and a dash of fun if you are to enjoy traveling. Yet in all my years of globe trotting I can honestly say there us one part of traveling that I absolutely abhor.

And what is it that is most likely to raise the hackles of even the most even keeled and accommodating traveller? Is it the public temper tantrum the Russian call girl in the queue ahead of you throws when she discovers the astronomical sum she will be charged for the ten gigantic suitcases piled high on three luggage carts? Is it the cramped seating that has you twisting like the incredible human rubber band in order to reach your laptop case? Is it the unruly children squabbling and bashing the back of your seat? What about those pesky unexpected fees every time you turn around? Or the puny cold meals wrapped in unbreakable plastic pouches that only vaguely resemble real food?

No, those are irritations for sure. But, for me, by far the worst part of traveling is going through the security gates of hell prior to the half marathon sprint to our boarding gate. How did we agree to be subjected to this? Once upon a time, air travelers were treated like royalty, now it’s quite literally a ritual in condoned social abuse. Shuffling along like sheep to the slaughter through cordoned off mazes that ensure we walk three times further than necessary, weighted down by neck pillows, backpacks, over the shoulder purses, computers and heavy overcoats we drag our wheeled luggage while madly swigging a recently purchased bottle of water as fast as we can.

As soon as we near those fearful doors, there is a definite change in atmosphere. No matter how aged, how well-dressed, how middle class straight we may be, we are instantly transformed from excited travellers into potential terrorists. There are the understandable warning signs of the kind of humor deemed not only unacceptable but potentially imprisonable should we be foolish enough to joke to our partner about bombs or guns. There are little pictograms of the kinds of items not to be carried aboard: no lighters, no spray cans, no explosives, etc. And beyond the doors are the dreaded inspectors, gloomy, rubber gloved, operating with military efficiency throw bins at us. This is where the dance begins: remove coats, belts and in some countries, our shoes. Walk through a detector and should we beep, we are subjected to a personal sweep of a metal detecting wand or a 360 degree scan of our person that reveals…just about everything.

Nowhere before we entered these doors was it explicit that this inspection would not be consistent from country to country or even airport to airport. Nail files or clippers that slipped past a dozen borders are suddenly removed. And today, we witnessed what I can only say takes the cake. Two sweet looking seniors ahead of us had all their bags opened and Christmas presents decked out in green tissue were unwrapped to reveal: Butterknives. Yes, this poor couple had the audacity to buy a dozen gorgeous, fancy butterknives as gifts for their relatives. At great expense these “dangerous items” could be mailed – if there were enough time to get to the appropriate counter, address the package and go through security all over again. And then Tom was held back. His toothpaste was absconded because it was 117 ml. “It’s half full (or empty),” he points out. Logic not being a good enough reason for security checkers to change their minds, they respond that the tube says 117 ml and it does not matter that only 75 ml are actually inhabiting the tube, it cannot go aboard the plane.

Now, of course, I realize that terrorism is a real thing. And I also understand that it can happen at any point. But quite honestly I wonder what possible harm can be done with butterknives and toothpaste? How devious must terrorists be that they can concoct atrocities using butterknives and toothpaste? In the end, I come back to the only conclusion about all this that makes any sense at all. It’s not even about terrorism. It’s not about the individual items that could potentially be mixed together in an airplane washroom and blow everyone to kingdom come. No, it’s not about that at all.

It’s about intimidation. It’s about getting people used to being meek and obedient. Remember: no joking, no water. Walk about in stocking feet, hike up your pants with one hand since your belt is now in a bin. Have burly guards bark at you as though you were not customers who have paid handsomely for an expensive service, but are instead criminals disguised as honest citizens. It’s no wonder that no matter how innocent and sparkly clean our record may be…there is this lurking feeling that perhaps, just perhaps we have done something wrong. Yes, social intimidation is working just fine thank you very much. Because each and every time I fly, I dread the belittling ritual of going through airport security.

~ Michele Hall

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