Iberia was running late. When we checked in, our flight from Barcelona to Madrid was already close enough that we had “Short Connection” stickers on our luggage. And now they were running late. We arrived in Madrid with less than a half-hour to make our flight to Boston. We didn’t know which part of the terminal we had to go to make the connection, but we knew that it was in another building and that we had to take a train to get there. The signs directing us said to expect to take 21-28 minutes.We would have run to and from the train, but Lisa was carrying the ceramic vase we bought, so we fast-marched through the airport.
When we arrived at E.U. exit control there were no other passengers there—thanks to the fast march—but I decided to use the “connections with less than 1/2 hour” lanes out of principle. The border guards looked at my passport, (maybe) looked at me, used his big stamp, and waved us through. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go through security again, and we just had one small stop before our gate where they double-checked people with American passports to make sure that we had them and were on the up-and-up.
Simple. And appropriate. If we had looked suspicious or acted oddly or not been running through the airport to catch our flight, I’m sure we might have gotten a little extra scrutiny. And that makes sense.
Furthermore, when we were going through security at Barcelona’s airport it was an easy and relaxed experience. Here’s what it was like. First, after waiting in almost no line, someone who looks an ordinary civil servant looks at your passport and boarding pass to make sure you’re going the right place and have the documentation to get there. Next, you take all of the metal out of your pockets, take off your jacket, watch and belt, and go through the magnetometer, to meet your items on the other side of the X-ray machine. The security guard sees your pump, points at it, gives you the thumbs up, and goes about his business. Your pants may hang low; they may wobble to and fro; but you can throw your bags over your shoulder and saunter over to a nice collection of tables to reassemble yourself. The trays aren’t deep, decaying, table-busing tubs; instead, they’re shallow, smooth, and easy to take things out of. Your Euros slide nicely back into your hand and into your pocket without you needing to scrape your fingers along the bottom of the tray to retrieve them.
Notice that at no time did you have to (a) take off your shoes, (b) get an aggressive pat-down, (c) let go of your wallet, (d) explain your medical device, or (e) feel rushed or under suspicion.
Let’s compare and contrast this with going through security at Boston’s Logan International Airport—with which I am quite familiar—the last three or four times.
You arrive at the airport, check in, and go to a long security queue where a uniformed representative of the U.S. government looks at your documents under a black light and then back at you skeptically, considers the situation, and then writes something inscrutable on your boarding pass which might translate into “Bonne Voyage!” or “Send this man directly to Gitmo.” You go through another queue where you jostle with other people who are taking everything out of their pockets—wallet, coins, keys, glucose tablets, Kleenex, scraps of paper, chapstick, the random Stop & Shop card, etc.—and putting it into a bin along with their belt, shoes, jacket, and watch. You walk (in your socks with a hole near the big toe) to another uniformed officer, point at your pump and say, “I’m not supposed to take this through the back-scatter X-ray imager.” To which he replies, “It’s okay. You weren’t supposed to take them through the magnetometers.” Uh-huh. Okay. You’re the boss, chief.
You stand, holding your pump facing a device that showers you with X-rays. They say it’s safe, but radiologists who have looked at the images suggest it actually does penetrate the skin and sinus cavities and have called it “the biggest low-dose radiation clinical trial without informed consent ever performed” (or something like that). Another TSA agent somewhere else can see that you don’t have any weapons, but then you will still get an extra-thorough pat-down.
After a few seconds, you step out of the machine so a guy (for me) can ask, “What side is your property on?” Do you mean my pump? “No. Your property.” Oh. My junk. The one thing I didn’t take out of my pants. Uh huh. And then comes the very thorough going over. Up one leg. Down the other. All the way around the inside of my waistband of my pants. Down both arms (since they were less visible because I was instructed to hold my pump in my hand.
Going to Buffalo last week, after the TSA agent who swabbed my pump and hands walked away to test for explosive residue, the woman behind me said quietly, “Makes you want to go through again, huh?” We New Englanders have dry cynicism down cold.
Eventually, once it’s clear to The Man that you’re not a terrorist, you get to go collect all of your stuff that’s been sitting unattended on the X-ray belt: wallet, fancy watch, coins, glucose tablets, Stop & Shop card, hand luggage, etc. Plus, oh yeah, your shoes and belt. Good luck finding a nice, out-of-the-way place to put everything back on. You’re going to be in the way and feel rushed.
And don’t get me started about coming back into the U.S. from another country. Getting into Canada is easy: “Are you transporting anything to sell or give away in Canada? Do you have any guns?” The UK and E.U. don’t care about anything as long as you’re not trying to stay for an extended period of time. Australians (and Californians) just want to make sure you aren’t bringing any microbes in that might destroy the local flora and fauna.
But coming back into the U.S. lately has involved a whole bunch of suspicious questions and needless queuing, especially to declare that I have nothing to declare. Just put an “OK” stamp on the duty card and let us walk out of the airport already. Jebus.
Is this really the right way to make us safe? Has this actually stopped anything? (I doubt it. And you know if it had, the TSA would be crowing about all of the Mega-Badness they prevented.) So why treat passengers like criminals? (BTW, I get less intense scrutiny when I visit my brother in the pokey.) Why subject us to extra-thorough screening because we have medical devices? (It’s not like they haven’t seen insulin pumps or CGM transmitters before.) Why, more than ten years after 9/11, do we still have a ridiculous system for getting through airport security and customs?
I have my suspicions, but I’ll just keep them to myself so that I don’t get branded as anti-American and put on a “no fly” list.
Hint, it’s part of the “fortress mentality.” (Which is also the reason why architecture from the 1960s and 1970s sucked so bad.)