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Glad I'm not flying for the holidays

Posted: November 24, 2010 3:17 p.m.
Updated: November 29, 2010 5:00 a.m.

To fly or not to fly, that is the question.

I’m going to go with what appears to be an increasing number of folks: not to fly.

I wasn’t planning on doing so anyway. Thanksgiving was spent at our own home here in Camden with a visit from my mother and one of my sisters. Christmas and New Year’s are likely to be similar.

The last time I got on a plane was more than a year ago when my wife, sons and I quickly got a flight to New York for my brother-in-law’s funeral. I suspect it will be a very long time before I fly again.

First off, most of the trips I’d want to take by plane are fiercely expensive.

For example, I graduated from Marianas High School on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. A bunch of my fellow 1982 graduates are trying to put together a 30th reunion in the summer of 2012.

For me, though, that’s a 9,000-mile trip -- one way. Using a popular travel site, I’ve calculated that out to no less than $2,000 at today’s prices with four different flights and going through Tokyo, Japan, to boot. And that’s not including a hotel while I’m there. I can’t imagine the cost will go down a year and a half months up the line.

But now there’re a couple of extra reasons I don’t want to get on a plane: body scanners and pat-downs.

I’m not exactly a prude, but I’m not sure I want someone -- even “anonymously” -- looking at my “naked” body in an airport.

I definitely don’t want them feeling me up, down or whatever direction.

Look, 9/11 scarred this country. I understand that and the need to keep our country and our citizens safe. But I have as much problem with the Transportation and Security Administration’s (TSA) new protocols as I do portions of the Patriot Act.

Yes, we’ve had bombs delivered by air mail -- luckily intercepted and defused. Yes, we’ve had “exploding” underwear” and the like.

But most people flying aren’t out to get the rest of us. Most folks on a plane are just like us -- mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers trying to visit family, go on vacation or get back home.

Most people don’t have C4 tucked in their bra or a homemade IED sewn into their pants or nitroglycerin hidden in their shirt collar.

If we’re going to use technology to protect ourselves -- and why not on boats, trains and buses, by the way -- lets get some R&D going on devices that can “sniff out” the dangerous material.

I have no problem going through some kind of scanner -- something that scans for dangerous things, not my body.

Homeland Security also needs to do a better job of identifying actual terrorists rather than subjecting the rest of us to such measures.

There are already horror stories about people being subjected to the pat-downs and body scans.

The scanners and protocols have even been implemented on Saipan, which is sort of a gateway to America in the Pacific -- tourism is a major economic factor there.

As soon as they were installed, Marianas Sen. Pete Reyes said he was “shocked” they were being used.

“I don’t have any problem with (traditional) scanners or emptying your pockets or putting things (through X-ray machines),” Reyes told the Saipan Tribune, “but to do a body scanner that would show every part of your body is an invasion of privacy and I think this is not right.

“This is tantamount to having a free porno show at the airport because it would show the entire body. I intend to introduce a resolution objecting to the use of body scanners. Where that would go, I don’t know.”

Neither do I, but I applaud him for standing up for the rest of us.

Acting Gov. Eloy S. Inos said he has more of a problem with the pat-downs.

“I kind of feel for folks who have to go through the pat-down process, especially those people who have prosthesis and things like that,” Inos told the Tribune. “It’s bad enough that they have to go through this kind of situation and be subjected to further intrusion. I hope the agency, TSA, will find a more acceptable method of doing what they have to do to ensure the safety (of the traveling public).”

Indeed.

In both cases -- body scanner and pat-downs -- this is extremely intrusive.

If someone is acting truly suspicious, fine: subject them to intense questioning and, I dare say, if really necessary, send them through the scanner.

But that should be for the extreme cases, not routinely for everybody trying to get on their flight.

Flying used to be something of a routine for me. While living on Saipan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I must have been on a plane at least a dozen times, maybe two dozen. I don’t remember it being a problem even when we went to Cairo, Egypt, right behind the first El-Al flight from Israel to ever do so.

After returning to the states, I routinely flew from either Syracuse or Memphis to see family on the East Coast.

Since the mid-1990s, though, I’ve pretty much stuck to the roads, and I have a hard time imagining dealing with a crowded, molasses-slow airport just to get on a plane to somewhere.

Will I go to Saipan in 2012? Sadly, I tend to doubt it. I might change my mind, though, if the focus is on catching bad guys and not embarrassing the rest of us.

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