April 2010

Fruit of the boom

By David Feela

Recently I took a flight from the Albuquerque Sunport. Rather than use the hotel’s free shuttle, I walked to the airport, a distance of about four city blocks. I toted my own luggage — one carry-on suitcase with wheels. It was the most relaxed and efficient departure out of what I consider the most perfect airport in the country.

I should mention, however, that I had exactly five pairs of clean underwear inside the suitcase and one pair in a plastic bag that I’d worn the day before. I don’t usually tell strangers about my underwear, but the 2009 Christmas bomb scare on an international flight from Amsterdam has wedgied the shyness right out of me.

I know terrorism is no joking matter, but you’ve got to laugh to think a would-be terrorist who tripped so many alarms on his way to being seated beside the plane’s fuel tanks would still be offered his bag of nuts en-route to the U.S. You’ve got to laugh, because the alternative is to scream.

Massive security changes are being considered as a result of such a close call, but the full-body imaging scan — a technology that has been available for the past eight years — is likely to show up at all major airport hubs across the U.S. The reason it hasn’t been a consistent part of security screenings since America’s first encounter with radical terrorism on 9/11 is because of its high cost.

I have a proposal to drastically cut those costs and improve the efficiency of air travel across America — potentially, across the world. I know some travelers will be upset to hear about it, but that’s where the efficiency kicks in.

Certainly, we still need the gauntlet, the portals where passengers are herded to reach their departure gates. But the technology need not be any more sophisticated than the golden arches if we simply require travelers to remove all their clothing before stepping through. I mean, why spend billions of dollars on state-of-the-art imaging technology to see through a few layers of cotton and polyester, all for the sake of modesty. With strip-searching, airport crowding in America will be reduced by half. Scandinavian flights will be completely booked.

It’s not like I’m insensitive to those who refuse to travel in the nude. For them I have another proposal.

If we’re going to spend billions of dollars screening potential terrorists with full-body imaging, why not up the ante and provide medically approved MRIs? Here’s a way to implement health-care reform while continuing the war on terror. Every passenger would be able to undergo advanced medical screening for the cost of, say, a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Chicago. And what a relief, to know the passenger sitting next to you doesn’t have loaded underpants, all while you are receiving a full report on cancerous tumors and other long-term health risks.

Terrorists, as we have seen, will stop at nothing to kill their enemies, even if innocent lives must be sacrificed to reach their ideological goals. Is there any reason we should be less committed to stopping them?

Any security system will always fail, because we depend on human beings to run it. There are no easy answers. In the skies over Detroit, the answer turned out to be about 80 grams.

And the question?

What’s the difference between a naked airline passenger and a terrorist?

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.