The Indignity of Airport Security: Will It Ever End?

As I sat on one of those metal benches, retying my shoes after enduring yet another near-cavity search courtesy the TSA, something both rather obvious and rather sad dawned on me. It is, in fact, the answer to the question that heads this post, and that answer, by the way, is “No.” As a matter of fact, “Hell no.” As I sat there, I contemplated how much more intrusive the searches could get before the public rose up and said, “Enough!” Simultaneously, a conversation I had enjoyed with a fellow traveler as we stood in a very long line at the Monroe County (Rochester) International Airport rolled around in my head.

She had quipped, as we inched closer to our turn in the scanner, “I’m just glad that we haven’t had a bra bomber yet.” We laughed, but it was more out of pain than humor. She and I both knew that we were experiencing a real-life reenactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and that things would get worse–likely a lot worse–before they got better. (And that’s making the very large assumption, an assumption I might characterize as a pipe dream, that things will ever get better.)

As an aside, and just to provide some context for my conclusion, I recall talking to an executive from ExxonMobil 10 to 15 years ago. It was at that time when gas prices had just begun to creep up to levels that before then had seemed unthinkable. As I recall, the highest they had been was nearing $1.50/gallon, although that figure is just a guess. As I whined about the prices and how people would cope, he calmly asked me: “Wilt, do you think prices are at the highest level they could reach while people still buy lots of gas?” I thought about it a minute and had to conclude he was correct. Gas could (and probably would) far exceed that price level without any real reaction from the public, except whining as they drove their SUVs 35 miles to work alone. The same logic is true of the practices at Airport Security Theatre.

At what point do you think people would refuse to endure more? I submit that TSA could install curtains, with TSA-employed nurse practitioners and physician assistants performing very thorough “security checks” and all we’d have is longer lines. Shucks, people might begin to use the occasion for informal check-ups! I can hear the conversations now. “Bill, how are those hemorrhoids?” “Feels good Stan, and we’ll see what the nurse says at Airport Security next week. I’m flying on business.”

Coincidentally to all this thinking, I was in the midst of reading R. Dwayne Betts’ “A Question of Freedom.” It is a prison memoir of a young man sentenced to 10 years, spending much of it in maximum security prisons–and in “the hole” much of that time–for car jacking someone as a teenager. While Betts’ story is fascinating for a number of reasons, what struck me most viscerally was this statement he makes in a chapter entitled, “Prison 101…” Says Betts, “Prison life is a series of small indignities that you’re made to adapt to.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Cross-Posted at LRCBlog.