Wednesday 26 April 2017

Don't get touchy over air security

Gemma O'DOherty

As America approaches the 10th anniversary year of its most painful national tragedy, a wave of hypocritical hysteria has engulfed airports from Denver to DC.

You don't have to be camped out in a Pakistani cave to know that the 9/11 attacks were due in no small part to gaping flaws in airport security. One decade on, cells of zealous al-Qaida recruits still dream of inflicting carnage on an American city by blowing up a plane in the skies overhead.

It's less than a year since a suicide bomber with a bomb wired up to his underwear tried to bring a plane down over Detroit.

The discovery of explosive-laden packages from Yemen recently, which found their way on to cargo planes heading for Chicago, is further proof of that real, unceasing threat.

As a result, tough and, let's face it, embarrassing new body-screening measures have been introduced in airports across the US.

Security agents are now authorised to use the front of their hands to check areas around the groin and chest.

It means an extra prod here and an unexpected hand there, further adding to the indignity of modern air travel, but a whole deal better than being blown to smithereens at 30,000 feet.

The new measures are an alternative for passengers who opt out of full-body X-ray scans, which critics have dubbed virtual strip searches because they don't just reveal potentially dangerous weapons but the contours of the human body.

Yet suddenly it seems as if 9/11 never happened. Airports have become hotbeds of passenger outrage over the new techniques, with a surge of complaints claiming they are physically invasive, humiliating and an infringement of privacy.

Last week, in the run-up to Thanksgiving, the busiest travel period of the year, many travellers were livid about the prospect of being intensively frisked for hidden explosives or weapons, with some quoting the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches.

One passenger is suing the Transportation Security Administration on a claim that the new screening searches violate the Constitution. He says that his "emotional, psychological and mental well-being" were damaged as a result of a recent pat-down on a trip to Chicago.

The American Civil Liberties Union is up in arms, too, about the new regime, and is actively gathering information from passengers who believe their rights have been infringed.

Whenever I depart from an American or British airport, my aim is to get airside in as short a time as possible with the minimum of grief. You can do that by preparing in advance, shedding bulky clothes and removing metals from your pockets as you wait in line. This makes the scanner's job much easier.

Don't start whining if machines start to beep or your lip gloss is seized. That's one argument you're not going to win. Just be co-operative, pleasant, and think how mind-numbingly tedious it must be to spend your working day at a conveyor belt, dealing with dopes who are jetting off on holiday.

And if you do have to suffer a moment of mortification when a stranger's hand scans your body, you'll get over it. After all, they're only trying to save your life.

Irish Independent

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