I spend way too much time in airports, and usually log around 150,000 miles in the air per year. Certainly, airports have become symbols of government misdirection. The most discussed issue, of course, is security. I know some TSA agents by name, and they know me with more familiarity than I would like. While public outrage focuses on intimate TSA pat downs and obsession over too-large toothpaste tubes, American security is more theater than terrorism prevention. Officials conduct intellectual somersaults to avoid profiling. If a young Arab male with a suicide vest stands next to a blue-haired grandmother, odds are the TSA would single the grandmother out for an enhanced search. It’s hard to take official statements that they screen passengers based on behavior when, every time I’ve been asked the routine questions about who packed my bag, the security official didn’t bother to look at my face to see signs of deception.
It’s the in-flight announcements, however, which drive me nuts. In the 1970s and 1980s, air travel was special. People dressed up. Legs had space. Today, flights are routine. I doubt I’m on many domestic flights which have first-time travelers flying alone and, despite what the government believes, even these travelers are able to figure out how their seat belts work. And if oxygen masks drop, most everyone understands that it’s advisable to breathe. Yet, some government bureaucrat has determined that airlines must delay each flight by several minutes in order to demonstrate the obvious.
When I get catapulted off aircraft carriers, there are a few seconds when I experience multiple G forces. Based on those experiences, if ever I was on a crashing plane, I understand what would be going through my mind: Not much. When the plane finally lands, I can assure any government bureaucrat that I know exactly where the exits are without lengthy instructions.
When I first started flying, I remember the frustration of requesting a non-smoking seat, only to find myself in the last row of the non-smoking section, with smokers directly behind me. It’s been decades, however, since smoking was allowed on a flight. If someone is stupid enough to light up despite the no-smoking signs, or disable lavatory smoke detectors on a domestic flight, let them feel the full force of the law.
Now, I admit I am bitter. This past weekend, I passed through airports in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, and Michigan to help some deploying American military units. Twice, the time it took stewardesses to demonstrate seat belts and warn us about smoking was the time it took the approaching thunderstorms to roll in and delay successive flights by a couple of hours each. Stewards and stewardesses check all seatbelts anyway, so they can help anyone that doesn’t understand without wasting any more time. Airlines say the FAA requires these announcements, but droning announcements don’t make anyone safer, and I can’t remember I really saw anyone do more than pretend to pay attention. Even off-duty airline workers bumming a flight don’t glance up from their books or magazines. Rather, the announcements simply symbolize nanny-state condescension, the difficulty of undoing regulations once they become outdated, and the ever-present encroachment of the federal government on daily life.