I have a split view on the new airport body-scanning equipment and intrusive pat-down policies.
From a personal standpoint, I welcome the new screening policies as putting everyone in the same boat as I'm in. In fact, they improve my flying situation. From a policy standpoint, I think they're worse than useless.
As for me, personally, the same thing occurred in the late 1960s. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I regularly flew between Ann Arbor and Philadelphia, my hometown. At the time, there had been several hijackings, as a result of which, they profiled passengers. And my bearded grad-student self fit the profile. So I was taken aside and questioned regularly whenever I boarded a flight.
Here is a list of all the late 1960s hijackers:
- Israel, July 1968: three members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an El Al Flight from Rome to Tel Aviv.
- United States, November 1968: Luis Armando Pena Soltren, Jose Rafael Rios Cruz and Miguel Castro diverted a Pan Am Flight from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, scheduled to fly to Puerto Rico, to Havana.
- Brazil, October 1969: Four people hijacked a Brazilian flight and demanded to be taken to Cuba.
- Brazil, November 1969: an individual hijacked a Brazilian flight and demanded to be taken to Cuba.
- South Korea, December 1969: a North Korean agent hijacked a South Korean flight to North Korea.
I'm no security expert, but how well did a 20-something Jewish boy getting a Ph.D. in psychology fit the hijacker profile?
So when they instituted routine screening -- where every passenger was required to pass through a metal detector -- my life improved relative to all the other passengers who were not previously subjected to scrutiny.
In summary, screening was useless, but at least I wasn't being singled out.
Dial forward to the present. I have two knee replacements, as a result of which I cannot pass through a metal detector. I fly frequently, here and internationally. When I fail to get through a metal detector in Europe, the patter-downer takes a look at me, quickly pats my sides and shoos me through.
In the United States, on the other hand they make me sit down, extend my legs, run a detector across my legs, make me stand up, run the detector up and down my legs and whole body, then pat me down, like everyone's complaining about now.
I usually try to fly in short pants, so that my legs are exposed. Despite this, the patter-downer runs the detector over my legs front (goes off around my knees) and back (goes off around my knees). In other words, no conditions deter him from his appointed rounds. No matter what he finds with the detector, he then makes me turn down the tops of my pants, and -- you know the rest.
In my book, when someone puts me through a useless procedure -- or includes elements that are useless -- I figure: (a) he has spare time, (b) the process disrespects my time, (c) the authorities don't know what real techniques to use to find terrorists.
I mean, look how much time they have to waste on a 60-something addiction expert with two artificial knees, three kids and two grandchildren, in lieu of people who have tried blowing up planes (or who want to)!
But, here's the thing: the body-scanner, as intrusive as it is, puts everyone in the same category as me. Now, just the way I used to simply proceed through the metal detector like everyone else, I will proceed through the scanner like everyone else.
Except for the shady miscreants who choose to be patted down instead -- give those misfits hell!