Friday, September 9, 2011

Flying While Wrinkled

As Americans wade into days of special remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and frequent fliers recount how travel has changed since then, allow me to add one more observation - one not often remarked-upon:

It is now much tougher than it was 10 years ago to pass smoothly through airport security if you are an older person. Why? Because consciously or unconsciously, security screeners want to show that they are being fair - i.e., not profiling or singling out young males, Muslims or most people of color, for fear they will be accused of racism, religious intolerance or discrimination. Result: Elderly people of all backgrounds - whites probably somewhat more often - are given extra attention for pat-downs and additional X-ray screening. This is supposed to make the point that even people who look harmless, mainstream and docile have to pass muster with the guardians of the skies: Not so fast, Granny.

Counter-intuitive, creative security? No, just knee-jerk, spineless bureaucracy.

I watched a long report on the PBS NewsHour last night that showed video of travelers being pulled over in U.S. airports for extra scrutiny. The majority were white-haired, wrinkle-faced elders - some in wheelchairs, with canes or wearing prosthetic devices, though the reporter didn't acknowledge the pattern. He did cite the now well-known case of a 96-year-old woman who was pulled over because her adult-diaper was wet and didn't scan. The truly preposterous will get publicity; the persistent pattern, not so much.

I fly a lot, and I see some truly scary people breeze through security
and zip toward the plane while the oldsters get flagged. Is this protecting travelers from terrorists? I think not.

The massive re-think of U.S. laws and attitudes designed to root out discrimination against minorities or anyone who happens to be different - "driving while black,'' for example - is historically and ethically justified. When thinking stops, and procedures calcify into political correctness - as with flying while wrinkled - justice is not served.

And neither are safety and security.

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