Hostility at US airports
It is sad that George Orwell did not live to see the advent of modern American airports. If he had, he would doubtless have penned a masterpiece to rival 1984.
Upon arriving at a U.S. Airport, one is greeted by video monitors showing smiling TSA (Transportation Security Agency) agents intoning about the value of courtesy. Beneath the monitors, large signs proclaim the same.
Sadly, this is where the pretense ends. Underneath the same monitors and signs, sit decidedly discourteous men and women in uniforms.
In classic Orwellian doublespeak terminology, hostility is the new courtesy. One now hears TSA agents jokingly remark to a female passenger, “You look cute ― I ought to get your number!” I witnessed this particular incident when departing for Seoul from Detroit. The woman pretended not to understand English, but the crimson hue of embarrassment on her face indicated otherwise.
Unfortunately, lewd remarks are the least offensive problem one may hope to face. The roll call of their finest recent work reads like devices in a dystopian novel ― which accounts of air travel increasingly resemble.
In May 2010, when flying out of Phoenix, Arizona, Stacey Armato was banned from bringing breast milk (that most dangerous of terrorist weapons!) onto her flight. When she attempted to explain that she had not violated any rules, she was yelled at, cornered by a group of aggressive agents, and threatened.
In December 2011, 84-year-old Lenore Zimmerman was strip-searched at New York’s JFK Airport. Her offense? Due to heart problems, she had wisely refused to walk through the screening machine.
Another elderly traveler ― Omer Petti, 95 ― was robbed of $300 at a TSA checkpoint in San Diego last month.
Yet the TSA deserves credit for one thing: they do not discriminate based on age. In April of this year, a passenger in Wichita, Kan., was physically searched, screamed at, and called an “uncooperative suspect.”
Her age? Four.
That same month, TSA agents in New York City’s JFK Airport (again!) screamed at, and belittled, a girl with cerebral palsy. When her mother tried to videotape the incident, she was threatened with arrest.
This girl was seven.
A full account of “The TSA’s Greatest Hits” would require multiple volumes. Suffice to say that, far from protecting national security, they terrify, intimidate, steal, and otherwise deter people from wanting to fly at all.
It is for this reason (among many others) that I have come to view Korea as a second home. Here, whenever travelling through an airport, train/bus station, or any security checkpoint, I am treated strictly but with courtesy ― not the fawning variety, but the basic dignity that should be accorded to all.
Thus, to my friends back home, I issue a heartfelt but justified apology. They will have to wait for quite some time longer before our reunion ― lest I, too, run afoul of the TSA.
Vladimir Skaletsky, Jr.
Daegu, South Korea