One of the more curious slices of modern life is the grilling you get as you check in for a commercial flight. The agent always asks if your bags have been in your possession since you packed them. Then: Has anyone unknown to you given you anything to carry aboard?
What kind of moron -- or terrorist -- would ever answer anything but yes to the first question and no to the second? I hope this little counterside drill makes you sleep better at night. It doesn't do anything of the sort for me.
At least the last piece of the airport check-in routine is a little less pointless. You have to show the attendant your driver's license, or you can't board.
Airlines realize that some passengers don't possess a license. But if you're one of them, you'd better be prepared with a company ID, a passport, or something equally persuasive. Otherwise, Cousin George will be getting married in Duluth without you.
Obviously, I have trouble with the way airport security is conducted. But I have no quarrel with the need for it. I'd rather see more of it, not less.
For example, do you think I enjoyed watching a guy board my recent flight to California with a hunting rifle tucked under his arm?
Yes, it had been broken down, and yes, it was inside a zipped-up case. Presumably (cross fingers hard), it was unloaded. But I'm hassled routinely because I carry a letter opener in my briefcase, which shows up whenever I pass through those "Pearly Gates" scanning devices. How can a gun be okay if a dull piece of aluminum isn't?
Anyway, a Levey reader recently starred in yet another twist to the airplane security scenario. She was en route to Indianapolis from her home in Boston. Unbeknown to her, she dropped her wallet during her flight. It was found by a passenger on that plane's next flight, later the same day.
The finder took the wallet with her to Vermont before tracking my reader down and arranging to return it. Meanwhile, the owner of the wallet was 800 miles away, in Indiana. There was no way to reunite wallet and owner in time for owner to use it at the Indianapolis airport the next day. So how would she be able to board her return flight?
A relative of the wallet-loser's happened to know the local US Airways manager, and she went to bat for her. But would that tactic always work? And what should a person without connections do if she loses her ID?
US Airways spokesman Rick Weintraub said that a wallet-loser should report the loss to local police. Then, when it's time to fly home, the person should bring a copy of the police report to the airport.
If that's not possible, gate agents will carefully question the passenger, and other airline personnel will conduct extra security screenings on the passenger's luggage. "It's likely the individual would be able to get home," Rick said.
What about children? If they're younger than 16, they don't have driver's licenses. Many children have school IDs, which include a photo. But what if a school ID has been lost or forgotten (or machine-washed into inklessness, as my son recently managed to do to his)? Would an airline prevent an ID-less child from boarding?
A US Airways customer service representative who declined to give her full name said it depends on the age of the child.
Children younger than 18 are not required to have a photo ID, she said. US Airways recommends that children ages 12 to 17 have a photo ID, but no child in that age bracket will be kept off a flight for being ID-less. If children are flying with a parent, or more than one, no ID is required, regardless of age, the customer service rep said.
Should airlines use fingerprints to help them identify passengers? Sure, it sounds onerous. But it also sounds much more efficient than a quick glance at a driver's license photo that may be 10 years old.
Should airlines avoid asking frequent fliers for IDs? This would certainly shrink lines. How about asking passengers for an ID only when they board for the first leg of a round trip? This would have prevented all the scrambling that took place in Indianapolis.
If you have any ideas about improving airport security, my address is Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. My phone number is 202-334-7276, my fax number is 202-334-5150, and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prize for the best idea is one very used, slightly bent letter opener. Maybe you'll have better luck with the hijack-detectors of this world.
Hurricane Dennis certainly spun himself -- and us -- around in circles, didn't he? At least the damage wasn't what it could have been. And at least there's one lasting laugh from all that wind and rain. Thanks to Barbara Harling, of Northwest Washington, for providing it.
Barbara says that Dennis couldn't make up his mind about which direction to go because he was a typical male.
He refused to stop and ask directions.