Reflections on Modern Air Travel

“If we sacrifice freedom for security we will end up with neither.”
(attributed to Benjamin Franklin in various forms, though he may have been quoting someone else).

I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a flight for the 6th time in the last couple weeks. Only two more airports to go, and I’ll be home. Sitting here, listening to the repeated security announcements certainly gives me a few things to think about. I suppose, in theory,  repeating the same ominous announcement over and over is a practical matter. People are coming and going and if you want everyone to hear the announcement, you have to repeat it. Perhaps the effect is not intended to intimidate. But it intimidates the hell out of me.

“Keep an eye on your fellow travellers,” I’m repeatedly told. Make sure they don’t sneak something into your luggage.” And most worrisome – “Report any ‘suspicious’ behaviour to the nearest law enforcement officer.” (Of course that means everyone is checking me out too, in case I behave ‘suspiciously,’ I imagine how my life would change if a stranger found me to be behaving “suspiciously.”) “Suspiciously” is never defined. I guess it’s up to the individual. I have a camera. I take pictures. Is that suspicious? I write. I wonder if writing this blog post is “suspicious.”  What about looking over my shoulder the way I find myself doing?

Are we more secure now that airlines electronically strip-search us, make us take off our shoes and restrict our use of cosmetics to little baggies of 100 ml containers? Are we more secure now that we are all watching each other for signs of “suspicious” behaviour? Are we more secure now that deregulation has pushed airlines into ruthless competition with each other, so they cut costs at every conceivable point, underpaying their highly skilled employees and charging customers exorbitant prices for “extras” like baggage and bad food?

On this trip I experienced two “mechanicals” (flight cancellations due to mechanical failures) so while I am grateful to the employees who made these calls – truly very grateful – it didn’t make me feel more secure. If the money put into searching us all could be put into better aircraft maintenance – that would make me feel more secure.

(For more information about the effect of all this on otherwise innocent photographers, check this out:
http://strobist.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-to-avoid-dealing-with-police-when.html )

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