The current airline experience is summed up by a scene I witnessed yesterday while waiting in the snaking roped-off line for the security checkpoint at the Albany airport. Ahead of me, two women and a little boy of about four are about to send their belongings through the x-ray scanner and walk through the metal detector.
“Honey, you have to take your shoes off,” the boy’s mother informs him.
“But I don’t want to take my shoes off,” he replies emphatically.
“Those are the rules, sweetie,” she says.
“But I don’t WANT to take my shoes off,” he reiterates, beginning to cry.
The boy proceeds to throw a tantrum, while his mother lifts him up and the other woman, presumably an aunt or grandmother, removes his shoes. The kid is crying and kicking and screaming, doing bascially everything everyone waiting in line must want to do, except that it’s five in the morning and no one’s quite awake enough to make a fuss, or even to recognize the grim, anxious humor in this scene. No one here want to take his shoes off, but only a toddler could possibly protest without being hassled and detained. We know this; he does not. There is a GE-manufactured chamber the size of a phonebooth beside the metal detectors, with some terrifying product name like “CheckPoint” printed across the side below the huge GE logo, with red and green lights inside and little valves that direct puffs of air at its occupant, the reasons for which remain ominously obscure. It has little space-agey glass doors with rubber edges, which doors slide open when the device is activated to admit the scanee — at this moment, a short elderly lady who looks utterly bewildered. On either side of her is a uniformed TSA agent: they are leaning down and speaking to her, she is nodding. Around me in line, passengers are rummaging through their belongings and stuffing toiletries into quart-size Ziploc bags. The line has grown to twice the meandering length it was when I entered. I think back to the airport that stood here during my childhood: a two-story lobby with turquoise and orange naugahide chairs, metal bannisters, plastic plants, and terrazzo floors, adjoining a one-story terminal of ten gates, each marked by a huge, floor-length rounded-off-rectangular numeral lit by red fluorescent lights. I remember boarding from the tarmac by ascending a stair or stepladder, depending on the size of the plane. I remember meeting visitors at their arrival gate. I remember the glow of the numbers on the building’s exterior at night, illuminating red the beige brick of the terminal.
Up ahead, a button is pressed, the glass doors part, and the lady steps into the chamber.


6 thoughts on “Terminal.

  1. Going through security feels uncomfortably intimate now. Scenes normally set in a bedroom are on public display: people adjusting their belts, putting on their shoes and replacing their watches, wallets and mobiles. The liquid scare has elevated it to a new level; standing in the queue as people put their transparent toiletry bags on the belt for the scanner you can see who’s high maintenance and needs makeup on the flight, who’s using acne medication or what kind of cologne that dude wears.

  2. I think the scary chamber thing is for testing for explosive residues on your clothes.
    At least we’re not at the point where we get patted down in security. That has happened to me a couple of times overseas, and they always yell at me for forgetting to throw out the kleenexes in my pockets.

  3. I don’t know — being patted down is invasive, yes, but I wonder if the humanness of it is preferable (on at least some levels if not others) to the chamber thing. I remember being patted down and having my luggage searched mulltiple times the first plane trip I took after 9/11, but now it seems like it’s all cotton swabs and portable laboratories and the CheckPoint. At least with the patting-down you can wage your own revolt by making it a policy to carry a bunch of gross-looking used tissues.

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