From Hyannis To Honolulu: Fear Of Flying Grounding Many Travelers

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

coffeetea2The tragic crash yesterday of Delta connection carrier Comair in Lexington, Kentucky, bursting into flames just beyond the runway and killing dozens of people, will likely fuel a nationwide angst over the safety of air travel, even though there is no indication that security-related issues were responsible for the crash.  

Examples of the last week point to a collective paranoia. In the Delta terminal Friday at Cincinnati Airport in nearby Covington, Ky, passengers awaiting a flight to Boston were intensely inspected, scanned and scrutinize—de rigueur these day for airport security checks. One woman apparently drew attention in the crowd. Was she concealing a weapon, planning on smuggling ingredients for an explosive cocktail over the Charles River, or was she part of another terrorist cell, plotting “mass murder on an unimaginable scale,” as a senior British police officer said of the foiled terrorist plot earlier in the month that has set in place an airport screening process that is rude, repetitive and so anal it might be effective?

No, the woman was frail, in her 80s and confined to a wheelchair, her lip-gloss as menacing as running mascara. And yet the fumbling airport security personnel—you know, the types who never did homework in the eighth grade, end up with these low-paying jobs and are now charged with our overseeing our safety—spent what seemed like the air time to Logan, interrogating the woman and buzzing her with surveillance equipment.

“They did everything but give this poor lady a body cavity check,” Justine O’Brien-Holmes, a passenger on the flight, said of the behavior profiling about as appropriate as a policeman pulling over a toddler on a tricycle for speeding. “Did they think she was going to throw a wheelchair at someone?”

Score one for the terrorists last Friday, as pitiable scenes like this played out in airports across the nation, along with seven terror-alert incidents of forced landings, diversions and delays involving U.S. air travel where no indication of terrorism was found, not even in the partial stick of dynamite discovered in the luggage of a Continental Airlines flight that had landed in Houston. Terrorists are winning the intimidation game, in some ways of greater value to them than inflicting mass injuries and deaths. Imagination can be more paralyzing than reality; fear of the shark, film producer Stephen Spielberg taught us in the movie Jaws, is more terrifying than the bite.

But for now, we must swim with the sharks, and it will only get worse until a porous Department of Homeland Security improves its dysfunctional and poorly managed bureaucracy, overcoming its own serious flaws and the internecine warfare among related law enforcement agencies. Stuck on Iraq and outwitted by nuclear Iran and its marionette Hezbollah, the Bush Administration must make homeland security a more focused priority. Whether it’s high-tech biometrics to discern a hostile intent or better-trained airport security personnel, it’s the motherland, stupid! And if Bush has learned anything from his father, he should know this.

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