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Jewish World Review June 3, 2002 / 22 Sivan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Tuxedos, wine, soft music and metal detectors | The world's great ideas arrive in unconventional ways.

The world's great thinkers are people who look upon the same panoramas as the rest of us, yet are able to see things we somehow miss.

Thus, we arrive at the current U.S. problem -- what to do at our airports as we confront the continuing threat of terrorism.

The airport experience has become dreadful, and it will only get worse. It seems astonishing -- almost quaint -- that just two summers ago, the most maddening thing about air travel was the series of constant delays and cancellations caused by the indifference of airline executives toward customers.

Now, of course -- since September -- travelers are funneled into long lines, are inspected like drug smugglers, are instructed to take off their shoes, undo their belts, stand with their arms out while they are felt up and down ... the indignities are endless.

Not that anyone has come up with a better way. Loosening the security procedures might -- somewhere down the line -- allow someone to slip through with the means of flying another jet into another high-rise. Of course you -- you, who are reading these words today -- would never do such a thing, or even consider it. Yet the screeners at the airports don't know that -- they have been instructed to, in effect, consider you guilty until proven innocent.

This is going to cause long-term problems for the major airlines. If travelers begin to comprehend that the days of going to airports and being patted down and ordered to stand spread-eagled by strangers in private security uniforms are never going to end; if travelers begin to realize that this is not temporary, this is a way of life. ...

Well, there's no law saying people have to fly. And if security procedures continue to be so repugnant, those who don't have to fly simply won't.

Which brings us to today's idea -- the idea that the rest of us have missed.

It comes from a social observer by the name of Leith Hunt, who understands the conflicting forces at work: the need on the part of the government to make certain no one gets on the plane with the means to create havoc, and the repulsion on the part of air travelers at the police-state quality of people in uniforms running their hands and electronic wands over the bodies of business and vacation fliers.

Here is Leith Hunt's suggestion:

"The security folks should dress not in uniforms, but in tuxedos and evening gowns. If we're going to get groped, they should dress for the occasion. Some wine, some soft music, some candlelight wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Heck -- I think Americans would start flying again."

You're laughing, are you? Go ahead -- but then think about it.

With a minimal investment -- tuxedos, evening gowns, inexpensive bottles of wine, candles and romantic music -- the government could turn something odious into something that winks and smiles. Put the security guards in Casino Royale clothing -- set up the security points like dimly lit nightclubs -- make the whole process seem like something out of a Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn caper. ...

Look -- having strangers tell you to unbuckle your belt is never going to be a civilized experience. Having strangers reach into the front of your pants or dress is never going to make you appreciate air travel. These are cruddy times we're living in.

But we might as well grin at it. Americans, at their most attractive, have great and sardonic senses of humor. If the security guards have to be there, getting way too familiar with you, put them in the tuxes and gowns; have them offer you a glass of wine and some lush orchestra music; instruct them to turn the lights down low before they become intimate with you. ...

I know, I know -- there are enough potential problems here to drive a truck through.

But the way things are now, by the time you get onto the plane you feel as if you are a piece of meat that has just been inspected on a conveyer belt.

With the tuxes and the gowns and the soft music, you could fool yourself into thinking you were starring in "An Affair to Remember."

Until you crammed yourself into your middle seat on the flight, and realized that this is not all a dream -- just the same continuing nightmare.

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