Sunday, April 6, 2014

Perks and Perils of Senior Air Travel

Dear George,
I flew down to New Orleans over spring break to visit J, K, and our grandkids.  It wasn’t the best time to fly.  I’d just seen Harrison Ford’s new movie “Non-Stop” about passengers on a transatlantic flight getting murdered every 20 minutes.  And, of course,  the news was completely dominated by the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean.  It all makes you a little edgy.  Katja was staying home to take care of our two Old English sheepdogs, and she dropped me off at the airport.

As I entered the security area, I noticed a sign that said that passengers over 75 don’t have to take off their shoes or jackets.  I was pleasantly surprised.  You get all kinds of good stuff when you turn 65.  But up to now I’d never seen a single benefit that comes from being over 75.   While I was happy about it, I wondered if they thought I was too feeble to take my shoes off.  Or am I now in the only age group where they can’t imagine one being a potential terrorist threat?  In any case, I decided to take advantage of my new privileges.  As I approached the first security checkpoint, a uniformed guy politely but firmly instructed me to take off my shoes.  “I’m over 75,” I said.  He squinted his eyes and muttered, “You don’t look over 75.”  I started to get out my wallet to show him proof, but he waved me on.  Then he called out loudly to his colleagues down the row, “This guy’s over 75!  Coming through.  This guy here.  Over 75!”  All the other passengers in the area turned to see what the commotion was about. 

I picked up two plastic bins, put my L.L. Bean knapsack in one, my wallet and pocket contents in another.  A tall woman just ahead of me took my knapsack out of my first bin, saying, “That’s my bin.”  It wasn’t hers, but I didn’t feel like quarrelling so I got another bin.  I got through the body scan X-ray machine successfully after some instructions.  Then another security guard came up and said, “You have your jacket on, so I’m going to have to give you a full patdown.”  I didn’t see the point since I’d already passed my body scan X-ray test, but I raised my arms obediently.  He patted my shoulders, underarms, rib cages, upper and lower back.  Then he said, “Your jacket is zipped up, so I’m going to have to pat down your stomach.”  By that time I concluded that the TSA agents got irritated when people were allowed to keep their jackets on and responded by deliberately hassling them.

My nonstop flight to New Orleans went by quickly.  I’d arranged to meet my son J at curbside under the Delta baggage claim sign.  The Delta sign was mounted on a large concrete pillar, and I was surprised to see a carry-on bag leaning against the pillar though nobody was in the vicinity.  J was running late.  Fifteen minutes went by, and still nobody had come anywhere near the abandoned carry-on bag.  I started thinking about the warning announcements they make about unattended suitcases in airports.  The bag was looking more and more ominous.  There didn’t seem to be enough traffic in the immediate area to attract a mass bomber.  On the other hand, if the pillar came down, it could bring down the whole upper level roadway.  I thought about moving to a new location, but I didn’t want to leave the spot where J planned to pick me up.  Instead I moved to the opposite side of the pillar, hoping that it was strong enough to bear the brunt of an explosion.   It never did explode, and, for all I know, the bag might be still there.

My visit to New Orleans was thoroughly enjoyable: all the major tourist sights, lots of good music and good food, and many family excursions.  Six days later J dropped me off at the airport.   New Orleans had the same sign in the security area:  “People over 75 don’t need to remove their shoes and jacket.”  Now I knew what that meant.  It means: “If you are over 75 and physically infirm, you can leave your shoes and jacket on.  If you are over 75 and not physically infirm, take your shoes and jacket off now.”  I promptly took off my shoes and jacket.  That worked excellently – no questions, no patdowns,  only the same routine harassment that forty- or fifty-year-olds are subjected to.   

My plane was set to take off on schedule.  I was tired and soon nodded off in my seat.  Some time later I was jolted awake when I felt the plane make a sudden sharp righthand turn.  I immediately thought of the Malaysian airliner changing course over the Indian Ocean.  Startled, I opened my eyes and looked around for hijackers.   Seeing none, I glanced out the window.  Surprise -- we were still on the ground!  The pilot had just made a righthand turn onto the runway to prepare for his takeoff.   Aside from a hair in my Diet Coke, the rest of my trip was uneventful,.   Katja and the sheepdogs met me outside baggage claim at the airport.  There were no suspicious carry-on bags at curbside in Cincinnati.  Katja, the dogs, and I had an exciting reunion.  Lots of barking.   I was glad to be home again.

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