Meghan Cox Gurdon: For speed's sake, surrendering to a machine at the airport

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Both of you?"

"Yes, please. And our friend."

"Three of you," said the uniformed guard, not with distaste exactly, but in such a way as to convey that she didn't approve.

The three young women had declared their intention to forgo microwaving. They were opting instead for the "full pat-down" promised on Transportation Security Administration signs. These also assured us, every three feet, that our safety was their priority.

There certainly were a lot of us to keep safe. It was inauguration weekend, and the security lines at Reagan National had filled up and poured onto the concourse.

There was a freshness in the faces of those newly arrived in the queue; they'd approach along the gleaming floor at a fast clip, as if by their own briskness they could cause the line to move more quickly. Within a few minutes, you could see the urgency die away. Their shoulders dropped a little, and they evidenced the same resigned attitude as those who had been in line a lot longer.

The air was thick with the concussion of plastic meeting metal, as travelers banged trays on long tables in preparation for putting their belongings through the X-ray machines.

"Put all laptops in trays!" a male guard called over the heads of the crowd. He seemed to be in a good mood.

Around him, American citizens bent and knelt to remove their shoes in what is surely the most ignominious ritual in modern air travel. It was once so glamorous that people dressed up: Now they must undress, and for the vast multitudes who do not travel by private jet or in first class, there is not even a flake of gilding left on the experience.

"Come on, come on, come on ... " a woman a couple of places behind me in line murmured. She kept glancing at her boarding pass and bouncing on the balls of her feet. I guess she was late.

The guard called out in an amiable way: "Don't put anything else inside! Nothing underneath! Nothing on top!"

"Even a piece of paper?" I said teasingly, and then thought: Bad idea! Do not joke with the TSA!

Luckily, I'd been right about his mood.

The mood of his colleague just ahead, however, seemed increasingly dark. The three young renegades stood before her in their stocking feet. It seemed that the guard had had to send for backup, and she was waiting for a pat-down specialist to arrive.

I had a brief thought of joining the girls. Being largely innumerate, I too prefer the human touch to scrutiny by an ominous, anonymous machine. But it was just a thought: Frankly, I wanted to get out of there and catch my flight. If that meant I had to stand on the yellow footprints and raise my arms like a soldier surrendering while the machine checked me over, I'd do it -- this time.

"I'm just curious," the guard asked the girls loudly, as she waved me past. "Do you opt out of other machines?"

I saw the young women glance at each other. "Well, no -- just"

"Irregardless of the benefit of the machines?" the guard pursued.

I didn't hear their answer; I was through and on my way.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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