There are few dignities afforded to airplane travelers these days. When they arrive at the airport, they are practically shoved onto the curb by friends or family members who are anxious not to loiter long enough to incur the attention of a self-important TSA traffic enforcer. Those guys tote guns, you know, and they’re jumpier than a truck load of starvin’ kangaroos.
Passengers are then herded like cattle through an airport security line, where they must remove their coat, their shoes, their belts, and their jewelry, and bare their toiletries in 3-ounce increments. That’s right, World, I use face wash for oily skin. Let she who is without pores cast the first stone.
If you are suspicious or just unfortunate, you are selected for extra scrutiny at the hands of a wand-wielding Transportation Security officer, who may opt to do a pat-down inspection that includes ’sensitive’ areas of the body. (The underwire on my bra sets off the hand-wad every time and no one seems concerned. I guess the girth of my chest isn’t of suspicious proportions.) People dread the pat-down, but I suspect it’s not because their personal space is being violated by a joyless stranger. I suspect it’s because it makes them unjustifiably feel like criminals when all they wanted to do was go on a business trip or a stinking vacation.
After airport security comes the purgatory that is the gate, where travelers are faced with a host of uncertainties. Will the plane leave on time? Will I make my connecting flight? Will the plane drop into the ocean without warning, explode into a fiery inferno, or be beset by a flock of lethal birds? Will that fat guy over there eating the pungent Italian sub be my seat mate?
When and if boarding occurs, passengers are squeezed like factory-farmed chickens into cramped, often-smelly spaces with barely enough room to raise their elbows while mal-nourishing themselves on blast-chilled food that was reheated in the airport, driven across tarmac, and reheated in an onboard oven. (Unless, of course, you’re a front-of-the-plane passenger, in which case you’ll be luxuriating in wide seats with personal armrests and full horizontal recline and feasting on truffle-studded veal Orloff and Grand Marnier gâteau. But just remember, rich boy, planes don’t back into mountains.)
How could air travel possibly become more demeaning? How about… naked x-rays! Yes, in an ironic bid to make air travel less demeaning, the Manchester International Airport in Britain has unveiled a full-body x-ray scanner that essentially allows a security screener to see a three-dimensional naked picture of the passenger, with a “clear outline of passengers genitalia, as well as any false limbs, breast enlargements or body piercings” (here). Says an airport official:
“Most of our customers do not like the traditional ‘pat down’ search… This scanner completely takes away the hassle of needing to undress. The images are not erotic or pornographic and they cannot be stored or captured in any way.”
Well, when you put it that way,I guess the naked x-ray scanner is the prime choice for prudes, but maybe it’s a matter of taste, and it really comes down to which method you find less intrusive and demeaning: Getting patted down by a stranger, or having your naked body ogled by a stranger. For safety’s sake.