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The three-ring circus

Caddie Nath
summit daily news

Members of the business community in Summit County spend countless hours and dollars ensuring a vacation here is not only exciting, but convenient. Reservation systems are streamlined to avoid hassle, free transportation provided, tickets made available in advance.

But for a community whose economy relies so heavily on out-of-state and international tourism, there is surprisingly little time spent discussing the utterly inconvenient process of air travel – the mode by which so many of our destinations arrive here.

In the years since September 11, flying has become a three-ring circus. We, as Americans, put up a respectable fuss every time another of our privacies and, frankly, freedoms is waived in the interests of “security.” But ultimately, the clamor dies down, and the already overlong trip from airline check-in to the gate gets a little longer and more humiliating.

At security checkpoints we allow “personnel” to poke, prod, undress, search through and publicly expose our persons and personal belongings. We remove our shoes, unpack our bags and allow our property to be “confiscated” and thrown away. TSA finds my favored brand of toothpaste particularly offensive, and has tossed out every tube I’ve stubbornly tried to sneak through since “liquids, gels and aerosols” became mortally dangerous substances.

We put up with this, telling ourselves sacrifice of the odd tube of toothpaste and our personal dignity are small prices to pay to ensure we never wake up to another morning like September 11, 2001. And they wouldn’t be, if that was what security checkpoints were about.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was saddled with the unfortunate obligation of an old friend’s wedding in Pittsburgh. I packed my bag full of all the necessities for such a function: perfume, contact lens solution, eye makeup remover and, of course, the offensive toothpaste, weighing, in aggregate, well over whatever the limit is these days. My plan was to just let the slimy airlines, who’d already ripped me off on the ticket, nickel-and-dime me a little further and check the bag, since I really couldn’t go the weekend without those crucial liquids. For good measure, I dropped in a pair of tweezers and probably some scissors – and maybe my handgun, who knows. What did it matter? I was checking the bag. But a second round of fighting with the airlines at check-in and I found myself still holding my bag in the security line. Too late to go back and check the bag as planned, so I resigned myself to having all of my liquids, etc. thrown away.

Well, I removed half my clothes and went through a full body scan, while my bag passed through the x-ray machine, but no one stopped me and insisted I open my bag. No one even glanced twice at the contraband as it passed across the screen.

And I wondered: What else do they miss? They subject us to this degrading and time-consuming charade of search and destroy, and then miss a bag full of the banned items that could supposedly put a plane full of innocent passengers in danger?

Which brings me back to my original point. Flying has become a three-ring circus. It’s a show, an entertaining and, I would bet, expensive show, and it’s supposed to make us feel safe. But how safe does it actually keep us? And what do we lose to the production meant to put our minds at ease?

The reason it matters is that here in Summit County, visitors arrive tired, already inconvenienced and more than likely ticked-off before their vacation has even begun. They’ve already been poked, prodded, strip-searched, held up and overcharged. And all of that was before they got on a draining cross-country or even overseas flight, navigated baggage claim and then had to find a rental car and drive two hours on an interstate that is – well, that’s another column.

The point is, for all the effort we put into making guests’ stay comfortable and convenient, we are receiving people who are already tired, probably cranky and maybe even wondering if a few days’ skiing was worth all the hassle and expense.

And every year, as the three-ring circus grows more elaborate and more ridiculous, it is all the more likely that potential visitors to Summit County will decide just to drive two hours to the beach or their mother’s house instead.

It’s just so much easier than flying.

Caddie Nath is a reporter at the Summit Daily News. Reach her at cnath@summitdaily.com.


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