Christmas fun at airport security

10 12 2010

Have you ever wondered how much time is wasted in airport terminals? Passengers have to get there hours before take-off, and think of the lost productivity as folks just sit around in departure areas or stand in some line. Long gone are the days of an efficient, first class travel experience – unless of course you belong to the 0.01 percent of the population that has access to a private jet.

This little Citation would fit my needs if not my budget.

And honestly… there is really only so much people-watching you can do as you wait. The food in the lounges all seems to taste the same after a while, and getting a free spritz of overpriced perfume in the duty-free store is just about the highlight of any airport transit experience.

So where do you find entertainment while killing time in the terminal? Airport security of course! A never-ending source of amusement and irritation that defies any logic beyond randomly and indiscriminately imposing gratuitous hostility on the innocent. And all completely free of charge!

Though here in Europe we don’t have the TSA to command us around and sexually molest us during a pat-down, we do have the next best thing: Foul-tempered, disrespectful, German-speaking security officers progressively losing their nerves.

Take an incident in Nürnberg last Tuesday morning, 6am. Cranky, underpaid modern-day Nazis channel penned-in passengers through an obstacle course of electronic detection equipment like a herd of drugged cattle. An added bonus was the early morning breath of a flak-jacketed and armed tough-guy pseudo-cop dangerously invading my space.

After spotting something of interest on the X-ray, the junior security chick demanded I empty every corner of my carry-on, including a bag of dirty socks underwear, and then threatened to confiscate it (the carry-on, not the underwear) if I didn’t do exactly what she told me in the order in which she told it to me.

Apparently I look like someone who would smuggle C4 in used lingerie.

The offending item was a set of rare coins, carefully bubble-wrapped and worth roughly three times her monthly salary. I told her to keep her paws off it – as every wise, overprotective numismatist would. That’s when she called over Mr. Flakjacket to bark the directive a little louder, as if I didn’t hear the first time.

I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y repacked my ransacked bag, as if I had all the time in the world, thus creating a bottleneck at the security checkpoint. That’s the part of this process I enjoy most – tossing a little sand into the machinery and watching the ensuing human and system meltdowns.

Where are YOU headed this Christmas?

So as we prepare for the annual Christmas ritual of wasting precious life time in endless airport security lines, it’s important to remember that every paying traveler has rights too. Just because some arrogant person in a silly uniform makes you undress in front of him/her (jacket, sweater, scarf, vest, belt, shoes, silver jewelry, hair clip, keys, coins, MP3 players, cell phones, Kindles, I-pads, laptops, toiletries) doesn’t mean s/he has a carte blanche to harrass you – and I firmly believe s/he needs to be told that rather directly.

Once you clear the body scanner and have settled in to the two square feet of airplane you will inhabit for the next one, two or 13 hours, there’s nothing left to do but toss back that first stiff drink.

And pity the poor suckers who missed the flight because some overzealous security-type mistook the fat guy in the red suit (with his pet reindeer and a bag of toys) for a terrorist.

The Neanderthal of Zurich

6 12 2010

A friend of mine is on the prowl for a new job. She is a little younger than me, childless, strong-minded and very well-educated. Her degrees are from ivy league schools and she has spent most of the last 15 years working her way through the corporate landscape on both sides of the Atlantic.

She had a job interview two weeks ago. The company is a service provider in an industry she knows a great deal about, and in which she has a very strong interest. She went into the interview from a position of strength – she is not wildly desperate to leave her current employer, but is kind of itching for a new challenge. The job ad she answered sounded like the perfect fit.

She tells me the interview went great till close to the end. The two (male) interviewers, the head of the Human Resources department and the head of the department in which she hoped to work, told her that the person who did the job previously had to leave the company because of illness. (“Not due to overwork, hahaha,” said the HR manager.) The other guy added, “Yes we haven’t had a lot of luck with incumbents in this job. They tend to leave after three years. And it really would be nice to have some continuity here. We had a lot of problems with pregnancies… and, well then there was that one adoption, but mainly we’ve had issues with pregnancies.”

Over in the corner, the HR dude squirmed uncomfortably.

My friend did what every late-thirties, job-seeking career woman with a brain and a pulse would do. She did not skip a beat and just continued to smile her sweet, insincere corporate smile, perfected by enduring years of bullying in the corporate trenches.Later she told me that she was so stunned at the words that had just come out of the Neanderthal’s mouth she couldn’t even formulate a sentence even if she had wanted to. She wondered if she really just heard what she just heard and it took all her willpower not to reach across the table and strangle the guy.

Though I’ve made it clear in earlier blog entries that I was not born to be a mother, I will violently and loudly defend every woman’s right to decide what she wants to do with her own body and her future – even if I don’t agree – and not be penalized for it. I think that is a basic human right (last time I looked it was, anyway).

So it never ceases to amaze me that in an allegedly advanced, intellectual, highly industrialized country in the middle of Western Europe, which, lest we forget, currently has a female president, two women leading the two houses of parliament and a female majority in its cabinet, such clearly discriminatory and misogynist attitudes seem common among men in positions of power. The fact that this person would even think something like that makes me furious, the fact that he said it to the face of a female candidate and potential subordinate is more than stupid.

They didn’t invite my friend to a second round of interviews. And she is curious to know if that was because she is a woman of child-bearing age, wielding a lethal weapon called a womb, or if she was just plain old overqualified. After all, men really hate being outshone or beat at their own game.

In my lifetime, please.

High Flight, reloaded

2 12 2010

Those of you who take even just a passing interest in aviation must have heard of the poem “High Flight”, written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an airman who died during World War II. The poem is an homage to the miracle of flight, and a tribute to the love of aviation. It is often read at pilots’ funerals, and then-President Ronald Reagan quoted from it at the memorial to the NASA astronauts who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle accident in January, 1986: “They have slipped the surly bonds of earth… and touched the face of God.”

Love the view from here... and there.

It is a beautiful and solemn poem.  But despite all its solemnity, someone has found a way to lighten the mood. I don’t know how long “High Flight, with FAA Supplement” has been on the internet – for all I know it’s 20 years old already and I just discovered it. I’d like to share it with you here if  you are not familiar with it. It is very funny, especially for those who have had to deal with the U.S. aviation authorities lately.

I recently had the unique pleasure of making the acquaintance of not only the FAA but also the German (LBA) and Swiss (BAZL) civil aviation authorities as well. Even if you are not a pilot (who should understand what the reams and reams of regulations all mean) you will get a mild appreciation for the bureaucracy that flying has become. The sky is ruled by rules, and as a pilot you need to be able to quote every single one of them verbatim.

And oh boy, if you have the nerve to actually violate one of them, you are in BIG TROUBLE. (Like I was a few months ago. Blog fodder for another day.)


High Flight, with FAA Supplement

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth(1)
And danced(2) the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed(3), and joined the tumbling mirth(4)
Of sun-split clouds(5), — and done a hundred things(6)
You have not dreamed of — Wheeled and soared and swung(7)
High in the sunlit silence(8). Hov’ring there(9),
I’ve chased the shouting wind(10) along, and flung(11)
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious(12) burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights(13) with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle(14) flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space(15),
Put out my hand(16), and touched the face of God.


1. Pilots must insure that all surly bonds have been slipped entirely before aircraft taxi or flight is attempted.
2. During periods of severe sky dancing, crew and passengers must keep seatbelts fastened. Crew should wear shoulder-belts as provided.
3. Sunward climbs must not exceed the maximum permitted aircraft ceiling.
4. Passenger aircraft are prohibited from joining the tumbling mirth.
5. Pilots flying through sun-split clouds under VFR conditions must comply with all applicable minimum clearances.
6. Do not perform these hundred things in front of Federal Aviation Administration inspectors.
7. Wheeling, soaring, and swinging will not be attempted except in aircraft rated for such activities and within utility class weight limits.
8. Be advised that sunlit silence will occur only when a major engine malfunction has occurred.
9. “Hov’ring there” will constitute a highly reliable signal that a flight emergency is imminent.
10. Forecasts of shouting winds are available from the local FSS. Encounters with unexpected shouting winds should be reported by pilots.
11. Pilots flinging eager craft through footless halls of air are reminded that they alone are responsible for maintaining separation from other eager craft.
12. Should any crewmember or passenger experience delirium while in the burning blue, submit an irregularity report upon flight termination.
13. Windswept heights will be topped by a minimum of 1,000 feet to maintain VFR minimum separations.
14. Aircraft engine ingestion of, or impact with, larks or eagles should be reported to the FAA and the appropriate aircraft maintenance facility.
15. Aircraft operating in the high untrespassed sanctity of space must remain in IFR flight regardless of meteorological conditions and visibility.
16. Pilots and passengers are reminded that opening doors or windows in order to touch the face of God may result in loss of cabin pressure.

(Thanks to