- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Getting there is half the fun,” and now the feds are teaching the Cunard steamship folks, who coined that memorable travel slogan, a thing or two. The feds are trying to make the departure the highlight of a trip through “the friendly skies.”

The exploding controversy over strip-searching departing airline passengers threatens to overwhelm the agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and delay Thanksgiving-week air travel. So loud is the noise that Florida’s Orlando Sanford International Airport in the hometown of Mickey Mouse is dropping out of the federal system and will hire a private security firm to screen passengers.

“All of our due diligence shows it’s the way to go,” says the director of the Sanford Airport Authority. The five private screening firms approved by the TSA must still screen by TSA guidelines and use the full-body scanners and gropings that have stirred such a fuss. More grief may be on the way for the feds. Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, will become chairman of the powerful House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in January, and he says the TSA “is overstepping its bounds.”

The growing rage against the indignities of air travel is not restricted to the American homeland. Passengers aboard a flight by Ryanair, a popular no-frills Irish airline, refused to get off the plane in France one night this week when fog forced the pilot to land in Belgium instead of France. The passengers, returning from a holiday in Morocco, demanded to be flown to Paris, and when they wouldn’t get off the plane, the crew turned out the lights and locked the doors to the toilets, giving “no frills” extra meaning. Four hours later, after frantic negotiations between cops and passengers, the passengers finally agreed to take chartered buses to Paris. “This is clearly a case of unreasonable behavior by a minority of passengers,” a Ryanair spokesman said.

So it seems, but airline passengers, for so long abused by airlines and treated as criminal suspects by the government, are at last saying enough is more than enough, and everybody wants to join the din. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is “wildly excited” about the new full-body scanners because now she won’t have to endure “a dose of love pats” and the intimate hand searches. Sen. George LeMieux of Florida says he wouldn’t want his wife “to go through these pat-downs” and suggests that the TSA learn from the Israelis, who rarely resort to exploring passenger genitalia and rely on profiling, politically incorrect or not. Israeli security, in the face of extreme Islamist provocation, is only the best in the world.

The full-body scanners reveal everything, though the TSA says it’s impossible to put a face on the picture. Nevertheless, Miami cops were called to quell a fight between a screener and his colleagues after he submitted to a screening in a training session and, according to a police incident report, became the butt of jokes when the machine “revealed that [he] had a small penis.” The pat-downs, sometimes including a hand inside a passenger’s panties or briefs, are even more invasive. The TSA insists that such searches are necessary to foil underwear bombers. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security and overseer of the TSA, says she has submitted to both exams and didn’t particularly mind; John Pistole, director of the TSA, submitted to a pat-down and found it “more invasive than I was used to.”

Just as Bill Clinton left as his legacy making 7-year-olds part of the conversation about the mechanics of oral sex, so Barack Obama’s administration will leave a legacy of making body cavities transparent. In its never-ending search for vexations to inflict on airline travelers, the TSA could next include prostate and breast exams as part of “the full travel experience.” They’re getting close now. No doubt not all passengers would object.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a wheelbarrow technician, to see and understand what is driving passenger rage. Most Americans cheerfully submit to inconvenience and even indignity if persuaded it’s necessary. But the Obama administration goes out of its way to excuse the real villains, calling terrorist outrages merely “man-caused disasters,” when everybody else notices that terrorists invariably are named Muhammad or al-something or other. The government responds to each act of savagery by avoiding the obvious and adding another layer of inconvenience and indignity on the innocent.

c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.


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