We arrived at hte San Jose airport on Saturday around 2:20 in the afternoon for a 4:00 flight to Portland, only to find a long, long line stretched outside of the airport. After checking a bit, yes... that was our line for checking the baggage. The common hope amongst all those in line was that the rain wouldn't start back up again. Fortunately, the gap between storms held and after about 70 minutes, a baggage claim person loped up to us and took our stuff. The odd thing about it was that they did all this fifteen feet before the standard curbside check-in... as if those few feet would somehow make the difference between security and insecurity.
Once inside the airport, we soon found ourselves at the end of another line, this time for the security before the gates. Armed soldiers with M-16s walked by in packs. They really didn't do anything to make the place much more secure, however... but it was comforting thinking that in the event of a major emergency, semi-automatic rifles could be discharged in the already crowded terminal. The whole place was a sea of people waiting in lines, which is very unusual for that airport. Fortunately, a new security gate was opened while we were in line. We decided to risk it and rushed to the new gate, getting through quickly and easily cutting 30 minutes off of the wait.
And once we were at the security gate? Same procedures as before, really... No special screening or anything. Finally, we arrived at our proper gate, only to find out that the plane was leaving about 1 1/2 hours late, no doubt due in part to all the "security"... Frankly, I was beginning to really doubt the whole security, at least as far as flights within America goes. Finally, people started to board the plane. They did have a more rigorous check in and out of flight crews, but those people aren't the biggest risk, really. The biggest risk was obviously the sea of people boarding the plane. Suddenly, one of the people boarding was pulled out of line right at the gate. She had a foriegn passport and didn't seem to speak much English, being from presumably somewhere in Europe. She seemed to be stunned and frightened when told by these foriegners to get out of line, escorted to the side but still in plain view by armed guards, then had her person and all of her carry-on luggage searched, frisked, and scanned. She was obviously scared and confused and put her hands on top of her head like a prisoner of war while she was patted down and scanned by a male security guard.
The combined effect was to make me feel distinctly more pissed off and less secure than before. Obviously, if you want to get a bomb on a plane, it's not much harder than before. Just be prepared to get yourself a fake I.D. and to die with the rest of the people on the plane. As for hijacking a plane, however, forget it. In this sense, everything has changed. The passengers were the biggest boost to security, really. The passengers crammed less junk into the overhead compartments and were just nicer to each other, it seemed. They seemed to share a fatalistic yet unified identity - the unity of a shared inconvenience - and after going through so many inconveniences, I wouldn't be surprised if they, given the right situation, would rip apart hijackers, rending them with their fingernails like a scene out of The Bacchae.
It is odd that I had these thoughts before I got into Portland for a late dinner with my sister and her s/o. "Did you hear about the Air France flight yet? Someone tried lighting bombs in their shoes on fire. The passengers jumped the guy and shot him full of tranquilizers." I was not surprised in the least.
"Moral of the story - next time use an electronic detonator," I said.
The truth of the matter is that there really isn't any security. It's all an illusion of security and there are a hundred thousand ways that we can be attacked, none of which we can adequately prepare for. Meanwhile, this whole situation has made the idea of flying anywhere less than a thousand miles away completely unpalateable. Better to drive all day in relative comfort than buy into the idea of a 80 minute flight that is anything but. Crowds, standing, suffering discomfort, toting your luggage around with you through crowded terminals... no thanks.
The price we pay for our illusions...