The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Tighter airport security annoys during wartime

The minute you step foot in an airport, you become a number. Line up here, stand over there, check in your bags, do not go beyond this point. Without anymore interference than normal, the chaotic world of an airport is enough to drive even the most patient flyer up the wall. Throw into the mix a foiled terror plot to bomb aircraft over the Atlantic and without a doubt, this chaotic world loses the last shred of balance it might have been hanging on to.

In the morning hours of Aug. 10, as I tried to curb a bout of mild insomnia by doing what I do best (spending time with my iBook), I received a BBC breaking news update: A plot to blow up planes in flight from the U.K. to the U.S. and commit “mass murder on an unimaginable scale” has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said.

My plans for an almost two-week holiday to London and Rome were in serious jeopardy. My first reaction was panic. What if my flight gets canceled? What if I’m forced to live at the airport for 24 hours? And more importantly, what if after having spent a wonderful time traveling through Europe, my plane back to Los Angeles is one of the aircrafts that is meant to be blown up on an unimaginable scale?! My heart sank that night. My insomnia was replaced with anxiety. A million thoughts were running a marathon in my mind. In an effort to calm down, I tried to convince myself that things would surely die down in a week, which was exactly when I was leaving.

When I arrived at LAX, things were relatively normal. Because of the increased security measures, flights departing to London required a special, different line, which I stood in for almost one hour before being checked in. Notices alerting everyone that the security level was still at orange (which represents a U.S. government-determined high risk of terrorist attacks) were posted on most walls.

Increased security personnel were more than noticeable around check in counters and other checkpoints. As I made my way up to the ticket counter, the airline attendant who was helping me with my bags remarked how pitiful she thought this security fiasco was.

Announcements were constantly being made over the PA system about items that were still prohibited in carry-on luggage. No liquids, gels, lotion, lip gloss, makeup or deodorant. In other words, no chance of looking even half-decent after a 10-hour flight. After I made my way through the duty-free shopping area, where business had come to a standstill due to the no liquid rule, I went through the bag screening without any problem.

As I approached the departure gate, however, to wait for my flight, I felt like I had been transported to Camp Pendleton. About 10 U.S army personnel stood behind four long desks, the kind that you usually find in high school cafeterias. When we were all allowed to board the plane, we were instructed to form one line. One soldier called and directed each passenger to a table one by one to do a final check, just to make sure the first screening didn’t miss anything. They were friendly, made small talk, but they still stood out like sore thumbs. You know flying has forever changed when you see members of the U.S. army patrolling gates and conducting bag checks.

As I boarded the plane and my flight progressed, I couldn’t help but think of the two Muslim passengers who were kicked off a charter flight in the U.K. just days after the terror plot was foiled, not because they had failed to pass vigorous security checks, but because fellow passengers had voiced suspicions and walked off the plane in protest.

Going through London customs at Heathrow was surprisingly smooth and hassle-free. Still, it was wishful thinking that the fuss was over. After a few amazing days in London, it was time to head to Rome, via the Stansted Airport, the home of several low-cost European airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet. Leading up to the baggage screening, I reached an area where see-through plastic boxes contained items that were prohibited in carry-on luggage. The boxes were overflowing with everything from matches and lotions to water bottles and toothpaste, so much so that it was beginning to look like a junkyard for toiletries. After passing through the bag screening I was frisked randomly by airport staff and then allowed on my way to Rome.

When I reached London’s Heathrow Airport one week later to make my journey back home, with a stopover in New York, everything looked like it was going smoothly, until it was time for me to pass the security checkpoint to get to my departing gate.

I checked in two hours ahead of time and decided to wait until 3:50 p.m. to go to departures, about 45 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. When I finally got to the departures gate, words cannot describe the gargantuan line that lay ahead of me. We are all pretty familiar with the lines that form when the time comes to buy a parking tag. Now take that line and imagine that it started at Bayramian Hall and ended in the B3 parking structure. I kept walking and walking, trying to find an end in sight, but it never came.

This line could have easily challenged any wait you might ever encounter in Disneyland. With 45 minutes to board, I thought I was about to miss my flight.

Things seemed pretty hopeless until an airport employee came to take people with flights that were leaving in an hour or less to the front of the line to pass through the security check points.

The situation quickly turned into a nightmare, as the line was moving slowly.

Passengers around me were getting fed up and some with flights earlier than mine were still dozens of people away from getting through. By the time I got to taking off my shoes and emptying my carry-on it was already 4:40. The cloud of panic I had felt three weeks earlier returned and this time it was real. I had no doubt that I would end up missing the flight, staying in the U.K. for an undisclosed amount of time, missing the first days of school and being dropped from all my classes for my absence.

When I got through the metal detector, I was thoroughly frisked again. I grabbed my things and ran to the nearest screen to see if I had any time left. As my eyes ran down to my flight number, all I could see in huge flashing red letters was: CLOSING GATE 16. There, within a sea of people, I started to run. I was so dazed and out of breath when I got to the gate that I couldn’t properly answer the questions the flight attendant was asking while she handed my ticket back. I was the last person to get on. To my surprise, when the plane landed on U.S soil, everyone simultaneously began clapping. It was as if they were saying, “Thank you for getting us back home in one piece. Thank you for letting us survive.”

After playing the waiting game in line in London, the airport gods decided to add insult to injury when my stop in New York turned from a 45-minute wait to a four-hour fiasco because of mean-tempered Ernesto – the tropical storm, that is.

After getting home, finally, at 3 a.m., all I wanted to do was collapse.

During the time I spent in and out of both domestic and international airports throughout these past couple of weeks, I realized that air travel, now more than ever, won’t be a quick and easy means of transportation. The increase in security and numerous methods of screening passengers is not something that flyers are necessarily bothered by as I witnessed it, although it is much cause for anger and frustration. In all the airports I was in during these past two weeks, the lines could have not been necessarily shorter but quicker, if counters and screening points had not been so understaffed. I never once witnessed more than a maximum of two counters being operated at any check points.

Three weeks after the terror plot was foiled, the mood has stayed pretty much where the U.S and U.K government threat level has been: high. Lines go on for miles and move slowly, restrictions on carry-ons remain, flights are still being delayed and frustr
ation levels are high. Traveling, though never particularly easy, is probably going to be more draining, upsetting and tiresome than ever, so if you’re planning on it, be ready, at least for the next couple months, to exercise patience as much as you can.

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