View from the Top

Vanessa Gomez

As December manages to blindside us once more with Christmas trees, fanatic shoppers and family gatherings, what was once a quiet haven in the past months of travel will now swell with thousands of holiday travelers. The days of light loads on aircraft will disappear as grumpy businessmen compete for overhead bin space with mothers trying to stow Dora the Explorer backpacks. And just when you thought the holiday travel crunch was all the stress you could handle, the Transportation Security Administration is out to fondle you.

The way media outlets have painted the debacle makes it seem like TSA wants to ruin your life. If you were in a good mood when you got to the airport, everything went to hell once you got to the checkpoint. Take off your shoes, remove your liquid Ziploc from your bags, strip off all your clothes. Do it quickly and quietly, because anyone caught complaining about it will be “randomly selected” for additional screening.

I recently went through security, where I couldn’t help but overhear a woman behind me (well-dressed, modern, someone I mistook for a frequent flyer) actually declare outloud that security was “ridiculous.” Usually that’s a typical complaint I hear, but what made her comment extraordinary was the addition of “we never used to have to go through security.”

I’m sorry and when was that?

Although numerous passengers feel that TSA has crossed the line over to invasion of privacy, I think most of the bad press is quickly overshadowing the reasons as to why TSA is as aggressive as it is today. It should be clarified that although airlines work with TSA to achieve common goals towards safety, airlines don’t decide the steps that are taken to continue to protect the public.

First off, TSA was developed after security protocol in Portland, Maine failed those doomed to perish in the 9/11 attacks. Two of the now infamous terrorist pilots began their day by going through security in that smaller airport. The US administration decided something like TSA needed to be a stronger entity than just a subsidiary of the US Department of Transportation.

In response to the question as to why we remove our shoes at security, we go back to the same year 9/11 occurred. A passenger on an American Airlines flight boarded with shoes stuffed with explosives with all intentions of blowing the international flight sky high. Placing our shoes on the x-ray belt is a direct result of that incident.

Why does TSA insist on limiting liquids to three ounces apiece in one quart-sized Ziploc baggy? In 2006, an elaborate transatlantic bomb plot introduced the threat of Gatorade bottles full of combustible liquids and IPods disguised as bomb detonators. I personally landed on the east coast in JFK the morning it happened. We sat for four hours at an undisclosed location for fear that docked planes sitting at gates side by side could be dangerous.

Finally we catch up to this holiday season, where TSA beefed up security measures once again with the introduction of body scanners and more invasive pat downs. We have the “underwear bomber” from last December to thank for these current protocols that are angering Americans who feel their “junk” may be violated.

Realistically, it is alarming to see all those videos of three-year olds and elderly passengers going through “heavy petting” by TSA. But the major detail that evades many conversations overheard in security lines is that terrorists are evolving. They study the failed aspects of the last attempted attack and they improve on their strategies. Shouldn’t we take every possible precaution to maintain national security even if it challenges our social norms?

Regardless of whether you’re a selectee this busy travel season or not, take a moment to remember those civil liberties we still have in place in this country, like the freedom to travel to see your loved ones. I can guarantee you this flight attendant would be first to volunteer for extra screening if it meant the well-being and safety of my family.