'Look Into My Eyes' and Other New Security Measures
by Patricia Beurteaux
I’d like to say you wouldn’t credit it, but, unfortunately, you would.
On my return trip from overseas a few weeks ago, I was compelled to go via the United States — a quick stop to catch the homeward flight. Of course, my outward bound flight had taken the same route but the times had changed in between.
So there I was in Brisbane, Australia, on the day of the `Amsterdam Incident’. Apparently some guys not from Europe were ignoring the safety demonstration and so, as a security precaution, the flight went back to Amsterdam. I can imagine the crew get tired of doing the demo but we passengers also get tired of listening. Hands up all those who pay rapt attention. You are safe. I didn’t realise that’s what the safety demonstration was about. The rest of us who continue reading and so forth are not. We are possibly displaying aberrant behaviour, depending on the mood of the day. And the mood these days is not cheery. I expect it’s decidedly un-cheery if you are airline crew.
Anyway, there I was in the relaxed atmosphere that is Brisbane, just at the point of starting my airport breakfast, with a luxurious three hours to spare before the 14-hour endurance test, when a frantic call came over the PA demanding all passengers going to the US report immediately to their departure gate.
From appearances, I would guess that at some very late stage it was decided that a thorough security check must be carried out. A collection of apparently borrowed gray tweedy cubicle dividers, plastic chairs and folding tables had been set up in the cavernous space that was otherwise completely empty. I counted six dividers and about eight chairs and four tables. Facing the very long line of passengers, and these flights are often full, was a little, little group of security folks — very young and very anxious. We were all anxious. There’s nothing like anxious security folk to make all the rest of us anxious, too. Australia is best buds with the US. Guantánamo loomed in our collective minds. All sorts of folks have ended up there — or just disappeared to say, oh, Syria.
Australians aren’t used to having to take their shoes off at airports much less this sort of thing. It’s very frightening. It’s also un-Australian. You don’t just corral people into a situation they can’t avoid and then change the rules. It’s not sporting. It was also a cultural shock, I think, to first have a young lady take your passport and study the photograph. She actually said `Look into my eyes. Don’t look around.’
(Anyone who has seen the BBC comedy Little Britain would have, as I did, a really hard time keeping a straight face, as I was immediately reminded of the nightclub hypnotist.)
Then, we had to take everything out of our pockets and carry-on bags. Many people, particularly older people, felt quite uncomfortable about displaying all sorts of personal property in a semi-public place, but that was nothing in comparison to the expressions on their faces when they were `patted down’! In all fairness ladies did do the job on ladies and gents on gents.
It took f-o-r-e-v-e-r and we were 90 minutes late taking off which meant there were issues with feeding us during that very long flight. I’ve never eaten so many snack foods. To top it off, when we arrived in Los Angeles, there was chaos as in transit passengers found their luggage and then had to go through Customs and Immigration and then had to find their flight. I made my mine with the help of a lovely ground crew member, but with literally two minutes to spare. My luggage didn’t.
This is not meant to be a long whinge. To me this was an incident that is indicative of the hysteria surrounding the war on terrorism. Yes, there are terrorists and they have committed horrible acts. Yes, we need to be aware. But I suggest we take a look at ourselves and ask who is winning. Do we let our fear of terrorism tear apart the foundations of our democracies — the rights we take for granted but that are not all that old or all that entrenched as we have seen by the ease with which they have been narrowed? Do we allow terrorists to determine how we live? Do we allow the only Superpower left to dictate how other countries behave? Freedom is risky for us all but that doesn’t mean we should permit it to be taken away.
A young American lady with whom I had a chat while waiting in line said, `We have to give up rights to protect our homeland.’ That is one of the saddest things I have ever heard, and breathtaking in its innocence about the effect of protecting her homeland has on the rest of us.
Born and raised in a small Ontario town that became a large bedroom community post-war, Pat Beurteaux began her career as a primary school teacher, a career that permitted her to travel to Australia as a `working holidayer' in the mid-60s. At that time any British Commonwealth citizen could travel and work in any other Commonwealth country under certain conditions; a good deal of fun was had by all. You may reach Pat by emailing zenimation (at) sympatico.ca