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OPINIONS 101: Fly the Unfriendly Skies

January 7, 2004

LESS THAN HEROES Shipping June 2004!

I learned today that the fine folks at TOP SHELF have upped the LESS THAN HEROES publishing date from August 2004 to June 2004. Further, the collection is now going to include a section of supplemental material such as the long out-of-print short THRESHOLD stories that have appeared in various anthologies over the years. Watch for the solicitation in Diamond's PREVIEWS or, better yet, CLICK HERE CLICK HERE and order in advance directly from Top Shelf!

Fear of Flying

All my life I avoided flying. For the first 37 years of my life I managed to avoid airline travel almost entirely with but two exceptions (both occurred during my early 20s). I don’t care about the safety statistics. I don’t care that statistically speaking, you are (or were) much safer flying in a plane than driving in an automobile. To me, it was a question of putting my life in the hands of a pair of strangers (ie, the pilot and copilot) as well as the airline’s maintenance staff and, to an extent, the flight crew. There was also the fear of falling 30,000 or more feet should the airplane experience engine loss or another fatal catastrophic event. Those were the big fears that kept me from flying whenever possible. And when I did fly, I held onto the seat with white-knuckle ferocity. But, someone must have been doing something right, because to date I’ve flown twelve times and have lived through each flight. Something else also recently occurred—I’ve lost my fear of flying. You have no way of knowing this, but that loss of fear represents a major victory in my life. I guess you could consider it in one of two ways—either I’ve gained a sudden trust for the airline industry or I’m not afraid to die. And believe me, I haven’t gained a sudden trust for the airline industry, even though I’ve been constantly assured that my seat will indeed double as a floatation device—be sure to tell that to the 111 who were killed on Christmas day when UTA Flight 141 dropped into the Atlantic.
But I guess I’m no longer fearing the grim reaper. I guess the words of Blue Oyster Cult have finally sunk in. And of course I’m feeling a whole lot safer now that our government is so strictly monitoring the air industry right?
Um…no. Not really—more on that in a minute, but first:


On Saturday January 3, I flew out of LAX to San Francisco. To say that security at LAX was tight would be quite the understatement. Pulling into LAX via automobile, one is first greeted by a series of armed agents who stop vehicles at random. I have no idea what the criteria is for stopping vehicles suffice to say that the driver who chauffeured us to the airport was sporting Pennsylvania plates and, thus, had no plate on the front of her vehicle. But we were not stopped or searched. As mentioned in last week’s rant, passenger vehicles may no longer drop off passengers curb-side. Such privileges are reserved for the wealthy (limousines are permitted) or for those who arrive via an airport shuttle service or taxi. The rest of us, those getting rides with friends, must pull into the short-term parking garage. We did so and unloaded our bags from the trunk and walked toward the airport’s departure terminal. Once at the threshold of the terminal, it was a simple matter to obtain boarding passes electronically using the credit card through which the tickets were originally purchased. I purchased tickets through an online ticket seller so was able to use this convenient service. Next we stepped into the terminal and attempted to find baggage check. This took a considerable amount of time as there were no signs to indicate the baggage check area. Eventually, we hauled our bags down a flight of stairs and headed outside to the curb where taxis, limos, and shuttles busily unloaded their passengers. It was then a simple matter to check the bags—merely present photo ID and boarding info. A few minutes later we were on our way to the X-ray security check. First, however, we had to pass by two interim check points and were required to again show photo ID and boarding passes. Then we stepped into the queue for X-ray. The line was like something out of a Disney theme park, but because time was running short (we had an 8:30 a.m. flight and it was 8:00 a.m. as we entered the queue), we were pulled out of the line and sent to the front of it. At the X-ray check passengers are required to remove shoes, belts, and other metal objects. Laptops are to be placed in a tray that slides into the X-ray device. Shoes, jackets, carry-on bags also go thru the device. You then walk through what looks like a door frame. We passed through without incident and soon replaced our shoes and grabbed our bags. Once through security we walked to the boarding gate and were soon ushered aboard the flight. The flight itself was smooth and fast, taking a little less than an hour to reach San Francisco.
The return flight was just as quick, but heading through SFO’s security was a completely different experience. It was, in fact, extremely painless. The security folks were very pleasant, joking with passengers who nervously deposited their belongings onto the X-ray conveyor belt. In comparison with LAX, SFO was like a sunshiny day that starts with fresh-squeezed orange juice and ends with a soft evening breeze.
Would I recommend flying?
Without a doubt.
But what irks me is that despite these heightened security measures, despite the searching and the seizuring and the delays and the long lines, despite all this over-the-top “protection” the US is still acting like a frightened, nervous guinea pig in a researcher center. While we were waiting our plane at SFO, CNN was busy carrying the story of a woman of Arab descent who was removed from Delta Flight 43 in Paris because the jacket she was wearing contained wires and a battery used to heat the coat. Despite that her jacket was merely a jacket the woman was nonetheless detained and placed on a separate flight. Flight 43, meanwhile, was escorted by two F-16 fighter jets—or was it? MSNBC published the story on January 6. Later, however, federal authorities denied that the plane was escorted. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have admitted that several flights have been escorted in recent months as a precaution.
Which doesn’t make me feel so good about flying anymore.
Let’s assume it’s a flight you’re on. Let’s assume that just prior to the flight a suspicious-looking person is removed from the flight. So the danger—whatever danger this person might or might not have held because, let’s face it, we’ll never know one way or another since the media and federal authorities are going to spin the story to their liking—but let’s assume the “terrorist” is removed from the flight. Whew! That was close, but at least it’s over, right?
Because as a precaution—even though the danger no longer exists—as a precaution the government is gonna “escort” the plane. Oh, and by the way, the escort is gonna be an F-16 fighter jet. Notice that the escort isn’t the US military’s “F-16 super-fun happy jet” or the “F-16 not gonna hurt ya jet.”

F-16 at a Glance

A few fun facts about this fascinating modern marvel known as the F-16:
As its name implies, the F-16 “fighter” jet was designed for speed and action. Its wings can house a variety of missiles including anti-bunker, anti-tank, suppression of air defense, and, um, enemy aircraft attack. It’s this last batch set of missiles that ought to have the neck-hairs of airline passengers standing at military attention. Let’s assume you’re aboard Delta Flight 43 and are given an F-16 “escort.” There is one and only one purpose for this escort—the complete and utter destruction of the plane being escorted. The question remains, however, which missile is going to be the right one for the job. Depending on the pilot’s visual range, he or she might opt to use the AMRAAM (advanced medium-range, air-to-air missile), which is computer guided for accurate kill shots. Alternatively, the pilot might go with the AIM-9 Sidewinder. This is a short-range, heat-seeking missile that hones in on its target’s engine exhaust (ie, your flight!). The beauty of this missile is that after it’s launched, the pilot can simple leave the area. There’s no need to hang around, cause the Sidewinder will just hum along like the little engine that could kill until it’s done its job.
So don’t kid yourself. If your flight is given a military escort, it’s probably best to have your insurance policies paid up. Of course, there’s a 99.99% likelihood you won’t know your plane is being escorted, so it sort of all works out in the end, right? Best of all, if either the Sidewinder or AMRAAM is accidentally launched by an either inexperienced, overzealous, or just-plain-stupid pilot, the GOP can simply deny the allegation and instead blame it on al-Quaida, thus fanning the flames of fear and guaranteeing additional funds to keep soldiers in Iraq longer still (even though the major campaign ended months ago—but don’t let anyone know—it’s a secret!).

You Lazy Americans!

Okay, as long as I’ve completely lost any focus in this quote-unquote essay, I cannot help but laugh at the Bush Administration’s sudden proposal for sweeping immigration reform. Mr. Bush apparently feels dangerous Mexicans “makes more difficult the urgent task of securing the homeland.” Yeah, there were lots and lots of Mexican terrorists aboard those planes on nine-eleven.
But why—why you might ask, would Mr. Bush want to increase the 1 million green cards currently issued each year? I guess it has to do with us shiftless, lazy American workers, as our President stated publicly that “Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling.” But wait a second—what about the 8.7 million unemployed Americans? I guess we are all worthless and weak.
Once again Bush has decided to do the hokey-poky and turn us all around. Consider this: El Presidente dangles the prospect of legal status to approximately 8 million illegal immigrants only months from the approaching election. Approximately 4 million of these immigrants are Mexican. FYI, in the 2000 Presidential Election, El Presidente won slightly more than one-third of the Mexican constituency. So assuming his new “immigration” plan will be railroaded through the GOP-controlled House and Senate (as we know it will), who do you think these 4 million Mexican-Americans (now with voting power) are going choose? These are not the actions of a man who is concerned with national security—only the security of his job.
¿Dónde esta el baño? I don’t feel so well.

Online Sources:
US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
MSNBC online

Next: As I stated last week, Mid-Life Crisis continues, possibly.

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