Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger

By Harvey Molotch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Wrong-Way Flights: Pushing Humans Away

Airports have turned out badly. It takes about the same amount of time to travel through air today as it did dozens of years ago, but a lot longer time to get off the ground. Security procedures change not just the timing, but exact huge costs in money, mood, and resentments with consequences far and wide.

When I was young, my family was not the only one that, however bad the food, would go to the airport to have a meal. Just being around air travel was a treat. The idea of travel has long been an excitement. We find it in prose, poetry, and song—particularly since safe and fast mechanisms, especially planes, have appealed to a wide audience. Air travel feeds on the basic human desire to “get out”—up, up, and away. The Italian song, “Volare” (“to fly”) won two Grammies and was the Billboard top single of 1958. “Come fly with me,” echoed Frank Sinatra in his huge hit album of that name in the same year. Some of the frisson may have been fed by a sense of some danger; flying was indeed less safe in those days. To help assuage and assure while at the same time performing little miracles of hot meals even on short flights, air carriers larded on cocktails, shrimp appetizers, and attractive young stewardesses. And people could visit the gates to see one another off and meet those coming in, sometimes with large (and animated) groups of well-wishers and greeters.

Before 1973, when a number of hijackings prompted the U.S. government to take restrictive action, people entered airports as casually as they now go into department stores. Indeed, air travel’s festival nature invited joining the “jet set.” Security was so informal that people could actually give their tickets away or exchange them with one another (as long as genders more or less aligned with the names on the tickets). This could provide quick and easy solutions to life problems that might arise—for example, “I can’t go to the wedding, so you go.” A “fly-away” Michigan fraternity party, held at the Detroit airport,

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