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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Airport Privacy and Pat-downs 06 Jul 11

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t patted-down when trying to board a flight to anywhere in the last seven years. There may have been one; but for the life of me, I can’t remember it.

I started thinking about this non-rare occurrence when I read a letter to the editor in the local fish-wrap this past Sunday. The letter’s author was bemoaning the hoop-de-do in relation to the just withered-on-the-vine Texas Legislature bill to make it a state crime for the TSA agents in airport security stations to grope the privates of potential passengers just trying to get from point A to point B.

His (or her point—he//she signed their name with initials only) was that “Those of us who have replacement joints are singled out for the intrusive pat-down procedure, whereas members of the general public only suffer this indignity on a very random and infrequent basis. So instead of conducting a search of those who might harm us, we who have had metal inserted in our body must continually take the humiliating burden of being pummeled every time we go through security.” Will, in my experience he//she has a valid point. Take it from one who has been continually pummeled and humiliated, I know from experience. That humiliated may be a stretch, but all the same, it gets old.

I have undergone shoulder replacement operations on both, that’s right both, shoulders. While I have some of the most suffocated titanium devices installed in my shoulders and upper arms. There has been no relief at the airports of the world. In fact, I make the buzzer sound off, am waned and patted-down every time I go through the detector device. This has become so routine that I try my best to be prepared for the adventure prior to ever leaving for the airport. It doesn’t always work. Lucky for me, I am usually traveling with another and they become my help-mate: gathering my belongings, re-belting my pants, finding my shoes and the such. I wish to publicly thank my wife, my son and my son-in-law for their assistance over the years.

All those devices have a fineness setting; some more critical of replacement joints than others. I even have a card issued by the medical facility with a picture of the x-ray showing the replacement device—this does absolutely no good at all. Well, maybe the card isn’t that great an idea at all. I guess if one wanted to there would be some way of falsifying this type of media. But, nobody wants to even see the card.

Let me relate to you how disconcerting this can be. Oh, not coming outta Austin or passing through DFW or even leaving Las Vegas or Jackson Hole; but some place where it was just a bit more threatening than those events.

A couple of years back, I was fortunate enough to afford a trip with the Traveling Aggies to St Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. The real troubles started early the morning of our departure for home. My adventure went something like this:

2:30 AM - 0230 Sun (Russia time) 5:30 PM - 1730 Sat (TX time) There’s a knock at the Command Center door, that’s what I called our room on the riverboat we had resided on for the past twelve days. Patsy, my wife, hollers back, “Thank you.” The knocker acknowledges our answer and go on to the next room. We scramble up and begin getting cleaned up for the day and our departure. Both of us move about the Command Center with a proficiency developed over the past two (2) weeks; accomplishing what needs to be done and making sure everything gets into the correct bag and//or carry-on; lots of souvenirs to get home with.

3:15 AM - 0315 Sun (Russia time) 6:15 PM - 1815 Sat (TX time) We have our bags are outside the door and are patiently waiting pick-up. Each of our bags are identified with a green ribbon tied around the handle to signify which bus and departure time they are designated for. Looking up and down the passageway, we note lots of green ribbon in the hall as we make our way to coffee and morning chow. I really hope this goes correctly.

3:30 AM - 0330 Sun (Russia time) 6:30 PM - 1830 Sat (TX time) Breakfast is served, buffet style as usual. This is the last chance for chef to offer up some eggs; but, no eggs this morning—twelve days without eggs. There must be a real shortage of chickens in Russia—I know they are here; I’ve seen them at the farms we have visited. Maybe there will be eggs in Texas?

I start to wonder if we have to watch out for gypsies at the airport; especially those with young children. Nobody has said anything about them today. Every day in the past, the gypsies have been mentioned. Won’t there be any gypsies at the airport? It’s their last chance to take us for everything we have.

4 AM - 0400 Sun (Russia time) 7 PM - 1900 Sat (TX time) The busses roll in and we board our bus early; not taking any chances—don’t have much desire to spend my remaining days in a foreign land; especially Russia.

4:15 AM - 0415 Sun (Russia time) 7:15 PM - 1915 Sat (TX time) Our bus departs for the airport. Not much of the area of Moscow we are passing through is moving or shaking at this time of day, but there are a few hearty souls out and about.

5 AM - 0500 Sun (Russia time) 8 PM - 2000 Sat (TX time) We arrive at the airport and start the task of getting to the right gate. Bags are on the bus—I saw them come off; lucky for us.

5:30 AM - 0530 Sun (Russia time) 8:30 PM - 2030 Sat (TX time) Starting through passport control, Patsy experiences her worst nightmare; the Russian big-haired-mole-faced-army-uniformed-female-guard mans her selected window... We had inadvertently mixed our customs forms; actually I had her copy and on top of that, we hadn’t completely filled them out correctly. The Russian big-haired-mole-faced-army-uniformed-female-guard let her know about the discrepancy right away. We very quickly found a table and got to fixin’ our discrepancies like a flash. We evidently weren’t the only ones with this problem. Maybe half of our bus had their papers out justa fixin’ ‘em. Some of the confusion had resulted from the way the process was described by one of the Gretas on the Lufthansa flight we had coming to Russia.

After we successfully negotiate this obstacle, moving through the Moscow airport to baggage check went fairly smooth; of course we got in the line that turned out to be the most time consuming. It would have been really OK, except an airline official cut a blind guy in front of us so our line automatically became the slow line. His papers were a little confused and then he got separated from his baggage. Now everything was fouled up. This caused big Russian type problems—you can only imagine. Finally, we were signaled to proceed and were processed straight through without a problem. I thought we just might be in the clear—whoa, John Howard, not to quick there.

Next in the process flow was the security check. I started getting ready: pulling off my belt, getting everything out of my pockets. Shoes are ready to slip off and I have my medical card out of my bill fold to show the guys at the gate—that one I mentioned earlier. What was I thinking? Here I am trying to get outta Russia and I’m thinkin’ a card with a fuzzy x-ray picture is gonna do the trick. I might as well have been showing them my AARP membership card.

It doesn’t matter; I set off the buzzers, the bells and every whistle in the airport you would think. I believe I can faintly hear some of those sirens off in the distance, you know the ones—like you see and hear in the James Bond movies—he ones that sound like Charles De Gaulle and half of the French police are after you.

Everybody with a uniform is down on me like the vultures on the MOPAC power towers on a Sunday morning. Arms out, feet spread, hands turned up—there are several guys with the wands going over me from head to toe. Out of the corner of my right eye, I think I see some more of those Russian secret police guys coming from every possible door that I can see in the area—these are very sinister looking characters. Out of the corner of my left eye I can see the uniformed baggage handlers pulling my bags off the trolley that they had previously resided on; soon to be ripped open and searched for the planted stash I imagine they carry for just this purpose.

I still have my medical card in my hand and am trying to get somebody with a uniform to acknowledge that I have some proof of innocence. All of a sudden; there is not an English speaking person within all of Moscow County. Wands are beeping at both shoulders. I can see more guards headed our way. I am hoping beyond hope that these plain uniform guys are carrying a CHL permit; the level of excitement is running just a bit high.

Up front, Patsy is trapped and she can’t help one little bit—by-the-way, her Russian is no better than mine—dosvandawnya. Some guy looking like he wants to take control wants to see what’s under my shirt. I am being pushed off to the side behind what looks like a lead-lined screen. They remove my shirt and find nothing. I try again to show them my card but no one cares to see or hear anything from me.

Finally a young girl in an army uniform strolls back in and comes to my aid. She speaks English. She looks over my card, and tells the supervisor-like guard guy that I have shoulder replacements. The bells, buzzers and whistles still ringing in everyone’s ears are finally shut down and a new set of the Russian Peace Accords begin once again. Soon, all is again OK in Moscow County.

I make my way up to Patsy and join her and the small group of my fellow travelers; most of them have now experienced this twice at least; first at the ZOO in Frankfurt and now in the Mother Russia. The entire group had a good laugh at my expense and the word makes it around the entire gate area that World War III has been averted.

6:30 AM - 0630 Sun (Russia time) 9:30 PM - 2130 Sat (TX time) We start loading on Lufthansa flight LH 3189 scheduled to depart at 0705 hours.

7:10 AM - 0710 Sun (Russia time) 10:10 PM - 2210 Sat (TX time) Colonel Klink starts rolling away from the terminal, only five (5) minutes late. Soon we are in the air and on our way to the Frankfurt ZOO. Before you know it, Greta is bringing us our second breakfast of the morning. Finally I get some eggs! I didn’t have to wait until we arrive in Texas. These Germans know what breakfast is, eggs and a recognizable meat. I check the monitor; up, you are right – second breakfast and second time zone already.

I think they were on to me for this picture I had taken in front of Vlad Putin's office building.


  1. There's a reason why I have no real desire to ever visit another country ...

  2. Mark, thanks for the comment. I had always wanted to see Russia and just couldn't pass up the chance.

  3. Enjoyed the read and very happy to hear WWIII was averted. Would like to see the Russia pictures next time I'm in the area.