Airport farewells are less emotional

Days after commercial flights were cleared to take to the air again after 9/11, my friend and I nervously boarded a flight to San Francisco.

McCarran International Airport was eerily silent. Passengers bellied up to the bar and said nothing.

We took our seats on the near-empty Southwest Airlines plane and scanned the cabin for anything strange, which was a challenge because everything seemed strange that day. Two younger guys caught our eye. They were wearing the same knit, reggae-style hat. Highly suspicious.

We shot each other a look and, without saying a word, moved forward to the aisle seats three rows back from the cockpit and one row in front of these men. It is unclear what crime two slightly buzzed women could thwart or, for that matter, what unprovoked crime two overly paranoid buzzed women could commit. All we were sure of was these guys would never make it to the cockpit. When the plane took off we peered back to see what nefarious acts they were plotting. They were sound asleep, suspicious hats pulled over their eyes.

Jitters of that amperage have since subsided, but air travel — and subsequently airports — have certainly undergone substantial changes.

Airports were once such emotional scenes. My earliest memories were leaving my father after summer vacation and desperately searching for him in the terminal from the plane for one last wave goodbye. And at the other end, the excitement of seeing my mother waiting for me at the gate.

Now it’s a process and environment that feels more like a visit to the federally secured institution that it is.

Two months after the terrorist attacks, the federal government created the Transportation Security Administration, and a workforce of about 65,000 eventually was deployed to the nation’s airports.

The security process was at first confusing. Passengers with carry-ons forgot about the new rules and officers and found their liquid medications, expensive colognes and seemingly harmless “weapons,” such as tweezers, confiscated. We felt in the overall defense of our free country we were losing our freedom.

Stock values in companies like Ziploc soared as all travelers were directed to store toiletries in small, clear bags.

As fliers slowly adjusted to the new security procedures, others with sinister intentions drummed up more creative ways to sneak explosives onto aircraft. In response, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, implemented additional and more controversial measures.

Three months after the 9/11 attack, Richard Reid unsuccessfully attempted to bring down an airliner with a shoe bomb. That threat led to passengers having to remove their shoes before entering the airport’s metal detectors.

Eight years later, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Christmas Day flight to Detroit with a bomb sewn into his underwear. That brought about full-body scanners and accompanying concerns that nude images of passengers was going a bit too far, even if they were seen in a backroom. It also raised concerns about the amount of radiation to which travelers must be exposed simply to travel by air.

Then came the physical pat-downs and nationally organized Opt-Out Day for those protesting the new scanners. Citizens across the country were outraged by stories of young children being “molested” by security teams or elderly people whose urostomy bags were broken, leaving urine on their clothing.

At the very moment four airliners were hijacked, our lives as travelers changed forever. The habit of arriving last-minute at an airport and sprinting O.J.-style through the terminal were over. So were the days of storing luggage in terminal lockers. No more hugs at the gates.

Airports also changed and not all for the worse. Because passengers had to arrive far earlier to leave enough time to make it through security, we saw a new trend: Airports began adding higher-end restaurants and more bars and other amenities that made layovers and long waits more comfortable.

It’s difficult to remember how traveling was pre-9/11. This is the new normal. We have become accustomed to it. Younger folks might not remember the days passengers were asked whether they wanted a smoking or nonsmoking section of the plane. Generations to come will never remember a time when they weren’t asked: “Scanner or pat-down?”

In hindsight, maybe we would have been far more fearful of the suspicious guys in funky hats days after 9/11 had we not known they too had gone through the more advanced security measures. Maybe we would have thought of “see something, say something,” even though all there really was to say was “sweet dreams.”

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call Adrienne Packer at 702-387-2904, or send an email to Include your phone number.

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