So five years on from 9/11 and what have we learned? Mostly that with heightened security arrangements we have yet to figure out a way of getting masses of people through airports without causing frustration, delays and rancour.
As one who likes to fly -- yes, the seats are still uncomfortable but someone feeds you, brings you drinks, there are movie choices and no cellphones, so what's not to like? -- I applaud any security measure or caution about safety that will ensure a safe flight.
If any flight is held up because a light in the cockpit is acting funny I say they should reeeeeally take their time to sort it out.
I for one would prefer to wait for them to be fully satisfied than for me to get to the Final Destination Of Life a bit before I am ready.
But what irks -- and the other day it was REALLY irking passengers in Auckland and SanFran -- is when you spend a long and uncomfortable time in queues waiting to be ticketed or pass through security.
In Auckland there were only four people working the ticketing desks when at least the same number of flights were departing in the next hour or two. There were dozens of increasingly angry people standing around for what seemed like an age. (Fifty minutes in my case to get up the serpentine line to the desk.)
People around me were getting very tetchy and wondering aloud why the airline couldn't have put on maybe one or two more counter staff to get the line moving. I'm sure there 's a good explanation -- which to any of us in that queue would simply sound like an excuse.
For many people flying is harrowing enough: they are often farewelling loved ones; are fearful; don't much care for the chicken-or-beef option . . .
Moving people efficiently through an airport should not be beyond the bounds of human capability.
Gotta say it was MUCH worse in SanFran however: I stood in a crowd -- not even a queue -- as at least a dozen United flights were set depart within 90 minutes. And there were only three security lines working.
The American Solution is an interesting one however: rather than employ more security people and open up more security lines they do what you see happen so often in the States.
They employ more people in uniforms -- often very large middle-aged women -- who stand around and yell at you to have your tickets ready and some form of photo ID available.
(I leave it over to you to see the metaphor for foreign policy here.)
One poor guy attempted to ask one of these women for help and got brutal treatment.
"Sir, you know what I need? What I need is for you to take a step back and allow me to keep these other people moving. We have lines here we need to take care of."
Ironically there were no lines. What they had was three deceptively short artifical barriers so you were guided towards one of these (a queue almost formed) but then as people shuffled foward the barriers disappeared and people became an annoyed crowd again.
Lines formed as we neared the place where we all had to take our shoes and jackets off. You can imagine how that slowed things down, watching obese old ladies trying to take off their trainers isn't not a pretty sight.
(Residents of Auckland's North Shore who travel down Onewa Rd to the city will know this experience of funnelling traffic into one lane.)
Tempers were fraying as people thought they might miss their flights.
Inefficiencies were everywhere: Hell, these people hadn't even thought they might need more than one rubbish bin to take all the water bottles and containers that people were being told to discard.
So amidst the confusion of the "queue" you also had to step over bottles and plastic containers.
None of this puts people off air travel because for most it is just something they have to do.
But you'd think a little more committment to customer comfort amidst the safety precautions might not go amiss. They are not mutually exclusive.
I'm going through all this in about 10 days and since 9/11 -- I flew to the States just a month later -- I have learned to be even more patient than I usually am. These days you have no choice -- you might get barked at by a lady in a uniform who loves to wield very little bit of power she has.
So it has been five years since 9/11 and what have we learned?
Lots of things of course -- but it has also been almost four decades since a man first walked on the moon.
I doubt Neil Armstrong would want to bother with going through an airport these days.
[PS: thanks for those who sent recipes, keep 'em coming. And do I miss politics at home? Not really, a politician here who allegedly had dead constituents on the roll is blaming the opposition for using dirty tactics or something. As (some) say around here in Vancouver: "Plus ca change".]