Get used to air travel's new pains or gas up the family car
By Michael Lewis
Just as the world of air travel changed radically after 9/11, it suffered another seismic upheaval after last week's terrorist roundup. The painful details change daily as regulators decide just what is a liquid.
Even regulators aren't sure what's what: The Transportation Security Administration Web site helpfully says that if you're in doubt about something, leave it home or pack it in your checked luggage.
And on Monday, one page of the site told air travelers shoe removal definitely is not required while another said, "All passengers are required to remove their shoes."
Don't consider these painful steps, barefoot or not, an aberration - they're the new normal.
Think of this: Generations of passengers will never know how uncomplicated, comfortable and even luxurious flying once was.
Within decades, air travel degenerated from luxury for a few to comfort for many to a cattle call for all - and now to prisoners of the air in the name of enhanced security.
We got used to the first wave of security lines and to shoe and belt removals. I suppose we'll also get used to traveling for a dozen hours without those vital items men pack in carry-ons and women in purses. We'll arrive at our destinations grubbier and grumpier.
We are adaptable. We understand the reason. But we don't have to like it - and we won't, not a bit.
We'll also get used to spending more and more time from the moment we leave home to the minute we exit our target airport.
Taking off May 20, 1927, near New York City, Charles A. Lindbergh flew solo to Paris in 33 hours, 30 minutes, 29.8 seconds. Despite the vast superiority of jets to his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis, we soon may slide back to his timetable. Just consider early arrivals, pre-flight security delays and the wait for checked liquid-bearing luggage.
The business traveler who flies conveniently with just a carry-on will become a relic. More businesses will schedule fewer plane trips and add phone and video conferencing.
Those who continue to fly occasionally despite heightened safety concerns - the vast majority of us - will overcome fears about what might happen in the air at the hands of unhinged fanatics.
We will recall the first inaugural address of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the heart of the Great Depression, and we will modify his words to fit the need: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - or even more delays from ever more regulation."
The Transportation Security Administration site conveniently lists for travelers "historic wait times" at security checkpoints around the nation. You can search by day of the week and time of flight. But for every day and every possible flying time, the site Monday told travelers at Miami International that "all checkpoints are closed or wait time data is not collected during the timeframe selected."
Seems like the delay is no time at all - but don't bet on it.
Terrorism has forced the final step in converting air travel from a convenient journey in the lap of luxury to a threadbare pilgrimage without a decent meal in your lap.
As money-losing airlines cut corners, we slid from luxurious meals served aboard to grabbing a sandwich at the airport and lugging it aboard. Now we may not be able to do even that - after all, what might lurk hidden under the lettuce? Eat heartily before you enplane - the fare aboard is not what it was.
Memory of the well-dressed traveler faded before 9/11. Then we started wearing slip-off shoes and dressing worse than people at a terrorists' convention. Under the latest regulations, we'll be traveling almost bare - and sans makeup-repair kits.
We will indeed fly - but not as often. The less pleasant and more inconvenient flying becomes, the more we'll avoid it. More families will drive to nearby getaways - the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is probably alert for that already.
The Miami-Dade County Aviation Department has been scrambling to cut back its massive expansion of Miami International Airport. In the face of additional terrorist threats, maybe it should plan even more trims, just in case.
The federal government hasn't made it formal. There hasn't been time. But you can bet on it: Flying in discomfort is the new normal.