I’ve always considered Ottawa’s small, low-hassle airport an oasis from the sometimes hectic, paranoid experience of air travel.
Last week, though, I took my first trip since not-ready-for-end-times jihadist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted martyrdom by detonating his underwear. This set off another round of reflexive panic and look-busy security measures, so I made sure I arrived in plenty of time to be scanned, profiled, searched and interrogated.
Rule Number One at the airport is no joking, of course. Nobody needs to have their attention called to the always-increasing absurdity of their situation. No matter that cracking wise is a natural stress-relieving instinct, and airport security keeps ramping up the tension -- both emotional and comic.
About two weeks after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, I found our airport still in the process of adjusting to this fearsome new post-gitch bomber era.
The lonely racks for measuring carry-on baggage (now forbidden on U.S.-bound trips) were still sitting around, though it’s too early to guess whether they just haven’t been removed yet or whether they’ll stay put for the return of laxer screening.
Seldom, though, have we seen security requirements grow less onerous. We’re still required to take off our shoes since 2001, when another incompetent terrorist, Richard Reid, failed to blow up a plane with explosives in his.
The newfangled nude scanners, first promised decades ago to aspiring voyeurs in the back pages of comic books, have not yet arrived in Ottawa, so it’s mandatory patdowns for everyone. The screening area hadn’t been noticeably changed to accommodate this operation, so it caused a bit of a bottleneck as passengers waited for a frisker of the appropriate gender (I’m personally OK with a co-ed search. Airports can be so dull).
As is generally the case at Ottawa’s airport, the new measures have been adopted with reasonable courtesy all around. Nobody’s trying to make the new rituals any harder than they have to be. The travellers are patient, the screeners respectful, even apologetic. We are still made to feel like people, despite the more exhaustive inventory being taken of our persons.
The airport Tim Hortons is still openly selling a muffin they call the Fruit Explosion, and Connie, headed to Miami, ordered three without setting off any alarms. Clearly, things could be worse.
The rest of my trip involved much bigger U.S. airports, where despite constant announcements of colour-coded threat levels from Homeland Security (orange appears to be the default setting) everyone seemed relatively bored.
Perhaps we’ve all been so scared for so long, it now feels like business as usual.