Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Anguish of Air Travel and Confronting Crowds Barefoot

Air travel has changed a lot over the past few years. Passengers face a series of barriers before finally boarding and settling into what often turns out to be a crowded plane, narrow seats, overstuffed overhead luggage compartment, no free food and no movies.

Hurdles to air travel begin long before leaving for the airport. First a ticket must be purchased. Maneuvering travel and airline websites to find the airline with the best rate at the most convenient travel time can try anyone’s patience and perseverance.

Finally choosing the flight and price, the website directs the purchaser through a series of screens before a ticket can be purchased. Depending on the airline these can be simple and quick, or the process may seem never ending. Spirit Air is one of those interminable websites.

Purchasing a ticket might seem a simple move, but it is fraught with danger. The various questions have one goal: get the customer to pay as much as possible for their ticket. Airlines entice customers to pay additional fees for baggage check, better seats, priority boarding – you get the idea. For example one personal item only is allowed free on Spirit; there is a charge for any other carry on piece or checked bag.

Passengers, on the other hand, want to pay as little as possible. Instead of paying a baggage fee, for example, passengers stuff as much clothing and other items as possible into a small carry-on suitcase.

Annoyances continue upon arrival at the airport. Usually I print my boarding pass at home, or wherever I might be, and proceed directly to security.

Security may involve long lines and a long wait, or a quick walk through numerous meandering rows directing passengers onward. Finally security looms ahead. With driver’s license and boarding pass in hand, I approach the TSA officer. For most folks this involves a quick look at the documents and a stamp of approval, moving people on to one of the security check-in lines.

It is time to gear up and place belongings on the conveyor belt that will pass through X-ray machines. For me this usually includes a suitcase, backpack, coat, belt and jewelry. I remove a clear baggy with liquid toiletries from the suitcase and take my computer out of the backpack. Any items in my pockets are removed, such as change, keys, tissues, and cell phone. And of course shoes and socks must also be taken off and placed in bins.

There has been a lot of publicity concerning removal of shoes and socks. 

I believe the real reason we must remove shoes and socks is because of a well-kept Federal secret - a conspiracy between the FAA, TSA and the beauty salon industry.

Women of most ages do not want to take off their shoes and socks and reveal ugly feet and toes. A lot of men don’t either. Women (and some men) will visit the nearest nail salon for a quick pedicure before heading for the security line.

This has been an enormous boost for, specifically, the pedicure business. People living in the south may get pedicures all year round. No so for most of us living up north. We can make it through the long winter months without revealing our toes to anyone, covering unpolished, misshapen, ragged toenails with stockings, socks and slippers.

Concealment works, unless we have to go through an airport security blockade before boarding a plane to anywhere. We are embarrassed to look at our own toes – how can we possibly allow others the indignity?

So we swallow hard and include the cost of a pedicure in the price of our trip.

The FAA and the TSA appreciate it.

The pedicure industry appreciates it.

And, although our pocketbooks may not be very appreciative, a pedicure is a nice sight when staring down at our shoeless feet when walking through security, raising our hands to be X-rayed, and being (possibly) scooted aside for additional examination.

Most people are waved along to ride trams or trains or walk long corridors to their boarding gate. Only a select few are chosen for further scrutiny and pat downs. I am usually one of those individuals. I am not sure why – no alarms go off over hidden metal, for instance – but I fit some profile. I am beginning to wonder if the guards think I am smuggling something, like a bottled Starbucks Frappuccino…
But I am sure the TSA lady frisking me is pleased I have cute painted toes. 


  1. Uggggggg, air travel is not much fun anymore. Glad our relatives live close, and we drive to Arizona for the winter months. Enjoy those pretty toe nails!!

  2. Oh no! I've got a flight on Saturday and no time for a pedicure. I've just added thick socks to my travel wardrobe.

  3. I never thought about the airline security and the salon industry being in cahoots, but the way you have explained it makes sense.

    At least the Congress has, in an emergency act, funneled money to airline security in an effort to speed up some lines--mostly the ones they might have had to stand in. Amazing how they were able to find common ground on that one. The rest of sequestration slogs on without remedy.

  4. Wait a second. I fly a lot and nobody has ever asked me to remove my socks. Is it possible they've all thought I had black woolen feet?

  5. Not to mention you pay for the dubious privilege of getting to breathe the same canned air as everyone else. I traveled two weeks ago and am still fighting the cold picked up from some generous fellow traveler. :-)