Somehow, in a country whose creative geniuses produced the airplane, the computer, the iPad, text-messaging and the ergonomic miracle of the Nike sneaker, the federal transportation authorities have yet to come up with anything better than those stacks of tubs. There is no provision for the rapid striptease acts which passengers are required to perform upon reaching the tubs. No chairs on which to sit while removing your shoes, no good place to unzip your bag and remove a laptop (having been required to consolidate all carry-on in order to enter the security line in the first place). One after another, with the queue bearing down from behind, the passengers hop around, pulling off shoes, unbuckling belts, emptying pockets, unzipping bags, re-zipping bags, diving across each other to procure yet another tub, while trying simultaneously to hang onto the ticket (for which most airlines have stopped providing ticket jackets) and identification that must be hand-carried through.
Is there really no better way? I’m no ergonomic expert. But every time I go through this routine, I wonder if the authorities couldn’t actually speed up these lines, and allow for a trace of dignity as well, by making some routine provision for the entirely predictable, awkard and time-consuming hopping, unzipping and fumbling with tubs and tickets. Where DO our authorities expect you to put your ticket while you are using both hands to pack your accessories into plastic tubs? Amid all the motion experts of America, versed in developing ever sleeker bicycles, phones and tennis rackets, can no one be found to improve on the hop-and-tub routines of the TSA? As for the queues, if there isn’t the manpower to handle peak hours without a wait, would it not be possible to knock out at least the initial half hour of Soviet-style shuffling by letting people simply take a number — and approach the altar of the actual security check a mere 10 or 15 minutes before their turn, rather than waiting in line for 45 minutes? That approach works awfully well in private-sector delicatessens (where there tends to be a lot more concern for the convenience of the customer).
Small stuff, perhaps, compared to the larger questions of how best to actually provide security. Were there genuinely good reasons for shuffling and hopping through these interminable airport lines, or even some sign that federal authorities are trying hard to provide the kind of courtesy routine among deli owners selling salami, it might be ungrateful to protest. But it is a dismal feeling to arrive home in America, land of the free, and, as required offering for onward domestic passage, be shunted straight into the world of the sheep.