Flying the friendly skies

My mom called it living on the edge.

To the rest of us, it was just traveling on an airplane. Not jumping out of one, not piloting one, just riding as a passenger on an airplane.

But to her, it was dangerous business. So, when she heard I would, on two separate occasions, be flying – gasp – on an actual airplane in the air, she was nervous.

My mom is not alone in this state of mind, though. After Sept. 11, the number of people flying recently in the United States has dropped about 23 percent, according to CNN.

It’s easy to see where these people are coming from. Before Osama bin Laden changed the way we viewed something as simple as flying, it was a normal and exciting experience to soar through the air to your destination. A lot of people now refuse to fly for fear they’ll be on the next plane terrorists take over.

Admittedly, I was nervous about flying after Sept. 11 and if she had tried harder, my mother might have talked me out of going.

But the excitement of taking a trip to New Orleans for the National College Media Convention outweighed whatever my nerves were feeling. This was New Orleans we were talking about. You don’t not go just ’cause you’re scared.

“What are you, a mom?” my friends asked.

At the airport in Minneapolis before takeoff, changes were not hard to miss, especially the military men with big guns. Even though there were a few more metal detectors to go through, the whole experience was still pretty routine – walking through the detectors, laughing at people that made it beep and then looked annoyed, and airport workers also seeming annoyed and crabby as they told you where to set your bag down to be scanned and when it’s OK to pick it up.

Well, no wonder the screener people are cranky. Often, these airport security workers are paid around minimum wage to make sure terrorists, box cutters, other weapons, etc. don’t get on the plane with us. In 2000, airport security screeners at 14 of 18 of our largest airports started at a wage of $6 an hour or less, the general accounting office of Congress reported.

Most security at airports is handled by private firms and these jobs often have a high turnover rate.

Airport security should become a part of federal government so these workers can get standardized training and the proper pay for the job they do. After all, a major military presence has been felt at airports in Europe for years. Better yet, it’s the government who has ultimate responsibility for security at the airports – in the United States, it’s the airlines.

If Americans saw the government taking control of all aspects of airport security, they might feel some reassurance about getting back on a plane.

It’s probably safe to say every time a plane lands safely without incident the pilot, flight attendants and passengers all breathe a sigh of relief. I know I did.

Would I have regretted going to New Orleans if something unthinkable would have happened on the plane? Of course. But nothing did. Not going would have made me really regret missing the city’s food, music and the craziness of Bourbon Street. Fear is only going to make you miss out on a lot of great experiences you can get through traveling.

And that’s not living on the edge – it’s just living.