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HUCKABY: The fear of flying now has nothing to do with planes

I used to wish I had one of those jobs where you fly all over the country each week, helping to keep the wheels of commerce well lubricated and moving smoothly. An alternative would have been to actually work for an airline and have the opportunity to flit about the country — scooting out to Frisco for a little Italian food on North Beach or up to New York to do a little Christmas shopping.

I used to envy the folks for whom flying was a way of life, and I used to want to be one of them. Now — not so much.

My lovely wife, Lisa, and I might get on an airplane twice a year. That number will apparently be cut in half now that Greg McGarity is the head honcho at UGA and deemed our cross-continent road trips a thing of the past. I think this year we have flown to Denver and Key West. The airlines lost our luggage only once. Thank goodness it was on the flight to Key West, where clothing is pretty much an afterthought anyway.

Last year we flew to Las Vegas — on business — and Key West. Do you see a pattern? We started collecting our sky miles when Wilbur and Orville were building bicycles and still don’t have enough points to leave Rockdale County.

But that’s OK, because nowadays (Yankees say “anymore”) flying is a pain in the you-know-what. And if you were thinking pain in the neck, think a little lower.

I suppose most of the trouble started on 9/11 back in 2001, but to tell you the truth, flying had begun to lose a little of its glamour even before those peace-loving Islamic extremists started flying giant aircraft into stationary landmarks of American freedom and capitalism.

The “coffee, tea or me?” days of the perky flight attendants in the cute outfits had vanished with the ’80s, and individual attention to the comfort of the flying public had given way to the herd mentality of the bottom line.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the need for a healthy bottom line, and the airline industry has done a great job of keeping prices affordable — even if they do have to charge you for a pillow and a blanket and even if they don’t serve rubber chicken on the Atlanta to Nashville flight. But still.

But the problem that is getting the most attention in the media today has nothing to do with anything that happens once you actually board the airplane. The grievousness today is at the gates.

If you have flown lately — or have been paying attention to the news — you know that for months now there has been a spirited debate going on about airport security and how best to maintain it. Those pesky aforementioned terrorists don’t give up easily and have been caught trying to commit murder and mayhem by smuggling bombs and all manner of destructive devices into our homeland. This increased activity has led to increased efforts to keep those folks off our planes.

But — and this is a big but — we the people must be racially and ethnically sensitive — so profiling is o-u-t. We cannot — nay, we will not — be accused of profiling, not at the airport and not anywhere else. What we are going to do is harass every member of the flying public.

Our first idea was to do a full body scan. Remember when you were an adolescent boy — for the 50 percent of you who are male — and looked forward to the day when we would have X-ray glasses? Do I have the perfect job for you! A lot of people complained about that notion, however, and so now TSA — those friendly people who are the arm of the Department of Homeland Security charged with keeping our transportation systems safe, have come up with a better idea. I guess they are a little like Ford.

Now they simply pat down just about everyone who comes through the line. That way they can be equal opportunity offenders. If you can believe what you see on the television news — and I learned a long time ago not to believe anything I hear and only half of what I see — it is open season on travelers. I saw one interview with a lady who claimed that airport checkers put their hands up her skirt and another who said she was told to remove the prosthetic right breast she uses because of a previous surgery for cancer. And we’ve all heard about John Tyner who has become a folk hero of sorts by warning a TSA screener that he would have him arrested if he touched his “junk” during a pat down.

Like most problems with government agencies, this one is sure to get worse before it gets better, and heaven forbid common sense be applied to the equation. It doesn’t bother me because, like I said, we usually drive wherever we have to go.

I am scheduled, however, to fly to Phoenix on Valentine’s weekend to make a speech. If this touchy-feely uproar hasn’t subsided by then, all I can say is — I’m getting in the line with the prettiest female screener available and what has to be — well, who am I to stand in the way of airline safety?

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.