• Do American Airports Suck? Yes, Yes They Do

    April 26, 2017

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    tsa toy

    Traveling by air in America is one of the best ways to see the country, although it is not always the nicest view. I recently took a fresh look, with the goal of advising my foreign friends what to expect when they drop by the United States.

    Our Air Palaces

    You’ll enjoy our older airports’ retro-touches, which evoke the Golden Age of air travel of the 1950s and 1960s. The typical lack of free WiFi, just like when your parents first visited America, the two electrical outlets serving an entire wing of the airport, the toilets which have not been cleaned since when your parents first visited America, and the “Welcome Home Troops” signs reminiscent of those displayed for soldiers coming home from that war where America invaded your country, all quaintly harken back to simpler times.

    Your chances of finding public transportation to and from the airport are slim. Maybe if you look around there’ll be an old city bus for the workers (live like a local!) And stop standing out as a “tourist,” looking for trains that connect to the city center as you’ll find nearly everywhere else in the developed world. As you pay a month’s salary out to the cab driver who is cheating you just like in Cairo, or the Uber guy 23 hours into a shift trying to feed his family, think of it all as a great only-in-the-developing world story to tell if you survive to get back home.

    Keep in mind our newer airports are clean and shiny, and look like shopping malls, our most popular places of worship. You can buy the same stuff made in some other country in the airport as out of the airport, eat at the same fast food places, and sample the daily ration of fat required by all the pre-diabetic locals. The newer airports are also a lesson in economics. America has only three viable industries left: government, our largest employer (generally off limits to foreigners, though those we accuse of being terrorists are often taken in as a kind of adjunct), retail sales, and serving/delivering things to each other. See it all while you’re here!

    Security First

    But the real treat inside our airports is that most American of things, security.

    Prior to 9/11, no one but Nazis in old movies and zoologists mapping out elephant migration routes used the term “Homeland.” But now everyone in America does. You should try it, too. Say it with the right mix of fear and awe, and the locals might not even guess American English is not your first language.

    Speaking of which, one fun thing that distinguishes our international airports from those in many other third world countries is the near-exclusive use of English. Few Americans appreciate the efforts we go to as a nation to provide these gratis tutorial sessions to you.

    A curious fact is that American airport workers seem to believe that anyone can speak English if it is blasted at them loud enough and s-l-o-w enough. Idiomatic phrases, such as “ I SAID, liquids in a baggie, 3:1, c’mon, people are waiting behind you” will be taught to you by our security staff. If you don’t catch it all the first time, don’t worry, the worker will repeat it as many times as necessary. American passengers will often help out by advising you how to manhandle your laptop, tear open wrapped gifts, disassemble iPads, and pour out bottled water purchased earlier in the airport, all so you can speed through the security checkpoint enroute to Disneyworld and not Guantanamo.

    If you are new to our shores, understand removing shoes at the airport wasn’t always some sort of American custom, but we now embrace it with fervor. Even the Japanese, who are shoe-removing fetishists, often seem unsure about wearing only socks to tread upon a filthy public floor, but you jump right in. We also love to take off our belts, jackets, and jewelry at the airport. Play along; I once saw some yokels from Communist China, where the government controls their every action, worried pants might be next. Hah!

    They quickly found out we Americans would never bow to a bully government like they do at home. We instead wait in long, slow lines for our chance to appear before a petty government official with blind power over us, all for safety. Pay attention to our unique style of officials. Unlike in some parts of the world where holding near-life-or-death power over someone is just an excuse to collect bribes, or the bored-as-hell Euro style, our airport workers approach their task with gusto.

    If you get touched by a security agent on your private parts, that’s considered good luck by many.

    You may think this anger is all directed at you, as a foreign visitor. Actually, if you are from a Muslim country, it is all directed at you. But sometimes Americans are also often singled out for some fun.

    For example, on my last trip I was selected for random extra screening, which included removing a Chapstick from my pants pocket, and opening it in front of the security person as proof it was not terrorist balm meant to moisten my lips before shouting “Allah hu Akbar!”

    Just like with the foreigners, the agent spoke English loudly to me, as if to reaffirm we are all equal here in America. He also made me open my wallet in case it included a very, very thin gun. In some countries that might be seen as a request for a bribe, but here I understood it was just bullying by a public servant.

    What happened after I passed through the checkpoint I think as a “fun” freebie for those who comes from cultures that revere elders. After discovering a typo in the name on a boarding pass, security sent an elderly woman back to the airline counter for a new one even though she said that would cause her to miss her flight, after which she would need a new boarding pass once again. You’re not going to see something like that sitting at home!

    Boarding Your Flight

    At your the gate, be sure to see who boards first, as the list includes military in uniform. I know of no other country in the world that does that, so foreign friends, watch for it as a real “thing.”

    Americans will try and rush onto the plane as if they’re not sure that there’ll be a seat for them. But looks can be deceiving, because what those citizens are actually doing is playing one of America’s favorite blood sports, fighting for overhead storage space.

    See, the airlines had this idea that since everyone carries luggage on trips, if they charged a fee for luggage, they’d get rich. Americans responded as revolutionaries do, protesting such unjust laws by dragging enough crap on to the plane as “carry on” luggage that the aisles often look like the barricade scene from Les Miserables. The plane cannot accommodate all that stuff, and so a struggle ensues.

    Watch closely for regional variations, from passive aggression to outright close combat. Have your camera ready, and let the kids take a swing! If you miss that photo while boarding, you’ll see a slimmed down version of the scrum when it is time to exit the plane. Sometimes the exit fights are even more fun; people have been drinking inflight, and there are scores to settle from the boarding process.

    You’ll soon enough arrive at your American destination feeling very much like a local — exhausted and frustrated. And isn’t feeling like you belong somewhere new one of the real goals of travel anyway?

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • chuck said...


      Passengers on flights in the u.s. used to rush suspected terrorists on planes. Now they try to stop the Company’s people or watch in horror. USA #1 (repeat).

      04/26/17 8:34 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      The Repugnican response: you don’t have to fly.

      04/26/17 9:03 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Speaking of Repugnicans: Go fly yourself

      The newest version of the Republican health care bill would exempt lawmakers and their families from some of its most unpopular — and life-threatening — provisions.

      The bill would allow states to repeal some provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as protections covering people with pre-existing medical conditions and requiring insurance companies to pay for prescription drugs and mental health treatment.

      But a GOP amendment would maintain those protections for members of Congress and their own families, reported Health Affairs Blog.

      “The best evidence yet that the new GOP repeal plan is a disaster for people’s health care is that the GOP exempted Members of Congress from living under it,” said Leslie Dach, director of the Protect Our Care Campaign.

      04/26/17 10:25 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...



      04/26/17 11:01 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      I miss the old days of regular boarding according to when you appeared at the airport. It then boarded according to a number assigned to your ticket (1, 2, 3, 4) Then it switched to letters( A B C D) and finally to precious metals (Platinum, Gold, Silver but still I was assigned a number (4 of course) or a group (D of course). Zinc, Tin, Potash? Anything! I needed to have some small connection with the precious metal flyers.

      04/26/17 11:07 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Rich, Can Trump or does he follow the Tuesday Drone Kill list? The D and R’s are history hopefully.

      04/26/17 2:12 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Obomber to get $400,000 for talk. O and T suck. Bush Lies People Die! Have a nice day!

      04/26/17 2:27 PM | Comment Link

    • Traven said...


      Fore warned: I recently made a trip to our subservient friend,the UK, hoping to find the expected “security” to be more rational. But lo and behold I found that for flights back to the good old USA the Brits had been told by the our urgent security apparatchiks that they must do the full Monte on returning passengers. The Brits accommodated this demand with gusto. I usually use a wheelchair in the airport since at 93 I can’t stand in interminable lines. I had my favorite hat on that says “US Army Air Corps” and my cane on my lap and I went through security in the VIP section since I was in Business class. So did the Brits just look at me and say “thank you for your service”? No, the full Monte exported from Washington included not just belt but shoes (which you don’t have to take off over age 70 here) but also a stand up pat down. Now that’s how our airport culture reaches across the seas. Walk, don’t fly.

      04/26/17 4:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Save your pennies…. Empty the ashtray change… Search the couch cushions for the hide away money…


      Fly private Charter……

      Its a different world…..

      No dragging down the aisles…. No groping…. No rubber glove checks….

      You even get to keep your shoes on…. And…. They will have your favorite wine on board.


      04/26/17 4:58 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Pick me up Mitch!

      04/26/17 5:16 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Want us to drop you off too?…… Or you just want to stay up there awhile?


      04/26/17 7:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Traven said...


      Mitch. I’ve thought of that but I am a child of the great depression and have never forgotten what poverty is like. Such indulgence runs counter to my ethos. I just won’t fly overseas anymore.
      Thanks for your suggestion though. My wife would agree with you but she is much younger and does not have the memories I have. I still pick up pennies i find on the street that other people just walk past.

      04/26/17 8:07 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...


      I also pick up pennies, and recycle cans for a nickel. What Obama is doing, gloating in his unearned wealth, collecting the spoils for doing Wall Street’s dirty work (let’s call it something American, like delayed bribery) sickens me. I’m just glad we don’t have to see Hillary in a bathing suit four years from now doing the same thing.

      04/27/17 8:48 AM | Comment Link

    • Traven said...


      Mitch If you read my “Current Pet Peeve” in https://contraryperspective.com/2017/04/20/my-current-pet-peeve/ you will see how those feelings still persist in my mind.
      Ecclesiastes says “know from whence you came and where thou goest”.

      04/26/17 8:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Traven and Peter.

      I grew up far beyond poor. I unfortunately know the taste of hunger all to well.

      I sadness me and angers me beyond discripition that people still live as I did growing up.

      I have done well, only because I don’t like being hungry.

      And I still save and count pennies.

      Some lessons you never forget.

      Traven. I will absolutely read your lknk in a bit. Thank you for sharing it.


      04/27/17 11:34 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Damn!!!! You are SO on board.

      WELL DONE !!!!!!!


      04/27/17 11:47 AM | Comment Link

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