He ruined it for all of us

Sonali Kudva

If I ever meet Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the guy with the explosives sewn into his underwear, I definitely have a few things to say to him.

Recent events from Christmas Day have violated one of the last sacred and untouchable things a person could keep to him/herself while traveling. Underwear. Thanks now to Abdulmutallab, that too has become suspect in the eyes of airport security, who now have to ensure that a person’s crotch is free from explosives and incendiary devices.

As I traveled from the United Kingdom back to the United States on a non-U.K., non-U.S. passport, I saw for myself what international travelers now have to put up with and indeed have had to put up with for some time. “Random” searches, pat downs, bag searches, DNA fingerprinting, photographs and full-body scanners. And yes, I’m aware that the person who sees you “naked” through the full body scanner does not get to see your face, but I don’t like it anyway.

Do I like this entire rigmarole? No. Do I have a choice? No. Do I think all this is justified? Sadly, yes. But that’s the fact I dislike most of all.

Traveling internationally used to be an experience to savor, not an ordeal to be endured. And while I may date myself by talking about this, I do remember a time, or perhaps remember it because I was told of it, when people talked to one another on flights, with no suspicions, just two random strangers seated next to one another passing their time discussing the world, their view and life in general. Flight attendants were pretty girls who were chosen as much for their appearance as for their food-bearing and caring skills.

For a person like me who likes to talk usually to the passenger who is unfortunate enough to be seated next to me and is conscious at the same time, the recent events have ruined my travel style and have sucked the enjoyment out of transcontinental flights.

No more do people directly indulge in random conversation simply to pass the time. Suspicious looks abound in the cabin, and everyone hopes they aren’t sitting next to “that guy” (see above).

Even in the airport, things have changed. In many airports, outside visitors are no longer allowed within the airport. The time where children were taken to the airports to watch the planes land and take off is now passé. Staring at the airplanes too long could get you into all kinds of trouble. No more last-minute gifts. No surprises at the airport. No long goodbyes and waving of handkerchiefs at parting planes. Air travel has become a dreary and sterile ordeal.

So if I ever meet that guy, or one of the others who have ruined things for travelers like me, I will have a lot to say. And not one of the things I will have to say will be a thank you for making the world a better place, a safer place.

Sonali Kudva is a journalism graduate student and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].