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Emotional baggage and the airline that caused it

Emotional baggage and the airline that caused it


I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.

I had a chance once upon a time, the year after I graduated college, when I was travelling around the country on a ministry team.

We had performed at a church in Newark, NJ, on Sunday and retired to our host homes afterward.

Monday, we worked striking our equipment. Tuesday, we were to meet at the church in the morning to enjoy a day of sightseeing in New York City.

It never happened.

It was September 11, 2001.

The first plane struck before our designated meeting time, and I sat glued to the television in my host home watching the dark smoke flood the World Trade Center.

A pair of newscasters debated about the possible reasons why an airplane would run into a building: Did the pilot have a heart attack? Did the equipment malfunction? Surely it couldn’t be intentional!

When the second airplane appeared on screen, my heart dropped. The panicked newscaster blurted, “What is that? Is that a second plane? Oh no… it’s… it’s going to hit the building. It’s going to hit the building!!!”

We watched, live, as the second airplane torpedoed into the second World Trade Center tower. Dark smoke accentuated the fiery explosion like the cloud of doom forming in our hearts.

My husband noted the time and decided to collect the team and return to our host home instead of sightseeing in the war zone. When he stepped outside, he gasped.

“Dorothy! Come out here!”

I tore my eyes from the screen and hurried to the porch, where I spied two black columns of smoke rising into the sky. Suddenly, the act of terrorism jumped from the nebulous “over there” to my backyard, fifteen miles away.

The live television shots of jumpers and the eventual implosion of each tower set me sobbing.

It was a horrible day.

Do you remember how the government responded?

They didn’t say, “No more airplanes.”

They didn’t say, “Arm everyone on every flight.”

What they did say, was “Significant change.”

I see no need to outline all the changes to our airports, but I do vividly recall a few, because I ended up working at the airport the following year.

My present self wants to holler at my former self, “What in tarnation were you thinking?!”

I applied to AirTran in the fall of 2002. They required a two-week training period in Atlanta, which I aced, surrounded by high school graduates hopeful of landing a barely-above-minimum- wage customer service job with a dose of manual labor thrown in every two hours.

The day I returned to work at Raleigh, NC, I arrived at 4 am to a line of about a hundred people.

While the TSA and Office of Homeland Security had yet to be formed, the federal government had made it very clear that the customer service agents (aka ME) were to hand-search every piece of luggage from passengers whose names were flagged with an asterisk.

One-way passengers were automatically flagged, which posed a huge problem for AirTran, as they marketed low one-way fares, especially to international passengers.

Yeah, about half of every flight was flagged.

So the long-time employees had learned to fudge the system. There simply was no possible way to follow the federal guidelines and push off on time.

What they didn’t know was that the feds were watching them, every day, through the plate-glass front of the building, for two weeks.

My very first day. One hour on the job. Everyone was arrested.

By the FBI.

I, of course, was spared, having missed the sting.

I say “spared” laughingly, because I alone was left to check in a hundred passengers, hand-search all their luggage, wish them a good day, and then run downstairs and load all their luggage into the belly of the waiting Boeing 737.

I kid you not.

Thank the Lord Jesus and all that is holy for the TSA.

I’m not even joking.

Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, you have to remove your shoes, your belt, your electronics, and your left kidney at security. Yes, those with middle-eastern heritage will be hand-frisked every time. (I experienced this personally in my business group last October.) Families can no longer meet their loved ones at the gate. You have to park a billion steps away from the terminal, and you have to chuck your overpriced bottle of water you just bought at an airport vending machine.

And who the heck knows what kind of alpha-betagamma rays are being shot through your body in the hands-up look-straightahead 360 degree whirry machine?

It took some time, but the TSA has settled into a mostly efficient security system that provides a modicum of peace to the worried hearts of the travelers (and the citizens) without subjecting them to hours of hand-searching, hand-frisking, and mostly untrained eyes.

It was a rocky start, but the changes were necessary.

My point is this: in the wake of yet another mass murder on a school campus, change is necessary.

The liberal side hollers to ban all guns from all people.

The conservative side hollers back to arm everyone on campus.

I don’t think either of those issues will provide adequate security.

I was discussing some options like closed campuses, metal detectors, and armed security detail yesterday with a friend when I scrolled past a post from Marion High School on Facebook announcing that for security, the gravel maintenance road that students currently use to access the field house will be permanently closed.

My friend rolled her eyes.

“They expect those kids to walk all the way from the arena parking lot with all that equipment? That’s ridiculous.”

So it’s not convenient, but it’s a good first step.

I support Dr. Fenter and the administration in steps toward a more secure campus, drilling active shooters, but also doing their very best to prevent the situation in the first place.

I don’t have a ten-point plan in place, but I will say this: something needs to change.

It won’t be convenient.

It won’t be easy.

But I hope to God, it will keep our students safe.

Dorothy Wilson lives in Marion with her husband Chris as they enjoy all the adventures life with their seven children brings.

“The Marion Mom” By Dorothy Wilson

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