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If terrorists strike, clean underwear a must
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


August 23, 2006

You have heard the old joke: I just flew in from New York and, boy, my arms are tired. While it's not very funny, I must report that I flew in from Australia and my arms were tired.

My arms got tired from clutching my see-through plastic security bag, which I had read Down Under was required for international flights in lieu of the usual hand luggage.

In this bag, I had my passport and ticket, a pen for filling in the form declaring, among other things, that I never visited a farm during my stay, and one pair of clean underwear.

As it turned out, I was the only one on the jumbo jet with a see-through plastic security bag, let alone one that provided scenic views of underwear. Everybody else brought regular carry-on luggage (although not as much as usual).

Of course, every prudent traveler should have spare underwear in his or her carry-on. It's all about what your mother always said: Make sure to have clean underwear in case you are in an accident. If the plane has to ditch at sea, the captain will illuminate the sign to fasten seat belts and underwear.

(Admittedly, Houdini couldn't put on new underwear while confined in an economy class seat, so if an emergency ever happens to you, simply put the underwear on your head as an improvised safety helmet. This won't do any good, but at least the searchers will know you were thinking of your mother at the last.)

So, there I was with my see-through plastic security pouch, thinking what the state of flying has come to in this modern world and how little we, the mooing herd of cramped and inspected passengers, can do about it. It's the War on Terror, you know, so just shut up and be terrified.

It wasn't always like this. I remember when flying was a refined and civilized experience, with actual linen napkins and no danger of being poked and prodded before you went up the gangplank. Those were the days, eh?

These days, you have to be in business or first class to get the champagne and pheasant-in-aspic treatment. On long flights, the whole economy class seethes with resentment at the thought of all the decadent foot massages going on up in the front cabin.

Those darn swells! What did they ever do to deserve such pampering, other than - you know - working for Halliburton or being a weird self-confessed killer coming back from Bangkok?

This deterioration of civilized standards is a conjunction of two depressing forces - the modern march of progress, such as it is, and the rise of terrorism. The lack of tolerable amenities can be blamed on the former; ridiculous security measures on the latter.

Given the terrorist plot uncovered in Britain, I suppose it made sense to deprive passengers of their water, toothpaste, shampoos and gels. But the whole exercise gave the impression of a very loud slamming of the barn door after the terrorist horse had left. In the case of shampoo, it was a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.

Even the swells up in first class don't get to keep their Colgate tubes now. We may be the great unwashed in economy class but we are all the great unbrushed now. On a 13- or 14-hour flight, such as the one to Australia, this is a real problem. Planes are likely to explode simply because of a critical mass of halitosis.

As you can see, the long flight has made me cranky. To be fair, I must say that in my experience most of the security people employed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are courteous folks who seem to be doing the best they can.

Still, you wonder whether the checked bags are getting the same attention and it's all sort of a show to keep us sufficiently bamboozled so as to keep voting Republican.

My concerns are not those of the new movie "Snakes on a Plane." (Already the sequels are being planned: "Naked Mole Rats on a Plane" and "Life Insurance Agents on a Plane.") For one thing, now that Dasani bottles have been eliminated from our carry-ons, at least the water and sea snakes will die of dehydration.

No, my concern is that the same crew that brought us the Katrina response and the war in Iraq have guaranteed our personal security. When I think about this, it is all I can do not to reach for my spare underpants, put them on my head and pull them down over my eyes to cover the look of someone who thinks at any moment he may buy the farm.


Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
E-mail rhenry(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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