Crowds And Carbohydrates

outside the SouthWest Airlines terminal waiting for a security check at the Los Angeles International Thanksgiving travel airport
Traveling on Thanksgiving weekend has changed from "over the river and through the woods" to "past the screeners and through the X-ray machine." But like most people, I'm willing to put up with a little inconvenience if it makes us all safer, because the ultimate goal is still the same: a huge dinner with family and friends consisting of turkey and at least six different starches.

Airports will probably be even more crowded than usual this Thanksgiving weekend. There are a few theories about this. One is that with people being told to arrive earlier and earlier before their flights, some of the folks at the airport have been there since last Thanksgiving.

Another is that now that the Homeland Security Act has passed, everyone who felt nervous about flying before is fine with it now. That's a tough one to buy. I don't know one person who sighed with relief after the bill was passed and said, "All right! Now, I feel okay."

Actually, the reason for the crowded airports is pretty obvious: it's because there are so many screeners and other airport security workers! As Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) put it, "They have flooded these airports with screeners." There are now 44,000 passenger screeners at our airports with another 22,000 due by the end of the year. At this rate, some day there may be more screeners than passengers.

Some airport officials fear that now that there are enough screeners to open more luggage for testing, lines of passengers will become longer. When I first heard about this, my attitude was that I'm happy to put up with a little inconvenience if it makes us all safer.

However, some security experts warn that these slower, longer lines will result in more crowded ticket lobbies which could make those areas targets for terrorists. (This paradox is just one of the many reasons that when it comes to the threat of terrorism, I often choose denial).

Airport workers have been under great scrutiny lately. In fact, about 800 of them have been arrested in the past year in sweeps that government officials have said were necessary to our national security. Even though not one of those arrested has turned out to be a terrorist and many claim to have had their civil rights violated, I guess they have to put up with these inconveniences if it makes the rest of us safer.

Once you get on the plane, you can expect it to be crowded, too. And not just with passengers. Don't forget about the sky marshals. It's weird not knowing which people on the plane pretending to be fellow passengers are actually marshals. Is it that woman next to me who talks for the entire flight when I'm trying to sleep? Is it that guy who coughs a huge laugh at every lame joke in the movie? Or maybe they've gotten really clever and recruited that little kid with the runny nose behind me who keeps kicking my chair. But even if it is, I don't mind the inconvenience if it makes us all safer.

Maybe some day soon, some of our Thanksgiving dinner tables will be more crowded than usual, too. Maybe there will be someone there you don't recognize who claims to be a distant cousin. Maybe he really will be a cousin, or maybe he'll be a Dinner Marshall — someone who works for the federal government who is there to check on us to make sure we don't eat too much. No matter who he is, if he asks for a second helping of stuffing, just pass it to him. Isn't it worth putting up with a little inconvenience if it makes us all safer?

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver