As I mentioned yesterday, the airport security folks at BWI have earned an official LegalMist Rant. (But tempered somewhat by an official LegalMist Life Lesson.)
Apparently, a five-year-old with a splint on his arm in an airport is a potential terrorist. As we went through the metal detectors on the way to catch our wonderful flight on Southwest Airlines, they pulled my little guy aside.
The security guy barked orders at me and at my little guy as if we were convicted felons. (Whatever happened to talking to kids with a kind tone, and explaining things to folks in general?)
He barked, with no explanation as to why, "Over there (gesturing)!" "NO, THERE!!" "Wait there!" "DON'T MOVE!" and then after processing a couple more folks through the metal detector, he barked into his walkie-talkie, "NEED A SWAB!"
He processed a couple more folks, then realized we were still waiting, so he barked into his walkie-talkie again, "NEED A SWAB! NOW!")
The gal came over with the swab and asked, "Who?"
He barked "THAT ONE!"
She said, "Him?" (incredulously).
He barked "YES, THAT ONE! SWAB HIM!!"
She said, "Okie-dokie..." And although she seemed somewhat sympathetic, she still did not directly address my little guy or tell him what she was doing, just grabbed his arm and wiped the swab all over the splint. He looked a little scared. I told him not to worry, they just had to check his splint to make sure it was ok.
After a couple more minutes to -- to what? wait for a chemical reaction, I guess? -- to make sure his splint wasn't made of explosives, the security guy said something unintelligible to me.
I said, "Oh, can we go now?"
He said "NO. STAY THERE!!"
Ay yi yi.
A couple more minutes passed, and then the gal came back over with her special light and looked at the splint and went away, all without a word spoken to my little guy.
After processing a couple more folks through the metal detector, the security guy looked at my little guy and barked, "YOU CAN GO NOW!" And so we went.
Now, I am all for safety. And I am not suggesting that the security folks should profile folks or that they should have let us through without the swab just because the kid with the splint was 5 instead of 25. But really, couldn't the guy have taken just a couple of seconds to address me and/or my kid and state in plain language and with a reasonably kind, or a least not unkind, voice, "We need to swab the splint, please just have a seat right there."?
I started to ask for a supervisor so I could complain.
But then I thought of all the times when I get stressed out and bark orders at my kids. In fact, I had barked orders at them earlier that very morning ("GET IN THE CAR! NOW!!), as I tried to hustle everyone out the door to get to the airport on time. It is all too easy to do, when we are focused on getting the job done instead of focused on respecting the rights and feelings of our fellow human beings.
So instead of complaining, I decided to treat this as another one of those life lessons, courtesy of the Karma theory. I had spent the morning barking at my kids, and now I was watching as someone else barked at my kid, and at me. I really got to see how that felt, and how it affected my little guy. He looked scared. And confused. And a little sad.
Wow, I thought. I hope he doesn't feel that way when I'm barking at him.
So instead of complaining, I decided to consider, and attempt to remedy, my own tendency to bark orders when I am stressed. I will try harder to speak to my kids in a respectful tone, even when I am stressed out. My focus really should be on treating my fellow humans with kindness, even while getting the job done. It does not take any longer to say (and even to say loudly, to make sure you are heard, but in a kind tone), "Please get in the car," instead of "GET IN THE CAR! NOW!!).
I also decided to feel sympathy for, rather than anger at, the security guy. He did, actually, look quite stressed. And as I watched, I realized he had a lot of things to think about:
* Crowd control -- i.e., one person at a time through the detector, and making sure folks waited until he was through with one person before they started through.
* Making sure folks (who had ignored the 108 instructional signs posted all over the place in the line before the metal detectors) actually removed their jackets and shoes and placed their watches and cell phones in the bins to go through the x-ray machine before walking through the metal detector. Whatever your feelings about the necessity and/or effectiveness of these rules, the fact is they are the rules and it is this guy's job to enforce them. And the 50% of folks who ignore the signs simply are not helping things move smoothly at the security gate.
* Figuring out what was causing the machine to light up and beep for about every 5th person through the machine. Redirecting them back through to remove the offending item and try again. Explaining that they needed to put the offending item in a bin and send it through the x-ray machine or hand it to the person tending to the x-ray machine.
* Checking each person's boarding pass.
* Pulling aside anyone with "special" conditions that needed further checking, such as my little guy with the splint.
* Trying to answer questions from clueless persons who apparently could not tell that this guy had way too much going on to have time to tell them where the restrooms are.
* Dealing with the language barrier for the 1/5 to 1/4 of travelers who seemed not to speak English.
* Trying to do all this efficiently so that the line through the security station wouldn't take folks an hour to navigate.
* * *
It's a tall order for anyone. I'd probably feel stressed out, too.
I hope the security guy finds a less stressful job. Or that he gets more comfortable with his job so that he doesn't feel as stressed by it. Perhaps then he will stop barking orders and start speaking kindly to people. Perhaps then he will feel happier, too.
* * *
Meanwhile, if you're going through BWI Airport, be warned: the security folks are like Pit Bulls.