Monthly Archives: July 2022

Rant #1,475+/- International Airline Travel

Have I said this before? Probably. But so many of the long-standing security rules in international travel are simply absurd! Especially for flights to the US. Moreover, the rules aren’t even universal. They’re country by country. The European Union has its own requirements. And now the UK does also – having fully “brexited” now. Its citizens have been learning the folly of their leap backward this summer as they wait in long lines everywhere just to get OFF their island.

I have a knee replacement. Had it for 13 years. And for 13 years I’ve had to experience the same insane, insulting indignities. Even in airports which use body scanning, millimeter wave viewers as well as metal detectors. AND I have TSA Pre!! Meaning I went through a security background check and paid a fee to get faster, less invasive airport screening. Which includes keeping my shoes on.

Every time I fly I do the same thing. Right off – before I even walk through the metal detector, I tell a TSA officer or their overseas equivalent, “I have a knee replacement.” I point to it. We nod pleasantly to each other. I walk through the metal detector. And then it begins.

Now typically I very purposely wear very form flitting clothes. Slim jeans or jean-tights. A torso-hugging, no-room-for-even-a-Kleenex top. A basic, minimal bra with no wires or padding. Plus anklets and running shoes. But nooooo – I still could have something strapped to my 5’ 1” tall, 103 pound body SOMEWHERE. So first there’s a wanding. The metal in my right knee is evident. But on the way to Prague last month from JFK,  the wand was turned up so high it picked up the 2 tiny metal grommets on the perfectly flat front of my jean tights as well as the ones on the (also empty and perfectly flat) back pockets. Triggering the usual, jailhouse pat down. For which I have to wait for a female TSA officer. It’s become routine for me – with or without grommets.

On the EU-bound trip I noticed a lot of older people (like me) – the ones more likely to have knee or hip replacements – being put through the same indignities. Also not unusual. Also totally absurd and insulting.

But wait, there’s more. Not satisfied with finding nothing, I’m directed to remove my obviously well-worn running shoes. So they can be tested for nonexistent (and of course non-visible) explosives powder. Seriously. 21 years after the infamous Shoe Bomber. This typically entails another 5-20 minutes. Including the unlace-re-lace phase. Meanwhile – in the very crowded security area – my exposed laptop (thankfully still in its carrying case), backpack with EVERYTHING important in it, iPad and carry-on are left unattended at the end of the security area. 3 bins full. Instead of letting a well trained (key words “well trained”) security person use just a little bit of common sense.

Then- there’s the return flight. The one I’m on as I write this. The one and only direct flight from Prague to the NYC metro area. Your TSA Pre is useless outside the US. So EVERYTHING electronic has to come out of your suitcase and backpack. And out of their covers and carry cases. To be left in easy reach of someone’s super-quick hand while I go through another, senseless rerun of my outbound experience. This time they didn’t find the grommets. But the pat down – in typical EU style- is even MORE demeaning. Fingers of the agent slipped under and around the top of my jeans. Very hands-on. And on and on and on. It’s always that way in the EU when flying to the US. And this time AGAIN – merely because of that knee replacement – the shoes must go to the explosives’ powder detector. While all my irreplaceable electronic devices still sit – and sit – at the end of the security area. With not even a security guard to watch them.

In the EU, the security check usually comes at or near your flight’s gate. Now I am a US citizen. And at this point in the process I’ve already gone THREE TIMES through a passport control. And – along with my husband – already answered a bunch of questions asked by a very nice DELTA employee designed to show I’m mentally stabile and not planning to cause ANY kind of trouble. I’ve taken this DELTA flight for many years back and forth. And always some version of the questions. Including the old “did you pack your bag yourself?” And it’s equally aged sister questions.  I don’t recall such hackneyed grilling on the one stop United flights I take when the Delta flight is on its winter (or more recently COVID) hiatus.

Obviously there are some rules here which should be reconsidered in the electronic age. When I’m carrying my QR Coded boarding pass on the airline’s iPhone app. Meaning my passport and past flight history (a long one) were already digitally reviewed and approved when I checked in from home. And then that QR Coded boarding pass has already been electronically read by a scanner-gate before I even get to the official passport control in the country I’m leaving (in the case of flying INTO the US).

With every airline desperately urging people to jump back into international travel, these agencies which apparently never talk to each other either in the US or abroad ought to take a good look at the pile of rules and regulations developed since hijacking and later the September 11th attacks changed air travel decades ago. Some should go or be modernized, some should be kept. But continually discriminating against people with joint replacements merely because we HAVE them – and that’s millions of us in every country – needs to be stopped. Use the metal detector. Use the body outline machines. Look at a person’s age and flight history (right there in the passport stamps). Most of all – JUST USE A LITTLE COMMON SENSE!

It’s not fair to the security workers and cabin crews, who already have enough to put up with, to get a grumpy, annoyed and deeply insulted group of older folks as well. Sounding off to the poor security workers who are only doing their jobs. Enough already. Stop. Desist. Just plain cut it out!  Having a  joint replacement is NOT a criminal activity!

OK. Rant over. Until my next flight.

The Concert at the Castle

Once upon a time– there was an empire centered in this city. The King and Queen lived at the castle with their family and a retinue of sycophants and servants. And sometimes – the Royal couple had a party for their servants. To thank them. They were a very nice, kind royal couple. And then one day- there were no more royals at the castle. The country became a republic. Twice. But the castle remained the seat of power with the President of the Republic living there. The President also had sycophants. Lots of them. Unlike the Royal Families of old, he had to pay his employees. And seldom if ever did the President hold a party at the Castle to thank anyone.

There were – and are many old European capitals to fit my parable but right now I happen to be in Prague – the ancient capital of what is now the Czech Republic. And as the seat of a kingdom or a Republic it has always been a city always full of music. Except for a dreadfully dismal detour into the gray-black world of communism and the Soviet Union. But since 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Prague has been its old self. With a new, modern overlay. And at least once a year there is still a party at the castle. For the people of the entire city – as many who wish to come, sit on the old courtyard cobblestones and lose themselves in the magic of the night.

Concert for the People

And so – for the third time – my husband and I were among those standing or sitting on the cobblestones recently on a perfect summer evening, at the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s traditional free concert ending its formal, concert hall season.

It was a huge crowd. Old, young, babies in carriages. Many drinking beer bought from the tiny pub on the edges of the square. Beer they held carefully as they picked their way through the rest of us to find a cobblestone or two of their own. There were a few relaxed guards at the castle gates. But not a police uniform or car to be seen. Most of us didn’t know each other. Or even speak the same language. But we all smiled. And smiled. At the music, each other, the little kids – and the dogs. As we all peacefully shared this party at the castle.

A Dog’s Life at the Castle

A few weeks later there was another “party” you might say. In the Old Town Square in the oldest part of the Old City of Prague. Which dates to the 14th century. Or even earlier. The Bohemia Jazz Fest – which – like the Czech Philharmonic concert at the castle – hadn’t been held for two COVID-restricted summers. And is also always free. As in pull up a cobblestone or two, maybe grab a beer – and just groove. 

Old Town Square, Prague

For Czechs – it’s normal. But for me – who lives most of the time in the too often violent US – it’s downright amazing!

Yes, there were probably some undercover police mixed among us. At both concerts. But if so – they weren’t needed. We were all there simply to enjoy the music. Free in an increasingly unaffordable world.

Maybe it’s the magic of gathering in a place that’s withstood so many wars – big and small – over the centuries. Not to mention the fires which plagued so many old cities.

Bohemia Jazz Fest 2022

You can feel the ages, almost physically wafting from the buildings, seeping up through the cobblestones. Even as the Jazz Fest employs the video, lighting and sound tricks used at most concerts now – in 2022. Incongruous yet perfectly normal. The old merging with the new. In a country with a difficult history – which includes the murderous Soviet Union and the deadening burden of Communism after World War 2 – a burden the Velvet Revolution threw off in 1989.

Whatever the reason – I cannot imagine such peace at ANY gathering in the United States. Czechs are allowed to own guns to defend their homes. They have their political differences and often don’t mix well with others’ cultures and histories. But there are no explosions of rage ending in massacres at these celebrations of life in what is now their own, free country.

So I groove to the music, and suck up the vibes. Two peaceful moments in a turbulent time. How perfectly lovely.