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August 17, 2014
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Publisher's Notebook: So, there was this time I was at the Denver airport ...

As agents for the Transportation Security Administration were profiling me last week at the Denver Airport — which appears to be staffed, incidentally, by the Taliban — I thought a bit about how far we’ve come since 9/11.

“Are we safer today than we were that September day in 2001, when 19 lunatics changed airport travel forever?”

I don’t think so.

The good news is that if you are old and bald you no longer have to take your shoes and belt off in the security line. The last several times I’ve flown my boarding pass has been stamped with “TSA Pre,” which is a special line for people with money and old people with or without money.

“This is pretty cool,” I told the guy in front of me the first time I was directed to the TSA Pre line. “This must be my lucky day.”

“Don’t get too excited,” the guy said. “They picked you because you are old.”

“Oh,” I said, not feeling so special after all.

I’ve traveled several times since then and have been “randomly” selected for TSA Pre each time.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It takes me an hour to take my shoes and belt off and on and I’m not the guy you want to be behind if you are late for your flight.

I used to require three or four of those plastic containers they slide through the X-ray machine; one for my laptop, one for my belt and shoes, and one for all the stuff in my pockets and my watch.

And even then I set off the alarms.

For the last two years I’ve flown out of Eugene and mostly to Denver. My flights generally leave at 5:45 in the morning, which means I leave my house at 2:30, which means it’s generally an all-nighter.

Senior citizens are not as good at all-nighters as we used to be. It takes about a year to recover and maybe two years if there is a time zone change involved.

The return flight from Denver has usually been the last plane to land that night and it’s 1:30 or 2 in the morning by the time I climb into my Roseburg bed.

It could be just bad luck, but my flights on United Airlines have most always been late, or canceled altogether.

And they really don’t seem too worried about that, from the sound of their top-notch customer service people.

“Do you know when the plane will be leaving?”

“It all depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether it’s able to leave.”

“What about my connecting flight out of San Francisco?”

“It left.”

“So how do I get to Denver?”

“Beats me.”

Before I forget, here’s a tip. United charges you $25 to check a bag, but if you try to just bring it on the plane they will tag it and store it for free.

Kind of like the difference between coming to the U.S. legally and illegally. It doesn’t pay to do the right thing anymore.

Last week I got to the Denver Airport at 4:30, in plenty of time to catch the 6:30 flight back, with a stop in San Francisco.

I tried to check in through a kiosk, but it said there was no record of my flight, so I waited for the United Airlines representative.

“Looks like that flight was canceled and that we have you on the 10 p.m. flight to Eugene instead,” she smiled.

“Yeah, but it’s only 4:30,” I told her, turning my watch so she could see for herself.

“I know,” she said, doing her best sad-face impersonation. “But here’s a food voucher.”

I was able to breeze through the security checkpoint with my randomly selected TSA Pre boarding pass and headed for the bar.

Then I noticed that the food voucher was for $7.

If you’ve ever been to an airport you know there isn’t much you can buy for $7 and certainly nothing that resembles food.

My “double” vodka and orange juice cost $13 and the food voucher was no good at the bar, so I used it to buy some small fries at the McDonald’s stand.

I sat with my fries at the end of the terminal (Gate 80 is located down where they transport farm animals and research monkeys) and watched people.

Airports are great for people watching and I happened to be sitting where the airport employees gather to complain about their bosses and passengers.

It could just be a Denver thing, but most of the employees weren’t speaking English. I could just have easily been sitting at an airport in Bangladesh or maybe Libya.

The ethnic contrast between the Denver passengers and Denver Airport workforce could not have been more pronounced. An older, Caucasian American would certainly stand out at an employee barbecue.

They may not be profiling passengers, but they sure as hell seem to be profiling employees.

Some point to the fact that we haven’t had another hijacking since 9/11 as evidence that our airport security efforts are working.

I suspect it’s more a matter of would-be terrorists moving on to other devious measures. It seems to be easier to get a job at an airport than to actually get through one, so the next major incident will likely involve three Taliban wheelchair transporters who hate America as much as they hate their boss.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or

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The News-Review Updated Aug 17, 2014 12:06AM Published Aug 18, 2014 01:33PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.