I paid a rare visit to the Wittman Regional Airport terminal building here in Oshkosh yesterday. Unless you are renting a car from Hertz, taking the Greyhound bus out of town, or voting, you don't have much reason to go there nowadays. Ironically, my visit was for the unveiling of plans for a building that will replace the terminal as early as next year.
But stepping into the terminal is like taking a trip back in time to when air travel was a much simpler endeavor. The ticket counter is still there--where actual airline employees checked you in--no "self-check in kiosks" that don't read the barcode on the boarding pass you printed at home before heading to the airport or on your smartphone because the screen is smudged--requiring you to find an airline employee to check you in manually--which kind of defeats the purpose of having the self-check-in kiosk. Those counter folks used to tag your bags as well--which flew with you for free I might add. And believe it or not kids, you could actually buy a ticket at that counter to get on the plane right away!!
There are no ropes winding their way through the terminal leading to any TSA checkpoints. No metal detectors or full body scanners. No Pre-Check line for those of us willing to pay extra to have a few of our Constitutional rights honored at the airport. You simply went from the check in counter to "the gate" and waited to walk out to your aircraft.
There was some discussion yesterday about what would happen if some airline actually considered bringing service back to Oshkosh someday--and officials admitted that a new terminal building would have to be added on to the new Business Center--just to house all of the stuff I listed above. (Don't worry, taxpayers--that is never going to happen) But it got me to thinking if we are really any safer flying now than we were when none of those "security measures" were in place. You never hear stories of TSA finding actual bombs on passengers or in luggage. Most incidents involve pro athletes or celebrities forgetting they had loaded guns in their bags. More often you hear about all of the failed tests--where planted explosives and weapons get through with no detection.
Have the billions--or perhaps trillions--we have spent since 9/11 actually thwarted more attacks? Did Al Qaeda have more suicide pilots and muscle men ready to board planes--or was it just a one-time thing? Has it been more effective to fight Islamic terrorists on their own soil? Did killing Osama Bin Laden effectively cut off the head of the operations that could organize and fund co-ordinated attacks like that? The problem is, we can't really be sure--and so we continue to spend the tons of money needed to "keep us safe"--even through we really can't prove it.