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Traveling with the scarlet stripe

By By Beth Chapman, Guest Columnist
Hemingway’s great American classic, The Scarlet Letter, was required reading when I was in the tenth grade. I remember it well even now - especially when I recently received a bright red stripe marked across my airline ticket at the airport.
In The Scarlett Letter, a woman named Hester Prynne committed adultery and had a scarlet “A” placed on her clothing to wear at all times. It was part of her punishment. It was an obvious sign that she had done something wrong. She had sinned and was ostracized and basically condemned for life as a result. The scarlet letter was there, it was visible front and center on her chest. It was the only thing people needed to see to know the whole story. She was an adulterer, a sinner and a social outcast.
Even though she was puritan and a good person, she had slipped, committed a sin and had to pay. The scarlet letter “A” was part of that punishment.
No, I have committed no such sin, nor do I don a scarlet letter “A” on my chest. However, when traveling on a recent trip I certainly felt as if I did. Due to the new homeland security regulations and the fact that I had changed my travel itinerary at the spur of the moment as I oftentimes do, the ticket agent marked a huge, red (scarlet), stripe across my airline ticket. From that point on I felt like Hester Prynne.
I was pulled out of line at the security check point, made to walk into a clear glass walk way covered on all sides while I watched my bags coming out of the x-ray machine and backing up with other bags then eventually falling to the floor. However, I could not get out of the enclosure to pick them up nor could I knock on the glass wall to signal to any of the other passengers or TSA officials to pick them up for me. That would certainly be perceived as acting out of the realm of normalcy which would only make me further suspect.
Then came the individual bag search. They swabbed all my bags and yes, they had a female officer frisk me. Everyone within a five mile distance of me could see the scarlet streak across my boarding pass. They stared and whispered as if I had committed some cardinal sin.
I remember once getting excited and wanting to go to the airport and get on the plane for trips. Now I dread it. Long backed up lines, everything short of strip and body cavity searches, having to take your shoes and jackets off, putting them back on, having to chug your bottle of water because you cannot take it through security with you and so much more.
The Scarlett stripe though, while a nuisance is a bitter-sweet reminder that we must be vigilant in the safety and protection of our country and that airports have done so.
So when you make your future flight arrangements I hope for your sake you don’t have to change them at the last minute. If you do, just go ahead and put a scarlet letter on your chest because there is not a whole lot of difference in the way you’ll be treated. However, you and all your fellow passengers will be safer and more secure as a result.

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