“DOES he bite?” the screener at the checkpoint asked warily.
“She doesn’t bite,” I said.
“Because we have to check under the wings,” he said.
“In that case,” I said, “she might bite.”
At issue was our chatty little African Grey parrot, Rosie, who was watching the scene from inside her travel cage at the security checkpoint at the Newark airport. This was last week, a few days after a suspected terrorist tried to blow up an international flight on its descent into Detroit by igniting some explosives hidden in his underwear.
While the explosion fizzled, it threw airport security into a tizzy.
My wife and I had never before flown with our two parrots, but this time they had to come along on our nonstop flight to Phoenix. Rosie could fly in the cabin. But our other parrot, a blue-and-gold macaw named Petey, is too big for the cabin and was already in the hands of the very helpful people at Continental’s PetSafe program, which transports pets in a heated, pressurized cargo section of the plane. We wouldn’t see him again for six hours.
We were very anxious at the checkpoint. My wife solved the problem, though. One of Rosie’s tricks is to spread her wings and lower her beak if you ask her to imitate an eagle.
“Rosie, do an eagle,” my wife said. Inside her cage with the screener’s face framed in the open door, the bird promptly spread her wings wide.
The screener had his look under the wings and lowered his wand. Merriment ensued all around — but it had to look pretty silly.
And off we went to our flight to Arizona, which proceeded smoothly with the smaller parrot asleep in her cage under a seat.
The final week of 2009, after the underwear bomber set fire to himself on that Delta-Northwest flight approaching Detroit from Amsterdam, was one of the strangest periods yet in the annals of air travel security since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Business travelers and other frequent fliers, who had long adapted stoically to whatever new security hurdles were thrown in their paths, were no longer reacting with equanimity.
In many cases, stoicism was replaced by ridicule over what some travelers saw as knee-jerk reactions to the underwear bomber.
I heard from a bunch of business travelers. But my favorite e-mail message offered some tongue-in-cheek security advice.
Mads Oyen, a policy specialist at Unicef in New York, suggested removing from a plane any specific seat that had been used by a would-be terrorist. “If he used, say, 36E, remove that seat. Then this cannot be tried again,” Mr. Oyen wrote.
Another suggestion from Mr. Oyen addressed the widely criticized Transportation Security Administration rule, imposed right after the Christmas episode and quickly withdrawn, that passengers on flights to the United States not be informed of where they were, by cockpit announcements or by those video-screen maps that show a plane’s position.
“Not only remove the in-flight maps, but tell people after seating that they are headed to a destination they are not booked for,” he wrote. “It is important that security measures are unpredictable.”
In a phone interview, Mr. Oyen recalled that he once watched security screeners at an airport in Uganda put a uniformed soldier’s loaded gun through the X-ray scanner “presumably to check for sharp objects.”
On a more serious note, an airline pilot who did not want his name used, asked, “When will passengers say enough is enough with the ineffective theatrical security measures?”
That remains to be seen. As has already been reported, the T.S.A. again revised procedures on Sunday, requiring pat-downs and extra screening for United States-bound passengers who are citizens of 14 countries identified as being either state sponsors of terrorism or friendly toward certain terrorists groups. At the same time, the T.S.A. relaxed the most strict security measures for United States citizens and most others not flying through, or citizens of, those 14 nations.
Meanwhile, I should note that my wife and I and Rosie the parrot arrived on time in Phoenix, where we then picked up Petey, the other parrot, at a special trailer set aside by
When he heard my wife’s voice, he let out a screech from his well-padded cage that could have been heard in Las Vegas.
He had obviously had a good flight, too. And if he had any complaints about security, we didn’t hear about them. Petey wasn’t talking.