Small Business

Do I Look Like a Terrorist?


By Lisa Bergson Over the last six days, I've had my checked bags searched at least twice, my carry-on bags inspected four times, my body wanded three times, my shoes removed and checked three times, and been compelled to drink from my small bottle of Evian once. And I don't even look dangerous. Over the phone my husband commiserates, "They're trying to be so politically correct and avoid profiling that it gets ridiculous." (Far from impervious to the evildoers, my husband worked in Tower 2 before September 11th.)

I know, I know, it's for my own good. Clever terrorists could easily adopt the guise of a tastefully dressed, middle-aged businesswoman, and why not?

FEAR OF FLYING. Still, I'm not alone in finding the incessant searching and mauling a tad aggravating. Boarding my second flight today, a businessman in shirtsleeves complained loudly to the flight attendant that the "strip search" cost him the time to secure overhead space for his bag. (In my experience, the flight attendants have all been wonderful, by the way.)

Bear in mind that, these days, most of us are flying because we have to. Vacationers are cocooning, the elite soar in private jets, and executives of big companies have minimized travel in favor of video- and teleconferences. But my new company, Tiger Optics, is debuting the world's first electro-optic, parts-per-trillion moisture analyzer, which uses breakthrough technology.

The only way to gain customer acceptance is to get it into their hands. Guiding them to our easy-to-use touch screen, my sales force, engineers, scientists, and I are all out there. "I didn't think this was possible before today," a key customer exclaimed last week. After seven years of development, the chance to see their eyes light up makes the trips well worth it.

A TOUCH TOO MUCH. The elation over our new product, however, stands in stark contrast to the frustrations of flying. Like most airline passengers, I have a tendency to go numb, to put myself on autopilot, so to speak. It's the only way to survive the indignities. Now, in the name of public safety, we are becoming a nation of compliant robots. I cringe inside as a middle-aged inspector, with a soothing voice, asks permission to touch my waist, arms, and legs with her not-so-magic wand. Just shut up and get it over with, I want to tell her. Outwardly I remain polite and oh-so-very calm.

"May I open your suitcase? May I see your laptop? Do you mind if I check your bag?" Yes, I do. But I don't want to be labeled a troublemaker and dragged away to some claustrophobic, brightly lit interrogation place either. Next thing, my husband will be looking for me in Guantanamo. "You'll be the one with the chic orange jumpsuit," he jokes.

"I'm so tired of being searched and inspected," I grumble to my travel companion, Dr. Wen-Bin Yan, our director of laser analysis, as I display my photo I.D. for the fourth time before boarding. (Pretty soon, we'll all be shrink-wrapped with tamper-proof seals, like so many aspirin bottles.)

"I feel safer knowing that they're checking everybody," says this U.S. citizen, originally from mainland China. He relates the story of two friends who traded IDs and tickets -- and still flew with no problem before September 11. "I worried about security then."

"Were your friends dangerous?" I ask.

"No, but anyway."

MYSTERY PACKAGE. On the final leg of my trip, there's a suspicious-looking medium-sized brown paper bag, slightly rumpled, with twine handles, plunked by the bulkhead in front of me and my seatmate in First Class. (One plus to frequent flying in this environment -- it's a lot easier to upgrade.) "Is that yours?" he asks me.

"No," I reply. "We better tell the stewardess." We're about to take off, and, while we wait to get her attention, he recounts his anxiety before a recent flight. A fellow passenger got off the plane, leaving his belongings behind: "I thought, 'Who is this guy?' It turned out he was the flight marshal, and they have to be last ones on."

He indicates the paper bag to our flight attendant, who blithely pops it into the little closet by the galley. We're both aghast. "Maybe she thinks it's mine," he says.

"Hey," I holler, panic rising. "That's not ours."

"No," she says, with a patient smile. "It's mine." Lisa Bergson is President and CEO of both MEECO and Tiger Optics. Before joining MEECO in 1983, Lisa Bergson worked as a business journalist at BusinessWeek and freelanced for many business publications. You can visit her companies' Web sites at www.meeco.com and www.tigeroptics.com, or contact her at lbergson@meeco.com


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