African viewpoint: 9/11 ended my love of flying

The twin towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke in New York in this 11 September 2001 file photo.

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene laments the tightened security at airports since al-Qaeda attacked the US a decade ago.

I always used to have a Swiss army knife in my handbag and never went anywhere without one. Now, I do not even own one. You cannot carry it onto a plane.

Of all the many changes that I have had to endure since al-Qaeda attacked New York on 11 September 2001, this is probably one of the things I find most irritating.

As the 10th anniversary of that most traumatic day is being marked, I have been trying to come up with my own "Before and After" list of changes to my life since planes became weapons of mass destruction.

I think, of course, of the many thousands of lives that have been lost since that day.

For the families of the more than 3,000 who were killed on that day on American soil, the day will always mean deep personal anguish and a sense of loss.

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For years, I thought only criminals got fingerprinted and now all my 10 fingers are marked simply to enable me to travel”

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Then of course the wars that have been spawned by those events have meant death and destruction in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq.

I think of the many young soldiers whose lives have been destroyed. But in this instance, I am referring only to the change that has come to my life.

I used to enjoy flying and I loved airports. Now, I dread it and airports depress me.

Getting visas was never the most pleasant of life's tasks, but after 9/11 it has become the most time-consuming and humiliating exercise.

I have to answer questions about the beliefs of my grandparents at consular offices even though only one of my grandparents was alive when I was born and she died before I turned 15.

I recall that once upon a time, you could arrange a trip within hours if something came up, but no longer.

If you want a US visa with a Ghanaian passport in Accra today, you cannot get an appointment online for the rest of this calendar year.

Body search

Airports are no longer fun places. Officers go through your luggage and inspect your underwear minutely and you hold your breath and pray there are no holes in it.

For years, I thought only criminals got fingerprinted and now all my 10 fingers are marked simply to enable me to travel.

In this Aug. 3, 2011 photo, airline passengers retrieve their scanned belongings while going through the Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta. Flying is not as straightforward as it used to be

Nobody has come up with an answer yet but there seems to be something inside my body that sets off the alarm when I go through the X-ray machines at airports.

I take off all my jewellery and I still have to submit to the body search and I feel totally violated.

A recent vigorously intimate search by an enthusiastic official at JFK International Airport in New York has not helped.

She made me feel again the burden of my slightly above average-sized breasts as she seemed to think they were more than natural!

Since I am no longer the person I once was, it takes me forever to put my shoes back on when I have to take them off at airport security.

After being made to take off my belt and having lost two of them at airports, I have given up wearing belts when travelling.

For years, I have had problems at airports with immigration officers who claim that the photographs on my passport do not look like me.

I am not quite sure whether it is the passport photo that does not do me credit or whether the photo flatters my real-life looks. But it all used to be good-natured until the New York attacks.

Women of a certain age used to travel with all their various creams and lotions. Now, your creams are dumped in rubbish bins and your bulging body parts are pawed over.

The world certainly changed on that 11 September 2001. I do not like the one that has emerged.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I have learned that if you wear buggy clothes such as traditional african dresses, you will be pulled aside for a search. As for those of us who are well endowed in the chest area, well! I never can get past without being fondled.It is humiliating. I wonder if the airline industry is feeling the pinch from those of us who are now opting for a train or long drive rather than go through this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    All too often with the new regulations about hand luggage, items are being pilfered from check in luggage. Over the past two years I have had aftershave and anything remotly electronic stolen from my luggage. With the theft I usualy need to buy a new suitcase as the destroy the zips and locks. The plastic wrapping services become more expensive and a necessity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Like many air travelers, after 9/11, I got used to removing my shoes, belt and emptying my pockets and going through the all invasive body scanner when flying. What I hate most is having to check in my carry-on luggage since, any toiletries bigger than the thumb cannot be on carry-on luggage. Unfortunately,these measures only give us a false sense of security. The enemies are often a step ahead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Remember SUAAD HAGI MOHAMUD the Canadian-Somali who was stranded in Nairobi for three months -- because her own government (Canada) doubted the credibility of her passport and citizenship. She had to take a DNA test (99.99 % results) to prove her real identity.

    Elizabeth ........welcome to the hidden story of the African Diaspora

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    My new rule since 9/11: If I can get there within 10 hours of driving, I will drive. That way I get to carry my water, snacks, lotion, "party-dress-on-a-hanger". I do most of traveling in the US and it has worked very well for us in the family. When I passed through TSA check-point in July and I did not set up any alarm. I was still told to step aside because the computer "randomly picked you".

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    Comment number 4.

    Elizabeth, you are so right. Trying to pass through immigrations at airports, especially the states, is like passing through the eye of a needle. My experience recently, with my son of 3 years old was tiring and stressful. However, I believe there is only so much we human beings can do, in terms of security. The rest we leave in God's hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Going through airports is a nightmarish experience,the immigration officers use every opportunity to humiliate innocent people.I once had my passport siezed in amsterdam ,in Paris the immigration lady insisted that i dont look like the picture on my passport.Despite carrying a canadian passport i was detained in toronto because they claim i dont look like the picture in my passport.Its just sad

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I have to agree with the writer, but a simple solution is just do not go to the USA, most other places are far less rigorous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    We have given up a lot in the name of ensuring security. Are we really more secure? I do not believe so.


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