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Fly Naked

01/17/02 12:00AM By Cheryl Hanna

A few weeks ago, I waited three hours in the security line at Detroit Metro Airport. People in green vests would periodically come by and say, "just two hours from this point. Thanks for flying."

It was like standing in line at Disneyland for "It's a Small World." You keep telling yourself it was worth the wait, all the while plagued with serious doubts.

Now, it's true that lots of people want to leave Detroit, which accounted for some of the delay, but since the Richard Reid incident, the airlines are also asking people remove their shoes, which is slow, not to mention stinky.

And airline travel is about to get even more difficult. Starting tomorrow, the Federal Aviation Administration will require the airlines to screen checked luggage for explosives. So get to the airport early. Bomb sniffing dogs await.

Flying has become a most unpleasant experience, and I think it's outrageous that the airlines continue to blame September 11th and FAA regulations for their economic woes. The industry has been losing money for a long time.

With the exception of a few low cost carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, most American airlines are poorly managed, and they continue to cut costs by cutting out anything that made flying fun.

Case in point: Last March, United Airlines stopped serving McDonald's Friendly Sky Meals. I loved those Friendly meals. Now the airlines only serve not-so-nice peanuts, or, for those with allergies, pretzels, which, by the way, are a choking hazard, as President Bush now well knows. Along with smoking and all sharp objects, I think pretzels ought to banned.

I don't think Congress should ever have approved a $15 billion dollar bailout package. I think that they should have insisted that the airlines get their acts together. When profits disappear, businesses in a free market economy can either go bankrupt, or come up with a new marketing plan.

So here's an idea to get people flying again. In an effort to ensure security and put the fun back in flying, the FAA could institute a new policy: Fly Naked.

Here's how it would work. You check your clothes curbside and get a government issued bathrobe and slippers, something comfy, preferably in cotton. Metal detectors would be replaced with actual x-ray machines, just to make sure that no one is carrying a sharp object some place they shouldn't.

Champagne would be complimentary on all flights.

The oxygen masks could double as spa-like steam machines, and for a little atmosphere, all in-flight movies could be in French.

I can hear the ads now: Why drive when you can fly the very friendly skies.

And talk about ways to earn those Frequent Flier Miles.

I'm telling you, Fly Naked could really bail out the industry.

But until Fly Naked catches on, we'll still have to wait, in long security lines, fully clothed, with only life threatening snacks to look forward to.

There is some good news, however. A few weeks ago, the government approved its first loan guarantee as part of the bail out for America West. It was anything but a smooth flight for the near-bankrupt airline. The government insisted on a number of conditions that the airline disliked in a move to make the industry accountable for its mismanagement. It took a hard-line, no-such-thing-as-a-free-and-friendly-lunch position, giving the airline a taste of its own bad food, so to speak.

America West took the loan, but now all the other airlines are saying, "thanks, but no thanks. We'll look for money elsewhere." That'll save taxpayers jetloads of money.

I can't believe I'm saying this but, "The government finally did something right!"

As for the airlines, well, I'm still waiting.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

--Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.

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