Traveling and terrorism

Adventures at young age impact airport outlook


submitted photo

Story by Stephanie Jumper, Feature editor

The adult travelers in airport security towered like wise old giants compared to my 4 feet of height and 6 years of life. Just their shadows looked large enough to swallow me whole. These strangers were dressed like they had somewhere to be, sporting silky ties and brown slacks across the London airport. Next to my butterfly hair clips and unruly pigtails, they seemed like everything maturity meant.  

Not only did they look like they had life figured out, they acted like it too. To adults, airport days moved like clockwork. They gave shoes and accessories to TSA, guarded passports like their lives and followed the signs to their destinations. Adults viewed airports like Catholics view purgatory: they’re life sucking, but if you trudge through this step, then paradise awaits. 

But for me, airports were heaven. Bobbing among the crowd of businessmen was a little girl in a neon colored tracksuit and a sunny disposition. After two years of begging my parents to take me on international vacations, which I had dubbed “Mom and Dad’s adventures,” they agreed to a week-long trip to London following kindergarten. They assumed six was old enough for me to sit through an eight hour plane ride without compromising the sanity of other passengers. 

As promised to my parents with the puppy dog eyes many children weaponize, I was on my best behavior during the ride. However, the surroundings sparked my curiosity. Behind every Big Ben and Tower Bridge was a backpack search and a constant stream of questions for my parents to answer.

One of them being: “Why does TSA care about my shoes?”

Their attention to this accessory baffled my brain. In some security lines, strangers in British accents and uniforms said I had to take off my shoes. Other times, I would take off this strangely sacred item, only to be told that just the adults had to remove theirs. For some reason, age was important in whether or not TSA wanted to inspect my Sketchers. 

The answers to my airport questions were short and sweet. I was informed by my parents that every scanning and searching, every checking and evaluating, were all for “safety reasons.”

I responded to this vague answer with a vague question: “What do you mean?”

This was met with understandably sugar coated stories of “bad men” boarding planes and how shoe inspections were supposed to prevent that. I was told to not fear the possibility of these men boarding the same plane as us.  

The problem with that is you can’t tell a child not to fear. I was 6-years-old. My nightlight and stuffed animals were the gatekeepers of my pastel plastered bedroom. Just when I figured out there were no monsters under my bed, I learned that the real villains could sit right next to me, thousands of feet in the air. 

Unlike the boogeyman, these creatures were armed to the teeth. The idea of hijacking flights was as foreign as the city I would soon explore. It was a fear that could not be soothed by a good night’s sleep or a colorful TV show. Waking up in my own home brought sunrises that warded off strange bumps in the night, but waking up next to total strangers thanks to turbulence was much less comforting.  

That paralyzing fear lasted about two days. As I was young and of little attention span, the thought of my life being cut short faded, and all I was now concerned with was what I would wear to high tea the next day. 

When I ignored my travel concerns, mentions of terrorism in airports were everywhere. Posters on walls about the dangers of flying were everywhere. Taking off shoes, hats and similar items were part of the experience. Due to how rare of a problem it is, terrorism didn’t even feel real anymore. The idea of men holding a knife to a passenger’s neck felt like nothing but a spooky story to scare children and adults alike. 

This blissful ignorance eventually left me, and the fear came back. I’ve always been paranoid, but terroristic anxiety never became part of that until I was 10. 

By that age, you’ve probably discerned which monsters are real and which ones are imaginary. My biggest demons were conquering my times tables and playground social settings. These trials seem like child’s play to those adapted to real life. However, it was much more real than the red-eyed demons that terrorised my closet just a few years before. My fears were now real, which made them all the more intimidating.

On occasion, these nightmares of failing tests and losing friends were replaced by large men with larger guns.”

— Stephanie Jumper


They were replaced by the quiet yet persistent creature that made me enter every plane with a beating chest and pessimistic mind. Hushed whispers about TSA turned into visions of blown up buildings and ISIS beheadings. Terrorism wasn’t a distant fear. It was real, violent and felt like it was out to get me. 

The thought that my life could end by a simple airplane is a feeling that can be put at ease. Like with many things in life, time, and the maturity that comes along with it, is key.   

As I grow mentally and physically, and adults don’t loom as large over my 5 feet of height, terrorism becomes more than the fleeting fear of stepping on an airplane. An act of terrorism can happen at first world churches, third world countries and everywhere in between. It can occur from the top of a Las Vegas hotel the same as high above the clouds. It could happen at this very moment. While that’s not a fun fact to accept, understanding terrorism somehow makes handing another pair of shoes to TSA a little less terrifying.