9/11 Ended My Love Of Flying —Elizabeth Ohene


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.

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.

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.

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.

•Ohene wrote this article for the BBC.

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