By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com [1]

I've gotten to hate airports. Hate is a strong word but an appropriate one.

I've written n the past how my 5-year-old grandson loves trains. He also likes airplanes.

No matter what we're doing, if we're outside he stops in his tracks if a plane passes overhead. If it's a jet high in the clouds, we usually hear it before we see it so we try to outdo each other regarding who will spot it first.

Last week, we saw a jet from our back porch. He said to me, "I like looking at it but I'd rather be in it."

He flew once when he went with his family to Scotland to see his aunt this past Summer. His interest in aviation has become keener of late.

This week, I picked up a friend at the Lehigh Valley International Airport. I considered taking Tyler with me, but changed my mind. Although it's an airport, visitors don't always get to see planes.

I'm glad train yards aren't like airports. We can visit railroad yards and train stations without the disappointment of not seeing trains.

It used to be when you went to airports, you could accompany your friends or family members to the terminal and wait with them until they boarded. You could look out the window and see all the aviation activity.

What a thrill for a young child!

Not any more. Newark Airport has more activity than Lehigh Valley so at least there you can stand near the parking deck and see the arriving and departing aircraft.

Also in airports, very few of the employees seem friendly anymore. When we went to Newark recently, we asked for directions to the check-in desk. "Down there and up the steps," snarled the uniformed woman we asked, without even looking at us or really pointing to a direction, and walking away before we could ask for clarification.

Maybe at airports employees are taught to look at everybody as a potential terrorist. How sad that we've become such a distrusting society.

I feel sorry when people are stranded at airports because of snowstorms or other situations. Though I've never been in their situation, they must feel like they're in prison, unable to leave the airport's small, security area.

Security lines are something else, too. Often airports are overcrowded and you have to wait what seems like forever to get through the lines. It's like being in a crowded grocery store with too few checkers.

When your turn does arrive, you're made to feel guilty even if you have nothing to hide. Are your pockets empty? Take your shoes off? Sometimes you're patted down.

Tyler would have loved to go with me to Lehigh Valley Airport to pick up my friend in the era before 9/11/2001. Will this really be the 10th anniversary since that horrible day?

Before the terrorists changed our lives, Tyler and I would have been able to go right to the terminal to pick up my friend. The youngster would have seen a lot of planes - and ask a lot of questions.

When we flew to Scotland, there would have been a good chance the flight attendant would have taken him to the cockpit to visit the pilot had the flight been before the terrorist attacks.

It's understandable that security is needed at airports and on planes. But must it be so stringent that the patrons who pay a lot of money to fly are made to feel unwelcome?

Has it retrograded into such a dismal, unwelcome atmosphere that even small children, who have a fascination with aircraft and may dream of being a future pilot, are rebuffed?

Very few places exist where customers have fewer rights than at airports. If you question something, you probably won't get a direct answer. If you persist, you not only risk losing your flight but possibly even being arrested.

Even with ticket pricing, airlines change the rules daily.

At least Tyler still can enjoy real trains.