11 July 2012

Out West, Part One: TSA Adventures




We promised One a trip to Yellowstone for his high school graduation, so at the end of June nine of us boarded a plane to Salt Lake City for a western adventure!

As you can imagine, travelling with nine people presents certain challenges. When you factor in that two of the nine are autistic and three were afraid to board the aircraft, it's amazing we made it off the ground. However, first we had to navigate airport security.

The Captain created a buddy system, wherein one able-bodied or calm-minded individual would accompany a family member who needed assistance. This proved very effective during the herding and disrobing section of security, as we who have flown helped those who have not remove their shoes, belts, laptops and liquids, and place them in the appropriate bins.

Four asked, "Mom, why do you have to take off your shoes?"

"Well," I answered, "a long time ago a man boarded a plane with a bomb in his shoe. So now we all have to have our shoes x-rayed." The man in line next to me looked shocked that I was audacious enough to utter the "B" word while waiting to have my body virtually strip-searched. Then Three upped the ante.

"Yeah, but didn't somebody put a bomb in their underwear? Do we have to take off our underwear?"

"Not yet."

The man hustled to get ahead of us.

Our chatter was karmically rewarded moments later when my mother-in-law went through the scanner and was pulled from the line for further inspection. Without searching a thesaurus, I cannot find the words to describe how horrifying this was for us all. This trip was only the second time M.I.L has boarded a plane in decades. We had been murmuring soothing phrases for months. We assigned Two as her security buddy because his teenage self-absorption can often be mistaken for Zen-like calm. Because of these measures she was managing her anxiety rather well until the characteristically cheerful Newark TSA agent took her aside. M.I.L grabbed me to explain what was happening, so I followed her.

I am a native New Jerseyan and the daughter of a State Trooper, which means I don't trust authority am vigilant about my civil rights. For emotional and legal reasons, I was determined to observe M.I.L's pat-down. I told the agent M.I.L was very nervous about flying, so I would accompany her. This isn't allowed. M.I.L grabbed my arm, and the agent told her not to touch me. After that, a sequence of events ensued that could only be recreated by the Keystone Kops. We went to search for M.I.L's carry-on so it wouldn't get left on the belt, passing my F.I.L who was waiting for his own bag. F.I.L maintained this singular focus for most of the trip, apparently believing he was on a solo vacation. Each time M.I.L. grabbed my arm the TSA agent growled, "Don't touch her!" which we repeated to each family member that asked what was happening, until everyone at security probably thought she was freaking radioactive.

When the carry-on was safely removed and stowed, M.I.L and I headed over to the pat-down area which is, of course, right out there in the open, so that she could be felt-up next to the guy on the bench re-tying his shoes. Just for fun, she grabbed me one last time so that the agent could threaten to search me as well. The agent explained what she was going to do, and that part was over in a minute or two. Then she went to a separate machine to analyze her gloves for foreign particulates, and after finding nothing but a ridiculously high concentration of Purell my M.I.L was cleared for take-off.

Everyone was terrific on the flight, especially Four who proudly declared he had conquered his fear of heights. He and Five enjoyed many Delta cookies, which prompted Five to accuse me of lying, as usual. "You said airplane food was disgusting. These are great! And they're free!" Three, my other Nervous Nellie, fell asleep face-down on the food tray for most of the flight, and One blissfully stared out the window.

It was so easy, we were very relaxed about our return flight. The Salt Lake security line was short, we all knew what we were doing, and everyone made it through the x-ray machine without ado. Then they pulled Two's backpack off the belt. And One's carry-on. As I watched helplessly from the other side of the belt, they pulled travel size Jif peanut-butter from the backpack, and a cheap pocket knife from One's bag. I let the Captain handle the knife issue-I told him to throw it away, but the children liked it because it was a souvenir-which he opted to mail back home. Two was observing the kinder, gentler TSA agent in his totally chill way, so of course I ran over there to be vigilant. After she weighed one of the possibly-explosive-laden snack packs in the special detection machine, I picked the other two packs up off the counter.

"Don't touch anything!" the nice TSA agent said.

One of these days I'll learn.


23 comments:

  1. Ah, fun with security. Glad everyone survived!

    At the airport in Rome, they have two different security lines. One is for travelers to the US, UK or Israel. The other line is for all other travelers. Seemingly, the US, UK and Israel have stricter standards for security which requires a separate line.

    HOWEVER, and this would make your friendly Newark TSA draw up in a clench, no one checks your boarding pass before you get into line and both lines dump out into the same place. Therefore, you can go through the "easy" line and still board a plane to Chicago.

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    1. Yes, I would prefer that they check the boarding pass. I don't even mind if they stand around with machine guns, because you know what to expect. I mean, heck, the New York City Police are armed to the teeth in Penn Station. I just want them to be POLITE.

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  2. I'm going to remember that, Carrie. I'm all about the quicker line!

    I swear every time I flew with infants and/or toddlers I'd get stopped by the TSA. It's like they saw me coming. I'd be trying to get my shoes and clothes and belongings back together while holding babies and chasing down toddlers. I know they did it on purpose. Really who in their right mind is going to try to blow up a plane while handling children? It's just too hard.

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    1. Yes, but these things aren't logical. I'm convinced the reason we all have to have quart size bags now is because some TSA guy brought his sandwich in that day in a quart size bag.

      "Dude, I'm pretty sure you can't fit enough explosive in a bag this size."

      "By golly, I think you're right! Let's make everyone carry this size. Plus we'll probably get a kick-back from Ziploc, which up to now has only sold sandwich and gallon size bags!"

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  3. I ALWAYS get stopped because I overpack my luggage so it's like a completely dense 200 pound bag that they have to search by hand and then my underwire bra sets off the detector. I know I know wear a different kind...with this rack I need the extra support! So some poor TSA operative gets stuck patting me down and waving the wand repeatedly across my girly parts.

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    1. I do not, unfortunately, have the underwire/rack issue. We were pretty awesome packers, though, and snuck under that weight limit by the skin of our teeth on the way out. On the way back...let's just say our laundry got manhandled.

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  4. Glad you all made it through okay. I think that my superficial travel calm would completely unravel if the TSA pulled me over for a pat-down or went thru my luggage! It sounds like you all did just fine.

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    1. Seriously, it was like we were being pranked. They pulled THE ONE PERSON that wasn't mentally prepared. It's funny now, but at the time...not so much.

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  5. Is it bad that I'm laughing?

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    1. The funniest part is actually the knife in the carry-on. I bought it for the Captain because he's had two knives confiscated when he forgot to remove them. So, it was A JOKE that went horribly awry.

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  6. What the hell could it possibly hurt for you and MIL to touch each other? I know we have to have security, but must we have people doing it who are not able to think for themselves?

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    1. Presumably, she could have passed me whatever was on her person (knife, Ebola virus, explosive gel that looks like Jif).

      I should clarify that I appreciate the efforts of all those fighting to keep our country safe. The Newark agents are just notoriously obnoxious.

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  7. Poor MIL, she must have been terrified. What rotten luck. I hope she was able to relax a little on the flight.

    I'm with Lora, my bra always sets off the alarms. It's nearly automatic. I've started wearing a sports bra with no underwire as long as I don't have to be somewhere before or after. It speeds things considerably.

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    1. It wasn't pleasant for any of us, but she remained rather brave in the moment. One sat with her on the flight and was very soothing.

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  8. Some day soon, we're all going to have to just go naked through the airports. I plan on having my eyes shut for the entire time.

    Looking forward to hearing about Yellowstone! I thought it was the most awesome place in spite of the incredible heat wave they had while we were there.

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    1. Oh my gosh, it was so hot when we were there, too! One of the days it was 99 degrees, and we foolishly went to visit "Frontier Town" or some such, and just wilted in the heat. We looked like true tourists.

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  9. When I recently went to NYC I wore stretch capri pants (no clips, buttons, belts) and a simple top, no underwire bra, slip on shoes. I got through each point (had to re-board in DFW) with no problem. I'd gotten so sick and tired of all that dressing undressing stuff that I'd gone out and bought the pants specially for the flight. I looked like heck but at least I didn't set off any sensors.
    So sorry your M-I-L had to go through that. It's nerve wracking to say the least.

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    1. This is what it's come to--dressing so we don't have to get undressed! I'm so sorry I missed you on this coast :(

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  10. Oh, Poor MIL. Can she laugh about it now? Traveling through one smaller airport several times a few years ago, I swear the woman was on a power trip. No beeps, no wires, and still she pulled my friend over, pawed through and took everything out, found nothing and left her to put away all the papers, books and files.

    In the SF airport, those big x-ray machines are front and center and we may have had a choice to be "wanded." The path is direct to machine, no stopping. I think I heard sniggering from the back room.

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    1. She can laugh about it now, because it was a blur while it was happening. We all held our breath as she went through the machine on the way back, though!

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  11. For the love! It's always a struggle to find the right balance between liberty and safety, isn't it? I've seen one of those full body scan machines in a Canada airport (forget which one, I've flown three times this spring) but I've never seen anyone pulled aside for anything. And the bags all go through without much ado. Phew!

    But glad it all went well! :-D

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    1. One of the boys went through the x-ray machine and raised his hands the wrong way, so they wanded him when he came out. He's fourteen, for goodness sake. I don't know what the answer is anymore.

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