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?"
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.