Tuesday, December 1, 2009

God Bless the TSA

My kids are no strangers to air travel and the finer points of airport security. It’s one of those things that are taught by repetition, like potty training and shoelace tying. If you see a kid in the security checkpoint line at the airport with their shoes already off, there’s a pretty good chance the child belongs to me.

As a family, we don’t typically miss flights, but we are near-famous for almost missing flights. In spite of the fact that post-9/11 airport security takes longer to get through, some members of our family (the kids and me) still seem to have trouble getting out the door, and still others (Mr. Wright) make a mantra of “We’ll make it, no problem,” with a foot firmly applied to the gas pedal en route to the airport.

With less than a quarter mile to go, I verbally ran through the checklist: Necklaces? Bracelets? Metal barrettes? Yes, Pepper, bobby pins are metal, and must come out. Liquids in a quart-sized zipper bag and easily accessible? Check, check, check.

Mr. Wright always goes through security first, followed by the kids, and I go last. It’s an attempt to corral the children between us, with a responsible adult on either side of the herd of youngsters. I did a time check. We had twenty minutes until our flight boarded, and the line at security wasn’t terribly long. We could do it, provided no one was carrying a pocketknife and I remembered to take my netbook out of my purse and send it through in its own bin.

Mr. Wright got through the metal detector and started pulling bags off the conveyor belt. Pepper was up next, and handed me her purse. “Some of my liquids are in here, and some of them are in my backpack.”

Gah! All that training, for this? “No, Pepper. Your liquids all need to go into your zipper bag, and the bag has to be out of your backpack. Rearrange. Do it. Quickly.”

In the meantime, GirlWonder pulled her zipper bag of liquids out, put them into a bin, plopped her backpack on the conveyor, and stepped through the metal detector. Pepper had finally sorted her liquids and complied with the security measures when a Transportation Security Administration agent held up GirlWonder’s backpack. “Whose is this?” She was looking at me.

“That’s my daughter’s. Is there a problem?” I was still taking my computer out of my purse and locating an empty bin.

“There’s a drink in the bottom of it. Drinks are liquids.”

Of course they are. I chastised GirlWonder from the opposite side of the metal detector. “How did you manage to forget an entire sports drink in your bag? You know the rules.” I tossed my backpack onto the conveyor, stepped through the metal detector and kept going. “How many times have we done this? How many times have we gone through security? You know better, Honey. We shouldn’t have these kinds of mistakes.”

GirlWonder was appropriately sorry. She’d forgotten the drink was in her bag. The TSA agent simply asked that the bottle be thrown away, and GirlWonder complied. My computer came through the x-ray machine, but my purse was taking a long time. It would start to emerge, then get pulled back in for another look.

Finally, the belt started up again and my purse came out. The TSA worker opened it and peeked in. “I’m really sorry about the drink,” I was explaining. “I don’t know how it happened. Our kids have done this many, many times. It was just careless…”

“This is your purse?” the agent asked.

“Yes,” I answered. I stood on my toes to look inside with her. There, in the top of my bag, was my entire quart-sized bag of liquids. In all the drama about the sports drink and my tirade about the rules for liquids, I’d forgotten to take them out of my purse.

The TSA worker winked at me. “Have a good flight, ma’am.”

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