Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of an Airport Troublemaker

I learned very early in life about the repercussions of causing trouble at an airport. I recall being immediately yelled at by my father AND several airport employees because I made a very inappropriate joke about a bomb. This was before security was so tight and you could go all the way to the gate with or without a ticket. I was just a little girl then. It’s funny, things have change dramatically since then. After 9-11 I gained a lot more respect for airport security and would never even think about making such a joke.

I've traveled a lot in the last few months (10 flights) and I have collected a few experiences to share.

Bomb in the Bag

I went to Madison, WI for the weekend for a bachelorette party. It was a quick trip so I only just had a small carry on bag. The weekend passed quickly and before long it was time to come home. I always get just a little bit nervous when I go through security. I don't know why since I never have anything to get in trouble for, but I still get a little uptight. I got a little more uptight when several TSA agents were called over to look at the x-ray of my bag. There was a unanimous decision to pull my bag off the belt and do a thorough search. They called me over behind the screen and asked me a bunch of questions before opening the bag. Did you pack your own bag... yes. Has anyone accessed your bag other than you... no. Do you have any weapons in your bag... no. Have you handled any explosives in the last 24 hours... NO! I start to get worried. The last question they asked was... Do you have any candles in your bag? “No, of course not. I have no reason to have a candle.” With rubber gloves in place, the TSA agent sprayed the bag with some special spray then carefully opened the bag. She looked inside then looked at me with funny disgust. I couldn't imagine what she had found... she pulled out a giant candle and said, “I thought you said you didn't have any candles in your bag.” I was mortified... yes... I did have a candle but I wasn't trying to lie. My sister-in-law had given me several gifts right before we left for the airport and I had stuffed them in my bag quickly... the candle was a gift and I had simply forgotten about it. I felt like a moron. The TSA agent put it back in the bag and zipped it up. She informed me that candles look exactly like plastic explosives on the x-ray machine. She kind of laughed at me at that point, which was nice. At least she was kind about it. I went on my way relieved, but completely embarrassed.

Pistol Whipped
Brett and I traveled to VA together to see my parents. We took two suitcases but only checked one because I didn't want to pay the baggage fee for both (they get you coming and going these days). Similar to the last story, my carry on got taken off the belt after a hefty discussion at x-ray but this time the TSA agent was extremely unfriendly. I had Brett with me so you can imagine how dangerous I looked. He asked me repeatedly if I had any weapons in my bag... my answer was a resounding no... at least until he reached into my bag and pulled out a small metal revolver. Yep, I had a gun in my carry on... what an idiot I am!!! In my defense, it was a toy... from my childhood (back when they made guns that looked real) and it was now one of Brett's favorite things to play with when he was playing Pirates. I spoke up to try and tell the TSA agent that the gun was a toy only to be shushed immediately. He looked it over for a good 5 minutes then said in a very serious voice, “You are free to go but I am going to have to confiscate your weapon.” The word confiscate made me kind of chuckle inside but this was surely no laughing matter. I apologized to the agent but he didn't want to hear it. The best part of the story is what Brett said to me as I apologized to him about having to walk away from one of his favorite toys... he looked up at me sweetly and said, “That’s okay mom, I didn't need it anyway.” Awe!!!! So you may be wondering, how the heck did I allow that gun to get in my bag??? Well, let’s just say that I will never ever let Brett pack his own things again... at least without carefully going through it before heading to the airport.

Boarding Pass Foul-up
As I've said, I've traveled a lot in the last months, enough that I have the DFW airport TSA security process down! Once you show your boarding pass and ID to the security officer who checks it, stares at you then marks it with a highlighter then you can put your boarding pass and ID away. They clearly tell you...They don't need to see it when you walk through the metal detector. In fact, sometimes they have a guy standing there just to remind you to put it away. The new thing at DFW is to put your shoes on the belt instead of in a bin. It was on the news and sure enough, this is the new rule. Aside from those times I tried to sneak candle “explosives” and a pistol into my bag, I usually breeze right through security with no problems. I was going through security at the Roanoke, VA airport... my most recent flight. I did what I always do... tucked my boarding pass and ID into my wallet after the TSA agent gave me the once over and checked me off with the official highlighter. I took my shoes off, put them on the belt along with my purse and other carry-on... laptop and mini-tv in a bin. I was all proud of myself for having it all together... no trouble this time – I was sure of it!!! It was my turn to walk through the metal detector and the TSA agent held his hand out to me and said, “I need to see your boarding pass.” Well, duh... it was in my purse which was under the x-ray machine and I told him that. He told me he needed it... I was kind and said something to this effect, “I am so sorry... but you know how it is... each airport is different and usually we don't need it here. I'm sorry.” He got really pissy with me and said, “No!!! Every airport is the exact same. TSA policy is the same across the board! You ALWAYS need your boarding pass here.” He finished his statement with these words... “You are wrong.” My hackles raised, like the hair on the back of an agitated dog, and I thought to myself... I'm gonna get arrested! I took a deep breath, reminded myself that Brett was standing right next to me and I needed to show a good example. I forced a fake smile, bit my tongue and said, “I'm sorry sir.” He allowed me to show it to him after the metal detector and we quickly went on our way. I have to be honest, I was greatly annoyed!!!! I had that “I need a drink” feeling for a nanosecond. I really don't like being told I am wrong (who does) especially when I am in all actuality correct. Maybe TSA policy is the same across the board... but hey... po-dunk Roanoke, VA airport, the airport with a grand total of 12 gates is the only place I have been asked to show my boarding pass at the metal detector in a very long time!!!! I have a feeling DFW might be a little more on top of TSA policy.

As a born sinner, I must accept that no matter how badly I may want to stay on the straight and narrow, I will always fail only to have to deal with the consequences. Sometimes my sins are a result of total forgetfulness (candle in the bag), sometimes I get wrapped up in a sin by mere association but still must accept responsibility for my part (letting a 4 year old pack his own bag), and sometimes it will happen in the midst of trying my best to follow the rules (TSA meany). There is that other kind of sin too... the willful decision to be disobedient. I think I tend to overcomplicate the whole thing though in an attempt to keep score. Inside my head I have a sin demerit chart. Gossip = 15 demerits, dishonesty =30 demerits, missing church = 40 demerits and then there are the big ones... adultery = 90,000 demerits, murder= 100,000 demerits. I don't think I'm right though, in fact I think this is down right wrong (Catholics everywhere are gasping for air). I think I'm missing the point completely. If I could ask God, I believe the truth would be that all my sins carry the same weight no matter what the circumstances are. I don't think He measures them with anything other than a desire for me to recognize them, humbly ask for forgiveness, and “learn & turn” from them. Is it ironic that there are so many rules to follow so we can safely go high up in the sky? Heaven is awaiting... but God doesn't have a crew of TSA agents to put me through the paces and make sure the rules are being followed. That part is up to me – to open myself up to the Spirit as a guide to help me remember, to guide me away from carelessness and even tell me I'm wrong when I deserve it. It's hard being this sinner... but in the wise words of an awesome Christian therapist, all God expects is for me to keep searching for Him... so I’ll just keep trying.

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