I like to think of myself as savvy traveler. Before I pack, I check to make sure my carry-on will fit in the overhead bin of the type of aircraft I'll be flying on. And I keep my favorite shampoo and conditioner in three-ounce bottles, packed in clear, quart-sized plastic bags, to be sure they'll pass TSA muster. I wear shoes that are easy to take on and off. My netbook fits into a travel-sleeve so that it's protected while it sails through the screening machine. But no matter how well prepared I think I am, I always lose something to airport security. I just got back from a five-day trip to Panama, and this time was no different. We were already through the screening process and in the secure area of the airport in Panama City when we -- meaning all the passengers on the flight bound for Miami, not just my family -- were put through a second screening that involved a hand search through everyone's carry-on. The security man took away a bottle of water that I had just bought from a shop next to the gate. They took away everyone's water bottles, so I can't complain of being singled out. I'm just baffled, that's all.
Because I'm still slightly jet-lagged, this will be a short column, a list of all the things I've lost, going backwards from yesterday's de-aguafication.
Item: Water bottle, bought at shop in secure area of airport. Panama City, Panama. Reason prohibited: Unknown.
Item: Souvenir key-chain with minuscule folding tools, bought as souvenir of the Atlanta Olympics. Taken away at BWI. Reason: One folding tool was a tiny scissors and another was a mini-pen-knife. Not sure which one was deemed the potential weapon. Maybe it was having them in combination. As I was in a rush to make my flight, I never asked.
Item: An eyeglass repair kit, which had a miniature screwdriver. Taken away at Dulles. It had passed muster on a number of other flights, so I thought it was okay, but this time it wasn't.
Item: A tweezers, seized in Manchester, New Hampshire. This incident was the closest I came to speaking up, since I was very fond of that tweezers and can't imagine any scenario in which a villain could do any damage with that implement other than use it to aggressively over-pluck a victim's eyebrows. And really, if anyone tried that, I think the other passengers could put a stop to it. Well, that's what I thought at the time, but refrained from pointing out.
Item: Bamboo knitting needles, size: number 10. These weren't actually mine, but my then-12-year-old daughter's. Taken away at London Heathrow. I asked why and the screener shrugged and said apologetically, they were on the prohibited list. The only bright spot was that that my daughter had no current knitting project attached to the needles.
Items: Multiple bottles of toiletries, toothpaste in a tube, and a prescription cream that cost about $300. This was in Melbourne, Australia, the same day that shoe-bomber Richard Reid attempted to blow up the plane he was on. All at once the rules changed, and all passengers in Melbourne were hand-screened, hand-frisked, and all liquids, gels, pastes – even Tylenol in liqui-gel capsules – got taken away. Everyone was just grateful that all flights were not completely shut down, and so no one made a peep about anything.
I'm sure I've left out at least three items from this list, but that's okay. It's not the length of the list that matters, it's that not one item on this list was in any way a credible threat to anyone in the air or on the ground. I do understand the need to be one hundred percent sure that nothing gets on board that could conceivably used as a weapon. And I completely accept the premise that it's best to err on the side of caution. That's why I never tried to talk my way into keeping any of the things I lost. Besides, the airport security personnel don't make the rules, and they don't get to bend them for anyone. So this column is not calling for change, for more common sense in the rules, or for anything else, for that matter. It's just the personal musing of someone who sat on a three-hour flight yesterday without a water bottle, scribbled in draft form while waiting, waiting, waiting for the flight attendant to come around with the drinks cart.
Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, March 26, 2010.