TSA and the Butter Knives

John Maxwell posted an entry on his blog yesterday recounting an incident in which he was given a gun as a present, forgot it was in his carry on, and it was noticed by TSA. I’ve been meaning to write a story of my own for a while.

On March 3, I celebrated one year in my current job. When I started the job last year, our finances were fairly tight. Though I did get an increase in salary from my previous job, the benefits cost more, I have to pay Philly’s city wage tax, and a $4 a day toll to cross the Walt Whitman bridge. In effect, at first the job was a net loss but the opportunities were better so I endured mine and my wife’s economic fears for a few months until things stabilized. This job requires a decent amount of travel. Honestly, to this point I could do more. It seems like I’ll have two weeks of travel back-to-back, then I won’t travel for 2 months. I actually enjoy the job more when I’m traveling. I find myself bored sitting in my cubicle in Philly.

One place I travel to frequently is Maine. Yesterday I returned from my 4th trip to Maine. I’ve been flying my entire life. I was born in Spain as my dad was in the Air Force and stationed overseas at the time. They PCS’ed (left) a month later. Flying is not new to me, but traveling by air is getting to be a serious pain. I have a rule that when I travel anywhere within a 5-6 hour drive, I’ll rent a car and drive there. Occasionally I will fly, but I drive whenever I can.

When I started the job, our finances were tight. I normally bring lunch to work with me, and I like to keep plasticware in my desk for lunch. My wife decided that dollar store bags of plastic were a waste of money, so she bought me my own set of dollar store silverware to keep in my laptop bag for lunch.

The first time I traveled to Maine, I went through the TSA checkpoint at Philly International. I took my laptop out and put it in one bin. Then I put my shoes and belt in another bin. As my laptop bag went through, the person watching the monitor called for a supervisor. I wondered what that was all about. A supervisor wandered over, looked, then my bag was brought through. “Who’s bag is this!” the supervisor yelled. I said it was mine. “Step over here, sir” she commanded. She then put on latex gloves and opened my bag up. I started to say “I’m not sure what the problem could be. It’s a laptop bag with my power cord. some other adapters, USB cords for my phones and iPod…” then she got a serious look on her face, and pulled out… a dollar store butter knife. She held it up right in front of my face. It was almost comical considering how serious she looked. We bought the thing at Dollar Tree, and it couldn’t cut melted butter. She then said “Sir, are you willing to surrender this?” I mumbled “yes”, and as I walked away out of earshot, I guess to make myself feel better, mumbled “it’s a dollar store butter knife. If you can’t afford your own, I guess you can keep it.”

Then I put on my shoes and belt and went off to the gate.

But that’s not the end of the story.

When I went through TSA at the Portland airport, my bag got flagged again. I said “What the” and some other word that won’t go in this narrative. You can fill in the blank from your own imagination. Once again, I was pulled aside while a screener put on latex gloves and dove into my bag. He pulled out… another dollar store butter knife. Wow, how could the security sleuths in Philly miss that I had another one in there? Suddenly I began to feel very unsafe over what else got by these taxpayer funded people and wondered if I could just drive everywhere. I told him “I guess you have to confiscate it”. He looked at it and said “Nah. It’s not serrated. You can keep it.” and put it back in my bag and let me go.

That’s one of the reasons I’m not thrilled with TSA. There aren’t set standards or training across the board. In Philly, the screeners usually seem unmotivated and pissed off about having to be there. Of course, just about all the airport employees in Philly seem to be that way. In Charlottesville, Virginia, they’re usually very pleasant and friendly. Of course, Charlottesville provides free coffee in the airport.

Yesterday, when I was coming back from Maine, they had to put my winter jacket back through the machine. My jacket! I just got the thing a few weeks ago.

Whenever I get to the airport, I do the following:

Prior to entering security line:

1) Put Epix, BlackBerry, and iPod Touch in laptop bag

2) Take everything but wallet out of pockets and put in laptop bag

3) Take driver’s license out of wallet and put in shirt pocket with boarding pass

At screening machines

1) Take laptop out of bag and put in plastic bin

2) Take off shoes and belt and put in other plastic bin

3) Clumsily maneuver 2 plastic bins, laptop bag, and carry-on into machine, especially when I have to carry all 4 around slow old person

At security checkpoint:

1) Take boarding pass and DL out of shirt pocket. Hand to TSA as I’m waved through scanner

2) Stand very still while TSA rep looks at NJ driver’s license like he’s never seen one before, even in Philly

3)No…sarcastic…remarks…of…any…kind…no…matter…how…witty…I…think…they

…are…or…how…frustrated…I…get…when…my…left…shoe…has…to…go…through…

scanner…again

Afterward

1) Find a place where I can spend what seems like an eternity putting my shoes and belt on, putting my items back in my pockets, and clipping my phone and BlackBerry back to my belt and pocket. Put DL back in wallet and boarding pass in pocket. Reflect on how much I could use a drink.

2) Try to enjoy the rest of the trip, until I have to go back through a TSA checkpoint on my way home.

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