If you travel even a moderate amount, you’ll get this immediately. The TSA is completely random in it’s approach to ensuring airline safety. At Reagan National (sorry lefties, it’s no longer “National Airport;” it’s Reagan National), it’s imperative that you put your shoes DIRECTLY on the belt, not in a bin. At most other airports, you’re instructed to put them in the bin. If you’re traveling through NY, be darned sure you don’t wear those pants you bought before you lost 10 lbs because you have to take your belt off at Gerald Ford Laguardia Airport (OK, it’s just Laguardia). At every other airport, you can roll the dice on the belt if you think it won’t set off the alarm (unless it’s one of those full body x-ray scans that leaves NOTHING to the imagination for the screener. By the way, they have one of those in Miami, where I travel every week, and I noticed they have parked the screener who sees “everything” behind a little curtain. I want to know exactly what goes on back there. But, I digress). You get the point – it’s pretty daggone random how they keep the friendly skies safe.
Even with all that randomness, I found myself shocked at something I saw at Newt Gingrich Indianapolis Airport (OK, it’s not really called that either) recently. Now, as we all know, liquids 3 oz and under are safe, but once you hit 3.1 oz, there’s a major terrorist threat. I would love to know who came up with the 3 oz rule, speaking of random. Anyway, I was behind a couple who were probably in their early 70s. Their luggage got flagged for violating the 3 oz rule. I think we’ve all been there at least once. I’ve had to toss out numerous bottles of water that I just paid $9 for at the newstand outside security and I’ve seen novice traveling women reduced to tears as they’re forced to jettison a $300 bottle of shampoo (which differs from my $5 bottle of shampoo principally in that it has more French words on the label; and, yes, female friends and relatives, I am fully aware that I have way less hair to wash than you do and that probably justifies spending a week’s pay on a bottle of shampoo produced in China with soothing French words on the label).
So, back to our kind older couple with the contraband liquid. They had a 16 oz (whoa, that’s way over) can of Contadina Condensed Milk. You can’t make that up. Even I got suspicious when I saw that. I mean, seriously, who the hell travels with condensed milk? They looked innocent enough, but I was about to call back-up TSA agents in because the condensed milk was a clear sign of something fishy. I waited to see the TSA agent flip the condensed milk into the big garbage can with the $300 bottles of shampoo when the couple started pleading their case to keep the condensed milk. I’m thinking to myself, “give it up, Ma and Pa Kettle – it ain’t happening. These TSA agents have been trained in the most sensitive techniques for detecting and diffusing terrorist threats.” But, just then, the woman pulled a full sized cake tin out of her bag and said, “but, sir, my husband and I are going to visit our daughter and I plan to bake them a cake when I get there. If you take away the condensed milk, I won’t be able to bake the cake for our daughter.” OK, let me pause and say that either that had to be true or it’s a AAA+ for creativity in sneaking something on a plane. But, as I’m sure you can imagine, the TSA agent has read the chapter in the TSA manual on “sure signs of a terrorist” as in: (1) young men with beards, (2) young men with beards speaking Arabic, (3) elderly women claiming to be traveling somewhere to bake a cake.
But, wait, what happened next was astonishing. The TSA agent bought the cake baking story, handed the woman the 16 oz can of condensed milk and sent her on her way (I still wonder where the hell they were going that she couldn’t have purchased the supplies when she got there). So, you only thought the TSA rule was “no liquids over 3 oz.” In fact, it turns out, the rule is “no liquids over 3 oz, unless you are traveling somewhere to bake a cake, in which case the limit is 16 oz.” I wonder what other caveats there are to the 3 oz rule?
I was just curious enough to ask the TSA agent. I said, “hey, TSA dude, out of curiosity, why did you let that 16 oz can of milk go through? I mean, they look innocent enough, but aren’t rules there to be enforced?” He looked at me with the opprobrium due an amateur who had tried to step into a professional’s realm and said, “it was condensed milk to bake a cake.” Oh. I pushed a tad harder and said, “but, how do you know it was condensed milk and not something more dangerous.” He replied with even more contempt for my stupidity, “because it was a sealed can, not a vessel where the lid could be removed and replaced after putting in a different liquid. There’s no way for someone to reseal a can.” Ooookay, we now know that this TSA agent’s grandmother did not can peaches.
So, there you have it. Not only does each airport (which I think we can all agree should increasingly be named after famous conservative politicians) get to decide how it conducts screening, each TSA agent gets to decide which liquids over 3 oz pose a threat and which don’t. I sure hope I don’t have any terrorists reading my blog – if so, there may be a run on condensed milk and cake tins.