Is This Your Bag?

Posted by mwallach on August 2, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere |

Dear That Life,
A friend of mine who travels often has a firm belief when it comes to going through security at the airport. Whatever they ask of him, he does. Though it might make no sense and may be an inconvenience, he knows that it is ultimately for his own good. The TSA agents are just doing their jobs, he reasons. If he must be frisked, so be it.

There is a clear rationale for such behavior and it takes a true adult to follow through with that logic. Living in a post-9/11 world, no one takes safety for granted. It is often humorous, however, that with the great seriousness that the TSA takes its responsibilities, there are still inconsistencies regarding standards in air travel safety. And if there is anyone I have to defer to at any time, it is the Israelis.

That is why I smirk each time I take off my shoes as I get on line to go through airport security for a domestic flight. No one asks you to remove your footwear before flying to Tel Aviv. According to some anecdotal evidence, Israelis actually think it is funny that Americans are asked to remove their shoes and have them scanned before boarding a flight. When we were going through security on our way to Israel, members of my Birthright group instinctively began to untie their shoes until I told them they could stop. Allowing them to keep their shoes on through security left them a little unsettled, though I reassured them it should actually let them feel safer. It is not that they take security lightly but rather they distinguish between what are real threats and what is general hysteria.

Such was my feeling this morning as I went through security at LaGuardia, heading for a flight to Orlando. (By the way, here’s a friendly note: if you ever actually have to get somewhere on time, do not fly through LaGuardia. There is a reason it ranks so poorly in on-time departures. It has unabashedly won that dubious distinction.) It seems I am unable to get through the screening process without setting off some kind of alarm. I went through my mental checklist of things that have caused me problems in the past. I knew my Swiss Army knife had been packed in my luggage and I was definitely not traveling with kilos of rugelach, or anything else for that matter. I could not imagine, therefore, what the problem was when the conveyor belt stopped and my shoulder bag was set aside for further review.

“What’s the problem with my bag?” I said to the agent reviewing the items as they were scanned. “That bag is yours?” she asked, and I confirmed that it was. “Your body butter,” she replied. “It is too big.” I heard what she said, but did not completely understand. The container of body butter which I kept in my carry-on and had with me at all times as I travelled through Germany and Israel was now the red flag in my bag as it went through security here in New York. “But I just travelled through Europe with it in my handbag and no one else had an issue,” I said, but she had already moved on. “It must be reviewed,” she replied and moved her eyes back to the screen in front of her. I waited.

Under normal circumstances, my husband would be completely annoyed that I had, yet again, successfully failed completing an otherwise rudimentary exercise without causing any trouble. In this case, however, he was busy being patted down by a male TSA agent because he had been tagged. The smartalleck that I am, I told him I was getting on that plane and had no plans to wait for him while he was being searched. Of course, that was before my bag was deemed problematic and my body butter labeled a hazardous material unfit for flight. Me and my big mouth…

“Who’s bag is this?” asked a different TSA agent wearing blue gloves, as though she was ready to truly examine my bag. “It’s mine,” I said as I watched her take the bin with my bag in it and move it to a different area. She opened the bag and pulled out the body butter. “This is the problem,” she said and asked if she could remove the cover. I told her to go ahead, offering for her to smell it is well. She looked at the contents. “This is a 7 ounce container and it cannot be over 3.5 ounces,” she explained. “And while you have used some,” she continued, ” you have not used half.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, slightly perplexed. “I just came back from Europe and had it in my handbag the entire time – and this is not even a liquid.” “International flights are different,” she explained but that only confused me more. “So let me get this straight,” I said with a smile. “The Israelis had no problem with my body butter and the Germans had no problem with my body butter – but the Americans do?” She smiled as well and offered a solution. “Leave security and go back out to the ticketing area,” she said. “Take some out – use it or throw it out – and then come back in with the rest of it. That should be enough.”

“I can’t just do that here?” I asked her, but she said no. “There are cameras everywhere,” she explained, hinting that we were constantly being watched and such behavior would cause further issue, for both of us. I shook my head. “Forget it,” I said, laughing at the silliness. “It’s all yours – I hope you enjoy it.” She laughed. “Everyone thinks we get to keep this stuff,” she said, “but it all gets thrown out.” Alas, such was the fate of body butter and numerous body butters before it. Having finally finished with security, we headed toward the gate.

About to board the plane, my husband asked me how much my container of body butter had cost. Clearly, if I was this annoyed, it must have been expensive. I considered his question for a moment, remembering that I had bought it with a bunch of different items and as part of a promotion. “Probably about $5 or $6,” I said. He wasn’t annoyed before, but certainly was now. “You caused all that fuss over $5 bucks?” he asked incredulously, rolling his eyes. “With the way you were carrying on, I figured it cost about $50.”

I think he’s beginning to prefer that I fly by myself.

As Seen in The South Shore Standard Aug ’12

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