Of flights, flying and the TSA

It may be a long way to Tipperary, but it’s even longer from Colorado to Chile. We flew American Airlines via Los Angeles International Airport, with a five-hour layover in each direction, and then LAN Chile to Santiago, with a brief stop in Lima. Each LAX-SCL flight is overnight-plus. We also flew from Santiago to and from Punta Arenas on the southern tip of Chile and to and from Easter Island. I can hardly wait to see how many AAdvantage miles I accumulated!

Going through security at LAX for the LAN Chile flight provided a fine example of the Transportation Stupidity Agency at work. Assured that he could take it through security check, the fellow in line in front of us had bought a small (under 3 ounces) sealed jar of some moisturizing cream at one of the duty-free shops in the terminal. The TSA screener would not let him put that single item in the plastic bin with his belt, keys, coins and shoes. “It has to go into a one-quart zip-lock bag,” the screener told the traveler guy. Traveler: “I don’t have one. Where can get one?” TSA guy: “I don’t know. We don’t sell them. I don’t care where you get it, but you have to have one.” This back-and-forth went on a while. We interjected and asked if he could put his jar into our one-quart zip-lock bag to send it through X-ray. That evidently didn’t violate any TSA regulations. The passenger was grateful, at that point the TSA guy no longer cared, and we were left shaking our heads.

Today’s Denver Post features a front-page story about a new TSA policy that prohibits air-traffic controllers from leaving the tower during a meal break unless they use accumulated personal time. “They have to stay in the 327-foot tower…where their menu choices are a bit limited. Just like airline passengers, controllers can’t bring liquids or semi-solid food items through security checkpoints,” wrote reporter Jeffrey Lieb. He also quoted the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. as calling it “lockdown cafe.” Now, don’t you wonder how this policy will affect the morale of people holding stressful jobs?

In Chile (and in New Zealand, where I was in august), passengers are permitted to walk through metal detectors with their shoes and jackets on, to bring bottled water aboard and to have such items as any size of toothpaste, hand cream and cosmetics in their carry-ons. In fact, the airport in Santiago has kiosks where people can, for a fee, have individual pieces of luggage shrink-wrapped. Here, the TSA’s no-locks policy sets checked baggage up for pilferage. I just heard from a travel writer colleague who had some $700 worth of items stolen from his luggage on a Continental flight from Trinidad to Denver via Houston. Not likely to happen in Chile or elsewhere, where bags may be locked and even wrapped in clear plastic.

Aside security issue and bizarre regulations is the disappearance of anything resembling pleasant travel. Long flights that board in or are destined for the US have become airborne tubes crammed full of crabby, hungry, thirsty, smelly travelers, to say nothing of the foot odor assaults at security checkpoints because of the TSA’s shoes-off policy. None of this makes me feel any “safer.” How about you?

5 thoughts on “Of flights, flying and the TSA”

  1. Mio Commentario: I went to Uruguay a couple of years ago with the cockamamie idea that it was a quick jaunt down. Twenty-three years later, give or take, I stumbled off the plane in Montevideo. Live and learn, Dumbass. (I mean me, not you, of course.)

  2. As I am leaving town tomorrow on a series of flights that will end, finally by evening, in West Palm, Florida, no I don’t feel safer. What I feel is a fear of security people and the nightmare of rules and regulations that will “guide” me on my way. One of the things I resent the most is that I cannot carry my own water on board so I can stay properly hydrated. Oh, I hear I can buy something once inside the “zone” but the PRICE! Thanks so much for reminding me why I don’t travel as much anymore, Claire– Rosemary Carstens, http://thedreamrider.com/FEAST.html

  3. Whether or not you can take a water bottle purchased in the “zone” also seems somewhat arbitrary. At LAX, there were large trash cans at the boarding area of each gate. Some passengers simply assumed that they would not be permitted to bring water bottles that were presumably purchased past security and tossed them without being asked. Others took bottles aboard. My observations were limited, but I didn’t see any gate agent asking that they be discarded. At at LAX-bound flight in Auckland in August, passengers were not permitted to bring empty bottles past security to be filled from a water fountain or tap. Our flight to LAX from DEN a couple of weeks ago was fairly short, so I didn’t even try to buy water to take aboard. Now, I wish I had paid attention. Bon voyage, Rosemary.

  4. Claire, thanks for sharing your excursions with us. They are very fascinating to read! I’m so glad I found your blog and will come back to read more!

  5. A friend and veteran traveler who finally checked out this blog sent this E-comment to me via E-mail. My TSA posting certainly set off a hot button. She wrote: “I also appreciate Ms. Quindlan – enormously – when it comes to the Tranny Absurdity Association. You’re so ambitious with your new blog. Enjoy Europe without schnee and watch your step. Take ‘Collapse’ and ‘Middlesex’ in your teeny carry-on and don’t forget your quart-sized plastic baggie with emollients. I tend to carry small plastic listerine bottles of Campari since nothing else can get through their idiotic nonsense. Oy Vay! Don’t get me started. Be sure not to wear thigh-high lace-up boots through this nonsense. It’ll take you all day and you might just miss your flight. I recently read about a woman who had to remove her bra to get through security. Probably had an underwire. I don’t even wear those anymore when I’m traveling. Traveling life has certainly shifted from civilized to idiotic.”

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