Monday, December 1, 2008

Doing The Safety Dance

Yesterday, Pam Spaulding over at Pandagon wondered if there are any 2008 travel war stories out there.

I’m sure she’ll get an earful from folks returning from Thanksgiving. I already blogged about the sucky treatment we got from American Airlines on our recent vacation to Costa Rica. The airline changed our flight out of Miami without notifying us, forcing us to miss a connector in country. So instead of taking a 20 minute flight from San Jose to Quepos, we had to hire a driver to take us over land, which with Costa Rica’s notoriously bad roads meant a four-hour-plus ordeal. American said because we didn’t book the San Jose-Quepos flight through them, they had fulfilled their obligation to us. Well guess what, assholes: you don’t fly to Quepos! Only two airlines do that, both Costa Rican.

I still get mad thinking about it.

But the worst part about traveling has to be the ridiculous exercise known as the Transportation Security Administration’s Security Check. Yes, I remember 9/11 and no, those ubiquitous “Threat Level: ORANGE” signs don’t make me tolerate it any better.

And it’s so much worse at American airports than those in Europe. Look, nobody makes you take your shoes off.


Thank God the Maxwell Smart of terrorists didn't have an exploding pen, or we'd all have our writing implements confiscated at security. How stupid.

Returning from Costa Rica last week, we went through customs at Dallas-Ft. Worth. We had two carry-on bags full of souvenirs, hand-crafted items like clay masks and wooden bowls. When we’d purchased the items, the store clerk had carefully wrapped every item in paper to prevent breakage, and we’d just thrown the whole mess into a backpack. But we’d forgotten about two items: a small bottle of Lizano salsa, a wonderful spicy-sweet concoction that is a staple condiment of virtually every Costa Rican meal, and a Volcano snow globe we’d bought for my six-year-old niece.

After making it through customs, we’d sent our checked bags back on through, and then had to go through the whole TSA security check again to get to our gate. And that’s where we got into trouble.

I got stuck with a sour-faced TSA woman who had to unwrap every single item in the carry-on. When she got to the Lizano sauce she put it aside and snarled, “that’s not going anywhere.”

Then she unwrapped my niece’s volcano snow globe. She picked it up, admired it, turned it upside down.

“Cute,” she said.

She watched the little red sparklies meant to be lava float around inside the globe, then looked at me and said:

“This has water in it. It’s not going anywhere.”

I swear to God if she could have slipped it in her pocket she would have.

Our only choice was to "throw them away" or go back to ticket counter, check another piece of luggage, and go through the whole TSA nonsense again. For a bottle of Costa Rican salsa and a cheap plastic snow globe which cost $4, it wasn’t worth it.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have reminded her that the liquid in this snow globe was less than 4 oz. I thought of it too late, trying to make sure that our two laptop computers made it back into our possession. I did wonder why she allowed my toiletries to go through--shampoo, lotions, etc.--but had a problem with my souvenirs. She didn't even check that bag.

I am absolutely convinced that a child of a TSA worker in Texas is getting a volcano snow globe in his or her Christmas stocking this year.

Let’s face it, the whole point of the TSA safety dance is to inconvenience people as much as possible, thereby giving the appearance that something is being done to Keep Us Safe. I’m not buying it, though, and I suspect no one else is, either.

In Salon's “Ask The Pilot” column a real, live airline pilot pleads with President-elect Obama:
Please, Mr. President, for the love of country, do something, anything, about the Transportation Security Administration.

The fundamental problem, discussed in this column many times, is the agency's relentless fixation with the in-flight takeover scheme last perpetrated on Sept. 11, 2001; that is, the fallacy that physical weapons, rather than the element of surprise, were ultimately responsible for the hijackers' successes on that day. In truth, the hijackers' possession of box cutters was irrelevant -- a deadly weapon can be fashioned from virtually anything, including many objects and materials found on planes -- and for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the confiscation of pointy objects at the concourse checkpoint, the 9/11 blueprint is all but off the table to a would-be saboteur.

Let’s face reality, folks. The ban on liquids and sharp objects is ridiculous at best, and potentially dangerous. People should be allowed to bring their own food and water on aircraft, especially as airlines are cutting back on such services and charging for such things.

The airlines and TSA are really sucking all of the fun out of travel. I'm still pissed that a TSA agent took my niece's volcano snow globe, for no earthly reason.