Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Safety Patrol

Security screening at the airport still drives me as crazy as it did eight years ago when I first wrote about it in a column for jems.com. I’ll spare you the painful details of a reprint, but essentially my objection is not that we do screening, but that we do so in a fashion based not on any science or risk-based assessments, but on the need to be politically correct. I forget where I heard the term, but someone once said our airport screening process in nothing more than “Security Theater,” and I think that’s just about right.

I was fretting about this today as I pondered if my two prepackaged fruit cups with natural juices (8 oz by weight, uncertain by volume) were going to get through the “no fluids” rule. Would they think that the pieces of grapefruit floating in the extract was real fruit, or a clever ruse to hide kerosene? I also wondered if my bottle of cologne, which says it contains 1.4 ounces but somehow needs a three inch block of glass to contain it, would pass muster as well. Fortunately, I passed, and Seat 23C has never eaten healthier or smelled better.

(Do you ever wonder how much the confiscation process depends on the immediate thirst or hygiene needs of the individual TSA screener?)

Anyway, this reminded me of my favorite stupid security story. When I first moved back to Kansas in 2005, I was flying back to Florida a lot to see the Pre-Bride and The Child. One one of these trips, I literally blew a tire while turning into economy parking in Kansas City. (No ,I didn’t go over the exit grid the wrong way, but that’s an excellent guess. You know the polls that say 90% of drivers think they have above average skills on the road? I’m the other 10%.) I had a spare tire in the trunk but no jack, and was running very close on time and couldn’t wait for a repair truck to come from the service station on airport grounds. So I figured the best thing to do was to buy a car jack in Florida, and take it back with me in two days time. That way I could fix the flat in the parking lot, avoid the cost of a service call, and have a new jack in the trunk for any future needs.

Once in the Sunshine State, I went to see the Pep Boys and got my jack. (Pep Boys. Manny, Moe, and JACK. Get it? It’s now 10:15 in the morning and I’ve been up since four driving over from Daytona to pick up a nonstop flight and a cheap fare in Tampa. Cut me a break.) The jack was the kind has a base plate on one side and a lifting plate on the other enveloping a screw that you turn to make the jack go up or down. Fully rotated, the screw allows the jack to lie flat, about four inches tall. Perfect for carry-on, I thought, as I approached the security screening in Orlando (an airport which has still not talked to Walt Disney World about how to move people through an attraction.)

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming. It’s only a few years past 9/11, and here’s this disheveled guy taking a late night flight halfway across the country with car repair equipment and a Dave Barry book as his carry-ons. I undoubtedly fit somebody’s profile somewhere. (I still remember a picture book my parents had about the Kennedy assassination called “Four Days.” There was a picture of Oswald’s perch atop the Texas Book Depository. There was a fast food bag next to the windowsill, with a caption noting that “The assassin dined on fried chicken ad pop while patiently waiting to shoot the President.” I must have been that guy.) There’s no telling what I might have done with the jack if forced to spend the next two and a half hours seated next to someone who wanted to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and didn’t have really great…yeah, ummm, yeah. (I was still single, at legally, back then). So I would have been annoyed, but probably would have understood, if the whole kit and caboodle was taken away.

(By “whole kit,” I mean the jack. It’s hard to justify the book as a dangerous airborne weapon. “Prepare to discuss Dave Barry’s treatise on exploding toilets or I’ll take this plane down and all the inflight magazines with it!” On the other hand, if you tossed a book out the window from 36,000 feet, physics tells us it would hit the ground 47 seconds later at a speed of 1035 miles per hour. And there’s that whole explosive decompression thing as well.)

The jack actually came in two pieces. One was the jack itself, which was the heavy lifting base with the screw that raises the car up and down. The second piece was a ten ounce forged metal handle that you used to turn the screw. So what the TSA Officer did to protect the skies was to confiscate the handle, allowing me to take the ten pound steel jack itself on board without any problem whatsoever.

Now that’s security.

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