I don’t travel by airplane often anymore. For me, the last remaining trace of romance in air travel faded away when I found myself and those around me dutifully removing our shoes prior to our turns at public flogging by the crack intelligence squads known as the TSA. But this week I found myself in need of the services of one of the few remaining solvent air carriers in order to travel from my home in Kansas City to Chicago for a series of meetings scheduled at the very last minute.
Now, while I was aware of the latest so called intelligence breakthrough that exposed the alleged plot to blow up aircraft by physically impossible means, I was not aware that the mere difference between a three ounce tube of toothpaste and the 3.5 ounce variety could mean life or death for me and those other sorry souls flying with me. Heck I wasn’t even aware that the absence of a zip lock bag to surround a three ounce tube had the potential to wipe out a plane mid-air but, like I said, I don’t fly that often anymore.
Well, anyway, without this critical knowledge stored away in my little brain, I found myself hurrying through airport security in Kansas City this past Wednesday in order to go and stand in line for my trip to Chicago on Southwest Airlines. Being that my overnight accommodations were to be at the Drake Hotel (known for its overabundance of complimentary toiletries) I packed light: an extra pair of trousers, shirt, underwear, an electric razor, deodorant, hair gel, a toothbrush, and a 3.5 ounce tube of toothpaste.
As I awaited my turn to walk through the metal detector, I was startled back to life by the sound a rather severe middle aged woman with a swagger that only comes with a government job calling out for the owner of “this bag.” “This bag”, of course, was mine. After proudly proclaiming my ownership of said bag I was advised of the dire need to “get inside”. A flash of panic shot through my mind as I remembered that this particular bag usually accompanies me when I travel by car and, of course, lots of thing that travel unmolested by automobile can land a guy in a cell next to Jose Padilla if passed through an airport security line. To my near-immediate relief, I remembered emptying the bag of it contents (two paperclips and an unidentifiable key) prior to packing for this journey.
I leisurely put on my shoes and collected my briefcase, tablet PC, and jacket and sauntered over to Madame Gestapo and her inspection table. Before I could so much as set down my belongings on the floor, Madame G. told me that “under no uncertain circumstances” was I to touch the bag. I told her I wouldn’t dream of it. After taking a quick perusal through the main compartment, Madame G. discovered the mother load. There, in a discreet side pocket, lain the objects of her quest, her raison d’être. She looked at my Old Spice deodorant stick and silently contemplated for a moment. She placed it on the table. Next came the hair gel in the manufacturer’s bottle of about six ounces capacity. There was perhaps an ounce remaining. That, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the table. I guess it’s not the quantity of contraband one carries but, rather, the vessel in which it is carried. I’m sure an explosives expert could explain to me why this mattered but the TSA bomb guy appeared to be away at lunch.
One for two at this point. I’m silently contemplating the cheerful face from housekeeping at the Drake who brings me my replacement hair gel at about half the price of a night’s stay when I’m brought back to the present by Madame G’s final discovery: I’m transporting a nearly unused 3.5 ounce tube of Crest when the rules clearly state that passengers on domestic or international flights entering or exiting the United States of America may have in their possession no more than three ounces. I supposed that the remaining half ounce, when combined with approximately one half ton of ammonium nitrate and 30 gallons of number two heating oil could make a pretty darn effective bomb (assuming I was able to also get a magnesium primer and a propane torch aboard the aircraft).
Resigned to the fact that I had broken the rules and that I was being let off easy with the simple confiscation of my toiletries, I shrugged my shoulders and looked down at the floor like a schoolboy caught with a spitball ready for launch. I gathered up my possessions and made my way to the next line. As I looked around I realized that everyone else had that same defeated look, that look of being defeated by an enemy of overpowering strength. Sure, I was fairly confident that no one was going to overtake my flight today and crash it into the Sears Tower. But I also knew with at least the same level of confidence that nothing that occurs as a result of airport security has anything to do with that fact.