Monday, November 17, 2008
Security and Sudafed
Dear Transportation Security Administration,
I understand that your job is very important. Why, back in 2002 I even wrote a whimsical little essay in the New York Times Magazine defending the new post-9/11 regulations for airport security. Of course, that was before things got really baroque—before the personal-care-products industry had persuaded you to confiscate everyone’s toothpaste, aftershave, body lotion, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, hand cream, and saline solution. But on the whole, I’m in favor of everything that prevents crazy people from blowing up airplanes. So did I complain when you went through my checked bags in 2004 as I was coming back from San Francisco? No. And that was the time you left a zipper open—the zipper to the very pocket in which I had stashed all my keys. I decided that one was my own dang fault for not wanting to sit through a five-hour flight with my keys in my pocket, so I just went ahead and got new keys, even though the electronic key to the Passat was well over a hundred bucks.
Nor did I complain last year when you searched my checked bag, went through my toiletries kit, and opened my electric razor, strewing thousands of tiny facial hairs all over everything else in the kit, from my Vanceril inhaler to my toothpaste. You know how sometimes there’s a teeny bit of toothpaste right around the cap? Well, it turns out that that little white spot of fugitive, extratubal toothpaste is a lot easier to see when it’s covered with minuscule beard shavings. But, again, I didn’t complain. I am a patriotic American, and I know full well that if you can’t open my electric razor and spill its contents into my toiletries kit, the terrorists will have won. So I didn’t trouble you the first time it happened—or the second.
Even now, I don’t flinch every time I see that piece of paper that tells me you’ve selected my checked bag to be opened and searched. Usually, you put things back in good order. But this time I really think you’ve gone too far.
I checked one small bag on my recent journey from Harrisburg to Omaha. I did so not only because I wanted to bring shaving cream and aftershave and a Fusion razor in place of the electric one (see above), but also because my son, Jamie, has a nasty runny nose and needed to travel with Triaminic and Sudafed. And again, I understand that you need to go through my toiletries bag for national security purposes. Freedom isn’t free.
But when we arrived in Omaha and I unpacked, I found that the plastic zip-lock bag into which Janet had carefully placed Jamie’s meds (and into which I had re-placed them after giving him a dose of the Sudafed prior to checking in for our flight) was very messy. Apparently, a member of your staff had gone through my toiletries kit, opened the medicine bag, and even opened the Sudafed itself, replacing the child-proof cap in a strangely haphazard manner that allowed a couple of teaspoons of Children’s Sudafed to spill into the bag. Thankfully, this employee of yours then sealed the plastic zip-lock bag properly, or I would have had an entire toiletries kit soggy with Sudafed, and no Sudafed.
Amazingly enough, on the way back from Omaha to Harrisburg, another of your employees (I’m really hoping it wasn’t the same one) did it all again, opening my checked bag, my toiletries bag, my plastic zip-lock medicine bag, and the Sudafed bottle, replacing the cap badly yet again, leaving me once more with a plastic bag with a sticky purple liquid lining. And much less Sudafed. Oh, and that piece of paper informing me that my bag had been opened and inspected in the interests of safety.
So hey, hey, TSA, what’s going on with your staff these days? Are some of them addicted to Children’s Sudafed? Is someone poaching travelers’ Children’s Sudafed supplies and boiling ‘em up into Children’s Crystal Meth? Or do they simply have nagging cold symptoms for which they need a bracing hit of my son’s over-the-counter medicine?
Like I say, I’m not given to idle complaints. I don’t even mind cleaning up messes in my toiletries kit. But, you know, Jamie really did need that Sudafed. You should probably apologize to him for spilling so much of it. And if you ever feel like replacing the bottle, that would be a nice gesture too. In the meantime, I’ll send a version of this letter to your Got Feedback? page, referencing both the Harrisburg and Omaha airports. Thanks for your attention.