It makes no difference what anyone says about flying these days because you just have to suck up all the airport rules, or don’t fly.

Tell me about it.

Having flown last week-end, just before the little terrorist wannabe tried to detonate something between his legs on a flight into Detroit on Christmas Day, I just don’t think I want to do it much anymore – unless I have to.

I flew to Cleveland from LGA/NY on Friday the 18th for a niece’s wedding and came back (under a two hour snow delay) on Sunday night.

All in all, from start to finish, I felt more like a suspect than a passenger.

Still a tech dimwit (these attacks can come at any time) and not having flown for quite a while, I was knocked back momentarily, not just by fumbling around to enter my confirmation code into the computer (Oh, y’know, just another computer protocol I never did before!  Never mind.), but by having to put up with a half-strip and shoe removal to get through security.

Was it annoying?  You tell me.

I had (I thought) removed all metal and potentially dangerous fluids from my person and my small stow bag before I left home (including my new, key ring-size Swiss Army knife), estimating on a common sense level what the TSA hound dogs might take away (No, I didn’t go online and read the entire, bloody list of forbidden items).  Anything potentially threatening, no matter how innocent in appearance, was left on my desk.

Anyway, after getting my coveted boarding pass and entering the instant hullabaloo of partially disrobing and putting clothing and the rest into plastic tubs and walking through the body metal detector, I then moved to the table to get my stuff and put my clothes back on, except there were some things TSA felt they needed to seize anyway.

One guy, standing near the X-ray over the conveyor and poking through my wool jacket, waved a three-inch nail file at me and said, “Uh-uh, can’t have that!”  And while I was putting on my shoes, a TSA gal peered at a plastic bottle of hair cream in my bath kit and said,  “Oh, we’ll have to take that too.”

“What?  It’s hair cream!  In a squeeze bottle!”

“It’s eight ounces.  Too much.”

Down the rabbit hole it all went, as I imagined myself commandeering a flight to, of all places, Cleveland, Ohio – armed with a squirt bottle of hair cream and a three-inch nail file.  In the annals of American aviation, stranger things have happened.

Unfortunately, while all this was going on, I noticed that I couldn’t find my house key, which I had put on one – ONE – small key ring.  No car keys.  No keys to my five thousand padlocks.  No keys to my various safe deposit boxes, scattered in ten major international cities.  No keys to my several secret boudoirs and romantic hideaways.  No keys to the various steamer trunks which, back in the day, accompanied me and my entourage during my many first-class voyages on the Queen Mary – to Africa, the Continent, and the Riviera.

Just one key on one small ring, along with underwear and a change of clothes for two days.

By this time I was upset, starting to feel like a suspect; but I had to ask:  “Where is my key?”

All the TSA people looked at me as if I had three ears, and I very quickly got a response which seemed to imply that I had lost my keys.

I asked:  “Where is my key?  It went through X-ray and now I can’t find it.  Can you help?”

They kept looking at me strangely while searching other people.

“I can’t find my key!  It went through the conveyor, but I don’t have it.  Can you look, please?

So they tried, while a supervisor asked me where I put it, and did I put it in my shoes?

“I don’t remember.  I took my clothes off, put my cell phone in the tub, and my key, and everything else.  It’s my house key!”

“Did you check your shoes?”

“I have them on.  I can’t feel anything.”

Back and forth it went for a minute or so, while the TSA guy who seized my nail file looked at the X-ray screen, saying there was a key detected.  The supervisor confirmed this sighting.

Other passengers moved along; some glaring at me.  I turned to another guy who was putting his shoes back on, and I said, “You know, I took the train from Connecticut, the subway from Grand Central, and a Queens bus to get here.  That was kind of fun.  This is not fun.”  He smiled.

I took off my shoes again.  I looked in one and saw the key, and realized it must have nestled under the arch of my foot.  I took it out and waved it at the TSA supervisor.

“I found it!!!  Never mind!”  As I smiled sheepishly, the entire TSA crew rolled their eyes.

I moved out, got a cup of coffee and a muffin and took a break.

A few minutes later, I went back to the supervisor to clarify how to get to my gate, which was on another level.  He was very helpful, though still somewhat defensive.

“Understand, sir, we know what we’re doing; we’ve had this sort of shoe incident happen before.”

“Oh no doubt.  Weaponized shoes and all that.  Right.  Thanks for the help.  Happy Holidays.”

I made my flight and the one back on Sunday night.  But with it all, and with the news that further security protocols may, for instance, prevent passengers from even reading a book or a newspaper within an hour of landing, flying is not something I’ll be wanting to do too soon.

I refuse to feel like a suspect.


  1. cocktailhag says:

    Ah, hair cream and a nail file…. You might as well have been wearing a turban and carrying a SAM, although you aren’t sufficiently swarthy. (The lighting in airports can be deceptive….)
    Great story… too bad about the key in the shoe, though.
    Sorry I accidentally stepped on your post; yours is much funnier than mine, and I could have held it over for tomorrow. Ah, well.

  2. retzilian says:

    I have made the round trip from CLE to LGA many, many times, and other than one time when my flight with American was cancelled, I have always had good luck, especially flying Continental.

    LGA is my favorite airport and CLE is also a very easy airport to get in and out of and the TSA in Cleveland are quite nice.

    Sorry about your key, but I assure you, you were in the two best airports around. It is MUCH MUCH worse in other airports.

    Next time, please download and print your boarding pass ahead of time and all will be well.

    • dirigo says:

      Oh I found both airports worked well, although my brother says Continental may cease using Cleveland/Hopkins as a hub.

      My sister and her husband, who flew from Manchester, N.H., and I were under some pressure to coordinate flights, to arrive and depart more or less at the same time.

      That worked, but I acceded to her offer to order me an e-ticket, for the sake of family harmony.

      It all worked out. I just thought I’d offer a slightly comic tale of my adventure, to include a barbed reference to the Nigerian pants bomber.

  3. retzilian says:

    One time, in Cleveland, I forgot about the stupid fluid ban (beyond 3 oz.) and I had a gift for a friend’s daughter of some hair conditioner that she can’t get on Long Island and two bottles I was carrying were confiscated. I rolled my eyes and just cut my losess (about $5, maybe). It was my bad.

    I have flown 15 times in the last 2 years and it has been mostly very easy. Things were more relaxed and it went fast. I hope things don’t get stupid again.

  4. dirigo says:

    My only other takeaway from this underpants bomber incident is that the argument has been made that the security failure was both human and procedural (also human), and that sufficient technology is available which should have, somewhere, been able to detect this weapon.

    Why wasn’t it deployed?

    So my question remains: Why do we all have to be treated as suspects on a level equal to the Nigerian man?

  5. Gareth Price says:

    Turning up increasingly earlier at airports, longer queues, having to think about what you can carry on: it is all a pain which is making flying increasingly less appealing. But will someone please explain to me this outrage over haircream. Bill Maher is on about it all the time. At first I thought he was joking but I eventually realized he is truly bothered that he can not take hairgel on a flight.

    It is a serious question about where to draw the line between inconvenience and invasion of privacy and civil liberties etc on one hand and security on the other but why on earth is hairgel the big issue!!

    • dirigo says:

      Pointing out absurdity cuts no ice with bureaucrats, but think of a pipsqueak like me, or Bill Maher, trying to take over an airplane with a three-inch nail file and a squirt bottle of hair cream. Or even worse: gel!

      The only defense for the crew and passengers is raucous laughter.

      If I have to show my underpants before they install the new body scanners, I’m not flying. Call me when you’re ready for that close-up.

      • Gareth Price says:

        Personally I am not opposed to being scanned by the new scanners but I understand why people might be.

        Regarding the hair gel. I am not an explosives expert so I have no idea whether hair gel combined with colgate toothpaste or some similar combination can be explosive. Probably not but maybe. But something which is explosive might be packed in a hair gel tin.

        But why would you need hairgel or a nail file on an airplane? if you are flying somewhere where you can not purchase hair gel, believe me – you won’t need the stuff there!

        • dirigo says:

          I reach near collapse real quick speculating on arcane technical matters like the size of a potential carry-on bomb.

          However, absent an inquiry to TSA explosives wizards (who may simply comprise a roomful of eccentric characters poring over lots of BOOM! contingencies, like a gaggle of Q Branch types from the Bond films), it may be that the 8 ounce threshold is where a viable, liquid explosive device would be large enough to blow a hole in an airliner and bring it down.

          But then, they would have to make assumptions about what’s in the 8 ounce vessel: firecrackers say, or TNT-level plastique.

          I think I have a headache and I still don’t want to fly any time soon.

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