TSA Chronicles, Cream Cheese Edition

Alan Pisarski, a transportation scholar featured in our podcast about the disappearance of hitchhiking, writes in to say:

My niece was back home in Milwaukee visiting family and stocked up on bagels, lox, and cream cheese to take home to Kentucky (forget for our purposes the madness of thinking that Milwaukee has a clue about bagels etc. – she is right – at least they have heard of them in contrast to KY).  Anyways, the wonderful folk at TSA said she could take the bagels on board and the lox, but the cream cheese was out! But being proud civil servants – an oxymoron if ever there was one — they agreed that it would be okay, and she could bring it on board, if the cream cheese was spread on the bagels. Please write this down for future reference.

(Photo: Matthew Mendoza)

I flew the other day with my kids and we discovered that children under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes at the security checkpoint. My daughter was disappointed. To her, going through the line barefoot is one of the highlights of flying.

As someone who flies a lot, I don’t find the security process as onerous as many others do — but that’s probably because I fly a lot and have the drill down. Also: I find that most waits are much shorter than the “endless” lines reported in just about every news report about airport security. (Such reports are also grammatically corrupt, as even very long lines are hardly “endless.”)

What is frustrating, I believe, is a lack of consistency and transparency. Different airports do things differently; different crews at the same airport do things differently; procedures change and change again and change back to the original procedure. Check out, for instance, this cupcake story, with a very good quote:

“The TSA at Logan Airport said the cupcakes looked delicious and told us to have a great trip. But in Las Vegas, they were dangerous. They shouldn’t be delicious in one part of the country and a security threat in the other.”

That said, since the goal of security is to thwart attackers (rather than simply frustrate fliers), minimal consistency and transparency is probably a good thing.

Or, if you’re of the opinion that airport security is actually security theater, you can read the latest version of that argument in Vanity Fair, with Charles Mann taking security dude Bruce Schneier to the airport. Here’s part of the article’s subhead: “As you stand in endless lines this holiday season, here’s a comforting thought: all those security measures accomplish nothing, at enormous cost.”

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  1. Eric M. Jones. says:

    …and onion? You’ve gotta have onion!

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  2. darren says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. Stephen Vakil says:

    The cream cheese thing happened to us in Madison. Maybe it’s a wisconsin thing? It makes about as much sense as the 3 oz rule. Apparently it’s ok if the alleged plastic explosives go off right in the TSA line as one spreads it over bagels? I hate to be a conspiracy theorist but this reminds me of the conspiracy theory that TSA’s job is to protect airline assets and not people, since apparently no one cares if faux-bagel bombs go off in a crowd.

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  4. JohnnyPeps says:

    Even if there were regulations pertaining to all items, we could hardly expect the chair moisteners at the TSA to enforce them uniformly.

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  5. Howie says:

    This is funny ,sad but most of all True.

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  6. Deb Morrissey says:

    I decided the TSA was completely useless the weekend I flew from Virginia to Texas. My first flight was delayed enough that I missed my connecting flight and was put up in a hotel near the Atlanta airport. Once in Texas, I went into my purse for something and discovered my totally forgotten pocketknife – my spring-assisted 3″ blade Gerber. Which, mind you, had made it through security in both Virginia and Atlanta at this point.

    Of course, now that I knew I had it, I knew it would be found on my way back, so I had to mail it back to myself. But I’m now utterly convinced that security is useless if a knife of that size can make it through.

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    • Jeff says:

      Same thing happened to me with a boxcutter (A BOXCUTTER!) in Nov. of ’03.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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    • Rajat says:

      Something similar happened to a colleague. He flew most weeks to work directly with our customers. One day when I was flying with him, he got help up at security. He had an old lighter he had forgotten about in his backpack. He had been on dozens of flights with that bag and presumably that lighter, yet was not stopped until then.

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  7. Clancy says:

    It’s true. I knew a guy from Tennessee who, on a visit to us up north, remarked “I’ll have another one on them ‘hard donuts'”

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    • Jason says:

      The story in my family is that, as Jews recently relocated from New England to Tennessee in the ’70s, we would have my grandparents bring boxes of supplies – bagels, lox, pickled herring, etc. – from Boston. Once a jar broke in shipping under the plane, and as the box came down the conveyor, every head turned with a “What is that smell?” expression.

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  8. Todd says:

    Why do first-class passengers get a shorter TSA line?
    Are they paying for privileged access to government service?

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