TSA Gets It Right (Sort Of)

Sub-titled “I Fought The Law, And It Was a Draw”

We had a family trip to attend a wedding this weekend, so Michelle and I took the kids for our first real 4-person family trip on planes.  When we arrived at IAD, we entered security through the Dulles Diamond security line.  My wife went through the metal detectors with Catherine and Charlie, and I stayed behind to feed all the bags through the x-ray machines.

We had a bunch of liquids for Charlie, including baby food, medicine, etc.  While I was still feeding stuff through x-ray, two TSA agents were telling Michelle they needed to further inspect the liquids.  Apparently, the supervisor doing the liquid check was being less than pleasant with my daughter.  Those of you who have met my kids know that Catherine has a really pleasant disposition.  I suppose had I been there when the agent decided to get snippy with my daughter, the rest of the visit may not have played out as peacefully as it did.

I got through the nude-a-scope and walked over to join the discussion about our liquids.  Because the baby food was in two ziploc bags, the agent was instructed to open 2 jars of baby food from each bag (a total of 4) by the supervisor.  I asked them why 4, since the last time we had traveled they had tested 1 jar out of the bag.  The supervisor (who I didn’t know was a supervisor yet) told me she couldn’t comment on procedures.  My understanding of the informal regulation here is that items sealed by the manufacturer that are similar are generally okay, and TSA will open one jar to test it’s contents.  But, I had printed out a copy of the relevant info from the TSA website, and it’s specifically vague on this point, so I gave up on this battle knowing full well we’d have to throw out 3 of the jars since we couldn’t refrigerate them at this point.

The supervisor then pulled a 5oz. jar of a special baby lotion for our son, Charles and told us it would need to be discarded because of it’s size.  This time I did reference the TSA regs and pointed out to her the phrasing “medically necessary liquids”.  She said “this is not medicine.”  I pointed to some language on the label of the tube of lotion and she told me, “Sir, you need to step back.”

I then pointed again to the language, but she disagreed.  I then asked for a supervisor.  She said she was the supervisor.  I asked her who her supervisor was, and she again told me she was the supervisor.  For a third time, I asked for her boss.  She radioed for her supervisor and walked away.  Meanwhile, I asked if Michelle and Catherine could go sit down on a bench outside security, and she replied no.  I asked if we could pick up the liquids that had already been cleared to start re-packing them.  Also no.

It took about another 5 minutes for a manager to come down (about 15 minutes total at this point).  This manager was obviously the superior of the floor supervisor I had been talking with.  She was also in TSA uniform.  After about 30 seconds of the two conversing, I walked over to address the manager.  The floor supervisor turned around, stuck her hand out and said, “Sir, you need to step back.”  I was easily 5 feet away from her when this happened.  So, I went back over to stand with the family and the rest of our liquids.  The manager and supervisor walked out into the hallway.

Another TSA agent came over to stand with us.  I’m not sure if he was a supervisor or not, but he had a really great disposition.  Anyway, he immediately said it was okay for my wife and daughter to go sit down on a bench while I stood with the luggage and liquids.  Finally, we were using some common sense.  While my wife was sitting outside, she watched the supervisor discussing the issue with her manager in a very spirited tone.  The supervisor kept saying something along the lines of, “We can’t just make up rules.”  The manager was pointing to a page in her binder, reminding the supervisor that the items were specifically listed in the binder as acceptable.

The floor supervisor came back in, grabbed her bottle of water, and left to go on break.  At this point, nobody knew exactly what to do with us.  It took about another 5 minutes (total of about 30 now), and the manager showed up with another gentleman in a suit.  He was very polite, and both he and the manager said we were good to go, and gave us back the lotion for Charlie.  He was visibly irritated with the performance of the floor supervisor.

Once we got through security, I had a discussion with someone in the AAdmirals Club.  She knew who the guy in the suit was from TSA, and went to have a discussion with him to pass on some of the details that transpired prior to him arriving.

Honestly, I thought I would be more upset, but I’m not.  In my opinion, what ended up happening appeared to be one misguided employee.  Everyone else we encountered either seemed apologetic or accommodating.

In the end, other than the fact that we had to throw out some extra baby food and wasted about 30 minutes, the TSA management got everything right with some polite but firm prodding about their regulations.

TSA gets a bad rap, no doubt.  And, it’s not like this was a perfect experience.  But, I was pleased that I was able to work through the management system to get a response more in line with published guidelines.

About the Author

My goal in life is to fill my family’s passports with stamps, creating buckets of memories along the way. You’ll find me writing about realistic ways for normal people to travel the world, whether you’re on a budget or enjoy luxury. I also enjoy taking us on the occasional detour to explore the inner workings of the travel industry.

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