After all the fuss in the UK last week about terrorists toting Gatorade bottles, we faced our return flight to Italy with some trepidation. Not because we were afraid of being blown up, but because the “enhanced security measures” widely reported in the media promised hours in line waiting to be pawed over by TSA agents of questionable competence, for no increase in our actual safety.
I worried a great deal about how to pack. Not what to pack, because I didn’t have much choice about that – we had arrived in the US with two iPods, a laptop, and a digital still camera. Once there, we picked up my videocamera (which had been sent for repairs), and Ross got a new digital SLR for her birthday. Everything else might be expendable, but I was damned if I was going to pack a brand-new and expensive camera in checked luggage. And we had done a lot of other shopping, so our two large suitcases were already bulging (and tempting).
I checked the TSA and airline sites daily, and was relieved to see the former being frequently updated with new information. By a day or two before departure, it was clear that, as far as TSA was concerned, I needn’t worry about carrying on the electronics. But I still stressed about it, wondering if overzealous airline staff might give me a hard time – US Airways’ site had not been updated after the first day of fear, so I had no way of knowing if their policies had changed.
I was relieved to find that the new suitcase locks I had bought were TSA-friendly (meaning that security agents have keys to open them). Normally I prefer to use non-TSA locks and accompany the bags myself through the initial scan, but, under the circumstances, I didn’t want to give anybody any excuses to get paranoid about my luggage.
We flew from Baltimore BWI to Philadelphia to Milan last Thursday. On the advice of US Airways, we arrived at BWI three hours ahead of flight time – which turned out to be totally unnecessary. Check-in was smooth, once I had figured out that I was supposed to do it myself on a touch screen terminal – I guess this is increasingly common in the US, but it’s still fairly new to me. Then it took the agent a while to figure out how to ring up our $100 charge for overweight luggage. In light of everyone emptying their usually heavy carry-ons (on advice of TSA and the media), it would have been a nice gesture on the part of the airline to add a little to the checked baggage weight allowance (though my own suitcases were heavy for other reasons).
We dutifully drank our bottles of orange juice before heading into security. First stop was an air-puff bomb sniffing machine, then the usual “everything off/out” x-ray and metal dectector. The line was minimal, the TSA staff efficient and seemingly competent. We ended up with way too much time to hang around in the terminal (and then the flight was late).
My large new backpack contained my laptop, videocamera, still camera, books, non-liquid toiletries, and iPod. In addition, I was carrying a nearly-empty purse, for easy access to my wallet, tickets, passports, etc. Weirdly, it was the purse they decided to swab for bomb-making chemicals. The TSA agent apologized for the delay and said it was “something about the way things were laying in it.” Possibly the metal coil on a small spiral-bound notebook had looked strange on the x-ray.
At the gate there were recorded announcements that you couldn’t take liquids etc. on the plane, but no one was actually looking at bags, so I could easily have gotten away with buying something in the terminal and carrying it on.
We had a three-hour layover in Philadelphia – plenty of time for a security check which we didn’t actually go through. Depending on what terminal you switch to in any given airport, you may or may not have to go through security again when transiting between flights. We had gone through security in Philadelphia on the way in, but didn’t on the way out.
At the gates, again there was a recorded announcement about liquids, but no actual check. I noticed that duty-free bags were being handed over at the plane door. Though I did not look closely at what was in them, some of it may have been cream-type cosmetics. I guess this is okay if you receive it at the door and it’s in a sealed package, though I wouldn’t absolutely rely on this, and would not myself risk buying expensive cosmetics in the duty-free just now.
I usually like a strong finish on my articles, but perhaps it’s best that I refrain from any flippant remarks about how easily anyone with half a brain could circumvent all this “security.” In America these days, you never know who’s reading your mail…