Gulliver’s Travels…. or My Brush with Death or… My Repeat with the TSA

I love to fly. Flat out. I will take any excuse to do so. I am not a frequent a flyer as those that do so for business, but my passport is full.

This weekend of course, I had the best excuse I could ever have and I was one motivated m’er f’er to get on a plane.

However, divorce, changing my life plans and prepping to once again become a student means I have to do it on the cheap.

So, this weekend it meant driving 160 miles to Atlantic City to catch the flight that gave me the sale price that meant flying 1000 miles would be roughly one third the cost of driving that 160 miles to the airport.

So, my flight left at 7:55am. Which meant boarding at 7:25.

Which of course, means a normal person would leave about 3 am to catch the flight.

But I drive FAST. So, I left at 4:30. Just in time for the first serious snow storm of the year.

But the flight down was fun, and I had a wonderful 2 days (despite my friend being sure I didn’t!!). In fact, for much of the time I was feeling as relaxed and happy as I have been in quite some time.

So here’s the rub. On the way home events started to unfold like a bad Macaulay Culkin movie. I ended up being dropped off at the airport about 8 hours before my scheduled departure.

OK, no prob. I’ll read, do some work on the computer, etc. As it turned out though, I was still so exhausted from my early morning the previous day I really couldn’t, but still everything was hunky dory.

Then, I hit security.

Yes, you remember my last post about airport security.

Now, it’s not that I think the TSA is incompetent but follow this one.

For some reason, despite never having been stopped for my shaving kit, when I was asked (for the first time mind you) if I had any “liquids or creams in containers greater than 3 ounces”, I stupidly answered in the affirmative.

So, I was made to remove them.

With a look of disgust, the TSA officer took my 3 oz tube of crest, Palmer’s cocoa butter moisturizer and The Body Shop Shave cream, and put it in a dish.

He then proceeded to tell me that I could not go through screening area with these.

Why? I inquired. “That is SOP”.

“Explain” queried I, the weary traveler, now a mere 5 1/2 hours early for my flight, but anxiously watching the time tick away.

“Those are the rules” replied my helpful friend, who I had begun to refer to as Shakespeare b/c of his deadpan wit and way with the English language.

Suddenly, the dreaded “supervisor” appeared. Shakespeare told the boss that I had a problem with the “SOP”.

I quickly stated that I had no problem with it, despite my experience with the Secret Service, Mossad and other various agencies around the world and the fact that these little tubes of personal products, happily volunteered, were highly unlikely to be the tools of terrorists, particularly in the destination where the conversation was taking place.

“I only have a problem with the fact that I went through this same line 2 weeks ago with the same items, that I did not voluntarily produce, and no one said anything or stopped me”. “I would just like to know why, Mr. Supervisor?”

“SOP” replied Shakespeare’s literary muse.

“You have to place these items in a 1/2 quart or smaller, resealable, see through plastic bag.”

My frustration reaching a boiling point, I put my shoes back on, packed the laptop up and jammed it into my overstuffed briefcase, put the wallet in the left pocket, keys in the right, change in the back right, replaced my watch carefully on my left wrist, closed my overnighter, careful not to let my liquids come in contact with each other for fear of the inevitable explosion (caught you!!), slung my fleece jacket over the briefcase shoulder strap and lifted my bag before trundling off to find a baggie.

Oh wait, forgot to put my shoes back on. The ones that were purchased specifically so that I would not have to remove them at the airport security check. Everything went down on the floor, the shoes were put back on, and the waltz began again.

Well, I hunted down the rare, and quickly disappearing, clear plastic baggie.

Carefully ripped off 99% of it – that’s right – it was a 50 gallon garbage bag that the kindly porter in the coffee shop provided to me – tied off the top and proceeded to once again meet the Bard.

So, the repeat performance began.

It seemed my “baggie” did not Federal standards for clear plastic baggie reseal-ability. Apparently my hastily hog tied top of the 55 galloner, did not qualify on the carefully codified section of the Transportation Administrations lengthy treatise on the Federal guidelines on ziploc and other qualifying brands of reusable, non bomb making thermo plastic storage devices.

“Why?” I rudely inquired yet again. No real security cares about Crest toothpaste.

“Because we have to be able to see what you have in the bag”.

The screeching of wheels stopping could be heard for miles.

“Excuse me? You mean you have to be able to see the objects that you are currently holding in your hand,… but inside a plastic bag?”

“That’s right”

“So is there some magic bomb diffusing characteristics of the ziploc bag that we mere mortals do not grasp?”

That one, he didn’t appreciate!!

So, once again I put my shoes back on, packed the laptop up and jammed it into my overstuffed briefcase, put the wallet in the left pocket, keys in the right, change in the back right, replaced my watch carefully on my left wrist, closed my overnighter, careful not to let my liquids come in contact with each other for fear of the inevitable explosion (caught you!!), slung my fleece jacket over the briefcase shoulder strap and lifted my bag before trundling off to find a true baggie but with the unique ability to reseal the fissile material contained within.

Thankfully, the kindly old lady at the information booth just happened to have a box of ziploc bagggies for those of us not up to snuff of the TSA guidelines on transporting deadly explosives.

So, once again, I proceeded through the security check.

Should I tell you that now, on the third time through the x ray machine in under 20 minutes they decided that my briefcase was “suspicious”. And that it needed to be wiped down and analyzed with those handi wipes masquerading as mysterious bomb wiping tissues they use?

No, we’ll save that for later.

So up the escalator I proceeded, after having once again, redressed myself, picked up my items, packed everything away and issued a final harumph.

I enter that privileged lair that only those lucky enough to have actually purchased a $13 ticket to Atlantic City were permitted to share.

Almost immediately, I began to hear delay announcements.

Seems that the snow storm I had left, had morphed into fairly violent winds.

Planes were stacked all over the Northeast.

But I did not hear any announcements about the Atlantic City flight. I thought, hoped really, that it was far South enough that it wouldn’t be affected.

Then, as I was approaching my seventh hour in the terminal, I went to the gate to double check.

And there I saw it – my flight, originally scheduled to leave at 8:55 was now delayed (supposedly) until 11:30. Seems wind had so delayed flights that everything was affected. My plane was actually going from Detroit to LaGuardia and then down to my location, before returning to Atlantic City.

Suffice to say, it was actually 12:30 when we took off.

The pilot told us that the flight would be smooth, but that there was turbulence on our descent.

So, when we began our descent the turbulence hit.

But, I have been in turbulence before. This was something special. Not really turbulence since it was not bumpy. Just a mere total loss of control of the plane.

The only way I can describe it is as if we were on ice, and someone was shoving first the back and then the front of the plane.

We were literally sliding around the sky and the pilot was desperately trying to keep us on course.

Now, I have flown to the Middle East literally dozens of times. Once on the very day that a plane was brought down over Nairobi by a SAM. I was on a plane on 9/16/01 to Pakistan for business, but I have never been scared on a plane before.

This, I knew was serious.

We continued the buffeting as the captain desperately tried to bring us down.

As we approached the runway, the wind got even worse, and the plane was sliding off course, then being literally shoved back on line by the captain.

Of course, the cabin looked like a scene from the 1970’s disaster epic Airport. People holding hands, praying, crying, some laughing, and of course the guy next to me sure that the Captain was incompetent and he was cursing him out.

We got lower and lower, struggling to maintain equilibrium.

The pilot raised the nose of the plane and prepared to touch down.

Suddenly the entire plane listed to the right as if the captain was attempting to imitate the Great Waldo Pepper and do a full body roll with an Airbus A-390.

The left wing dipped to almost 45 degrees. The pilot fought it and righted us.

There was now just a matter of the ground, just feet below the speeding plane.

The pilot gunned the engines and attempted to accelerate out of the landing.

Luckily for all of us, he did. I had never been in an aborted landing before.

He brought us back up and we took a scenic tour of the greater Philadelphia area before we were able to turn successfully to try another landing.

This time, the pilot went into the landing at almost full speed with engines racing, to fight our way through the wind.

At this point, the cabin was dead silent.

Once again, the plane slid around, left to right, feeling like nothing more than that horrible moment when you are driving a car and you hit black ice. You first try to stop the skid but then you have that sick moment when you realize that you can’t control the vehicle and you just wait for the inevitable collision with whatever will stop your progress: another car, pole, guard rail.

The captain gunned the engines once more and powered the wheels to the ground. He immediately threw everything into reverse to stop the excessive speed that he had to use to simply fight his way to the ground.

It was now 2 am. My relief at being alive was immediately replaced by worry about the driving conditions and the fact that if I averaged 80 miles an hour with a stop for gas (that means driving between 85-100mph or 140-170kmph) I might make it home by 4 am. And I had to be in Manhattan at 9:30 that morning!!

Well, I made it. The ride home was hairy, but there were no cops and I was able to drive at my freedom, although the wind was vicious still.

Then this morning, it was snowing again on the way into Manhattan.

Whew!! What a trip. Would I do it again? You bet. Not just for the flying, but the treat that I had at the other end of the flight!!!

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