This Mama got in Trouble with TSA

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About a month ago my sister bought me a one-way airplane ticket from San Luis Obispo to Reno so Matthias and I could visit her and her family for a week in South Lake Tahoe. We planned for Chris to meet us here for the weekend. Even better, we planned for my sister to watch Matthias for the weekend while Chris and I celebrate our 3 year anniversary alone at my sister’s lake-front timeshare. Killer deal. I have been super amped about this trip for the past month… Up until 2 days before our flight. Then the nerves set in. We have flown with Matthias 3 different times, but this would be the first time I would be doing it alone. Since we were flying out on a Monday afternoon, Chris couldn’t even drive us to the airport to say good bye. I started seriously stressing and over-planning those 2 (each under one hour) flights to my sister’s.

Packing is a big enough stress for me. I have reoccurring dreams any time I am remotely stressed that I have just been told that I am leaving for a trip in a few minutes and need to pack quickly before I miss my flight. Seriously!? The worst dreams ever. Am I the only one? I don’t do many things quickly, and packing is definitely not one of those things. I take my time and thoroughly plan out each detail with multiple lists. I complained to my husband multiple times the night before we left just how much I hate packing. Packing for just me is one thing, but having to pack for a toddler is another. Add a carry-on bag full of items to keep a 16 month old entertained and I am going crazy. What if I forget something? What if I don’t pack enough snacks? What if the iPad battery dies mid Backyardigans episode? All the tragic possibilities.

I had totally been on the wrong track with the possible things that could go wrong on my flying solo with a 16 month old worries. I have read EVERY article ever written about traveling with a baby and toddler. And I am after all a three time veteran. I have it down to a science. Wear baby in the Ergo through security and onto the plane to avoid any mishaps. Best advice. At least on my three other flights I had thought so.

The normal procedure for those who choose to baby-wear through security is the mandatory extra screening of having your hands swabbed by a white, round cloth. The cloth is put into a machine and then you get the okay to continue through to collect your personal belongings. I always have found this to be a pretty ridiculous measure and wondered each time what they were even testing for.

Well lucky me, because I found out exactly what they were looking for on our flight out of San Luis Obispo airport on Monday. As the TSA agent was swabbing my hands, I was commenting to her on how I much prefer having my hands swab to having to take baby boy out of the carrier. I had hardly finished with my sentence when flashing in red on the screen of the machine that was doing the “hand test” were the bold words… You’ll never guess it…

“EXPLOSIVES DETECTED”

I was quickly rushed away into a closed-off room by two female TSA agents after being sternly told to identify my carry-on items. So there I was with baby still in the Ergo, shoeless, not allowed to touch any of my personal belongings in a room alone with two women who seemed a bit baffled at what to do with me. So baffled that they still had communicated basically nothing with me. One of the agents was immediately on the phone with who I can only guess is her TSA supervisor notifying him that explosives had been detected on a white female wearing skinny black jeans, a button-up shirt, and a baby in a sling. (I can imagine that if he had any brain cells he/she giggled at the idea of a baby-wearing mama possibly bringing explosives on a flight… But protocol is protocol I guess.) The other agent at least had the heart to give me that half-“I know this is ridiculous”-smile.

While the agent waited to hear back from her supervisor, she proceeded to explain to me that since explosives had been detected that they were going to have to test ALL of my carry-ons for explosives. Great. All of my carefully packed baby airplane survival kit was soon strewn about the counter as two uniformed women wiped the test strips on every last nook and cranny. Oh and lucky me! Explosives were detected in the bottom of my purse that I had so carefully packed full of my son’s snacks for the flight. I like to store my explosives next to my son’s graham crackers. No one will ever expect that one! (Remember that all of these bags had already been screened through an x-ray scanner prior to being brought into this dark curtained-off-from-the-rest-of-the-world room that seemed to be closing in on me.)

I honestly had to keep mentally reminding myself that I had not packed any explosive materials. They have this way of completely invading your privacy (and personal space, but I’ll get to that later…) that makes you feel like you just might be guilty. So I was still standing there… 10? 15? Minutes later after they had thoroughly inspected and tested all of my carry-on items, including my baby’s umbrella stroller (apparently another brilliant spot to hide explosives) and they still hadn’t heard back on what they were supposed to do with this baby-wearing, possible explosive-smuggling mama. Finally, the one with half a heart pointed out the stroller and tried to communicate to the other TSA agent who obviously is not allowed to think for herself because her supervisor does that for her that we could put the baby in the stroller and let me walk through the security scanner without the carrier on. She ignored her.

Finally her phone rang. He/she doesn’t know yet obviously because he/she has to hear back from his/her brain (aka: superior) on what they should do with me. Finally her phone rang again.

Answers.

She proceeded to tell me that since I tested positive twice for explosives that I would need to submit to a full body pat down. Which meant that I would need to remove my baby, who had been such a good boy this entire ridiculous time that we were shut into this scary dark room. The other TSA agent, who I am pretty certain by now has a whole heart and at least half of a brain once again kindly suggested (again) that we could unfold the stroller and put the baby in it while his mama got frisked. The other agent agreed. So I lugged out the stroller from behind all of my strewn out belongings, unfold it, and removed my sweet boy who was past-due for a nap that I had planned to lull him into once we got through security, and strapped him into the stroller. At this point he was facing away from the rest of the room because I figured he wouldn’t really want to watch his mama get frisked by a strange woman. The TSA agent turned the stroller around and said, “he can look at his mom, he doesn’t have to face the curtain.” I realize she was trying to be semi-nice at this point and there was no use in arguing… Just get this part over with.

She explained what she was going to do to me in detail and thus entered the most uncomfortable 45 seconds of my life. I won’t go into detail… You can look up the protocol of a pat down online yourself.

She communicated that I was all clear and may gather my belongings. She also recommended that I take my baby out of the carrier to go through security next time. I didn’t respond. At this point (and maybe it was the stress, and maybe I am a bit dramatic at times) my head was slightly spinning and my hands were shaking over the events that had just occurred. I quickly gathered up my things and tried to re-pack the bags back to how they had been perfectly organized for our flight. I put the babe back in the carrier where I would have liked for him to have been all along and exited into the waiting room.

Did I mention how small the San Luis Obispo airport is? Security opens only when a flight is about to board, so you wait in a room before security with the small group of 20-30 people that will be on your flight and you wait to board after security in another room with those same people. As I exited the room I looked down to avoid the looks of those waiting in that room who I know had been oh-so-curious about what was happening on the other side of that curtain. I honestly felt ashamed walking out of that room. I had done nothing wrong, yet I felt accused. That feeling sucks. I set down my things and bounced baby to sleep in my beloved Ergo carrier. A few minutes later I gathered my things to board the plane with my sweet sleeping baby and the nicest man whom I will never forget offered to carry my folded umbrella stroller out to the plane for me. My faith in humanity was restored by such a simple gesture. There are nice people out there who offer help (instead of trouble) to an obviously overloaded and stressed-out mom. Thank you, Sir.

Of course I was reminded that I would need to take off my carrier for take-off by the flight attendant as soon as I stepped onto the 12(?) row prop-plane. Another one of those measures that I find rather ridiculous. I plopped down into my seat, kicked all my bags under the seat in front of me, removed the straps of the Ergo to appease the flight attendant and settled into a row (2 whole seats on that prop-plane) all to myself.

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After we took off I asked for some ginger ale (my standard airplane drink) when offered my complimentary beverage. I sipped my ale (of the ginger variety), snuggled my sleeping baby, and dipped my toes into my new favorite book…

One Thousand Gifts.

And I was reminded of my word over this year… Grace. While I was a bit traumatized by this experience, I must offer grace. And amazingly, in that moment, looking back… While my thoughts inside my head were everything that I had shared with you. My actions and words towards them were gracious. Maybe some of this grace-filled living is beginning to sink in! Or maybe I was just too stunned to respond. Either way, on that flight I chose to have grace for those TSA agents who were just doing their jobs. They don’t deserve it… What they did to me sucked. But I don’t deserve grace either… And my heavenly Father has bestowed his favor upon me anyways. Grace. What a beautiful thing.

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Oh and if you are still curious about how I ended up in this situation in the first place… Baby wipes. Yup. I did some research after my flight and glycerin (found in baby wipes and lotions and millions of other products I am guessing) can produce a false positive on the explosives hand swab. Right before we went through security, baby boy had been enjoying a slice of pizza that I had packed for him. Before stowing him away in the Ergo, I had pulled out a baby wipe to wipe pizza sauce off of his face and hands. That baby wipe was the last thing to make contact with my hands before going through security. And now thinking back, I wish they would have tested baby boy’s hands for explosives too. What a hoot that would have been.

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9 thoughts on “This Mama got in Trouble with TSA

  1. More like TSA machines are RIGGED to give false alarms at the press of the button by the TSA screeners anytime they want so they will have a reason to give you a full pat down, detain you against your will, abuse your Constitutional rights, go through all your belongings without a warrant, and treat you like a common criminal!

  2. “TSA agents who were just doing their jobs.” So were the SS Agents at Auschwitz that led the Jews in the oven during Nazi Germany. Let’s have real security and not just the illusion of security. False Positives are a huge problem.
    I propose a return to Airport Security to the level that it was pre-2000. This would include:
    100% elimination of the full body scanners
    100% elimination of the enhanced pat down procedures
    100% elimination of the liquids ban
    100% elimination of taking off of the shoes
    Reduction in security force at airports
    Privatization of airport security – Let the airlines handle their own security
    Allowing people to walk with their friends/ family to the gate at airports prior to departure
    Allowing people to meet their friends/family at the gate upon arrival at commercial airports
    100% elimination of baggege inspection without the person being present.

    Not allowing CBP to confiscate person’s personal property at the border without legitimate cause. A laptop is not a cheap toy and also there are often confidential files on a person’s computer.

    I remember that it was like to travel in the 80s and 90s by air. Today if you have a flight from SVO – JFK America requires Russia to inspect a person’s baggage just like in the USA, but there is one major diffrence. They do it in the presence of the passenger. I think baggage inspection without the passenger being there is wong and should be illegal. That is someone’s personal property. How does it sound when I tell people “Don’t check anything you can’t live without or replace, like an iPad.” This is so wrong. I personally think that airport security should go back to the level it was as in the 80s or 90s when flying was enjoyable.

    • actually another reason to not have the bags inspected out of the sight of the owner in not for what may be taken out but for what might be placed within.

  3. I’m so sorry you had to endure something like that. My daughter flew a short flight with her four-month-old son yesterday, and I was relieved when she only had to go through a metal detector. It’s good that your heart was comforted by grace. I’m glad you put your story up here for others to read, too. Until people read the personal experiences flyers encounter with the TSA, they don’t see how out of hand and absurd the whole security theater has become–particularly since there hasn’t been a single terrorist caught by the TSA since they took over our airports. All they’ve accomplished is the consistent humiliation of innocent people.

  4. This is hilarious and sooo incredibly annoying. They do the same hand swipe thing when I travel with penny…apparently people were stuffing dogs with explosives to sneak onto the plane. So weird and creepy….I’m certain no one would do that to a baby.

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  6. This is why I have not flown anywhere in about thirteen years, and why until the TSA is gone I will not be doing so. There is nowhere I want to go that I can’t drive to, and I’d rather drive one hundred hours than go through the humilition and submission needed to fly for one.

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  8. I’m glad you made this blog because my husband and I were rushing to get through security check and forgot to take our baby out of the carseat and put all his things including his carseat through the scanner. This was our first time flying with our newborn. So anyways, I took him out and carried him. Then, next thing I know, I’m being asked to go through a different body scanner aside from the one everyone else went through. I was the only one who went through it as far as I recall. So I went through it with my boy. Then, the guy asked me to step aside and follow him. He wasn’t so nice about it. Anyways, he took this cloth thing and swabbed my hands. I asked what that was and all he said was if it’s negative you stay. If it’s positive you go. I asked why? He says because the baby can’t travel by himself. (Duh, go figure!) I just chuckled but still, I felt insulted because I had no clue what was going on and was only worried about making it to our flight. So, we sprinted through the terminal just to make our flight. Thanks to the extra screening. Since then, I’ve always wondered why they set me aside when evidently, I’m carrying a baby not a bomb! I felt insulted because I felt like they accused me of looking like a terrorist.

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