A little detour through the police state

A little detour through the police state

It’s getting to the point that traveling by air between two cities in this great, democratic republic of ours requires a brief detour through a police state called “TSA”.

I don’t mind security rules that prevent terrorists from hijacking planes. In fact, I wish they’d use security measures that actually worked instead of the pseudo-security that gives the appearance of deterrence without providing it.

Today’s example: A Boston family flying from Chicago to Manchester, NH, decides to stock up on baby food for the flight, keeping mind lurid tales of hours trapped in airliners on runways as well as the unpredictability of winter air travel. TSA guidelines allow an exception to the “no liquids” rule and let you to carry on a “reasonable quantity” of baby food, but do not provide any specific limit.

The family has about one-third of their child’s food confiscated by a TSA screener because the screener and his supervisor thought it was “unreasonable.” Unbelievable.

According to Dr. Soni, the T.S.A. officers said they would need a “doctor’s note” to bring on all of the food. He said he pointed out that he and his wife were doctors, and then offered to get a pediatrician colleague on the phone. [This was not acceptable, evidently.]

The sensible thing to do in this kind of situation is to file your complaint and move on to make your flight, which is what Dr. Soni said he and his wife did.

The T.S.A. officers confiscated some of the food. “They divided it up. They took a jar of prunes and one of bananas, and I think a bottle of formula,” he said.

This is what really bugs me. The only security-related reason to set a limit on how much food one can bring on the plane is because the TSA thinks a terrorist might be trying to smuggle a weapon disguised as food. So at the point they’re confiscating the food, they must suspect this is not food but a weapon. So why would you allow any of the food on board?

On the other hand, if you’re merely a bureaucrat arbitrarily enforcing a rule, then you are satisfied by the act of bringing them into compliance with the rule, regardless of the ongoing threat. That’s someone else’s problem.

If this little family had in fact been a terror cell in disguise, it looks like the screeners left them with enough “materials” to cause a lot of damage to plane, if not take it down entirely. Happily this family was exactly what it seems and the true victims here are the child whose food was taken, the parents who were embarrassed, and the rest of the flying public who must walk through TSA checkpoints with carefully neutral expressions, carefully watching our step and our words, lest we be singled out for search and/or seizure, maybe making us miss our flights, at best, or in jail on trumped-up charges, at worst.

Ironically, I think this is one area where conservatives, liberals, and libertarians can all agree: Airport security is a danger to our civil liberties, to the airline industry, and to our homeland security. Probably more of a danger than to terrorists themselves.

And now if I end up on a no-fly watch list, it will just be an object lesson in what I’ve just written.


  • I liked how it took me an extra 20 minutes to get through because my one-and-a-half year old whom I was holding had a ticket with an Irish name that was flagged.  How long does it take to determine a one-and-a-half year old has little chance of being a bad guy?  (Have any Irish taken down airplanes anywhere?)  All that waiting didn’t make me feel more secure; it made me feel they were inefficient.  How inspiring.