For years I’ve been a self-described “semi-frequent flyer.” That is, someone who travels just enough to almost make status, but ultimately fall short. Certainly, individual definitions of frequent and semi-frequent will vary, but that’s not the point. Recently, due to a promotion at work, I’m more keen on labeling myself a bona-fide “frequent flyer” now, having low-level status with two airlines.
As I’m spending more time at the airport I’ve learned a simple rule regarding the TSA: With the TSA, expect the unexpected. I have my fair share of stories; the time in Phoenix when I was waved into the Pre-Check line as a non-pre-check, non-premium customer only to stand around and wait as both explosives detection machines were calibrated at the same time. Or, the story about how at 4:30 AM on a Saturday I snapped this terrible photo of a non-existent security line at Kansas City International only to have a First Line (In KC TSA is contracted out to a vendor: First Line) officer in my face, chests touching, ready to fight for “taking his picture.”
And to be clear, the TSA and their First Line contractors here in Kansas City, MO are all human. Mistakes are made, and that’s just the way things go. But these irregularities could never have prepared me for the most recent, almost comical incident I experienced on a trip from KC to San Antonio.
As an avid photographer, and someone who values convenience, I often check a bag so I can lug all of my photography equipment aboard. Call me a kettle, that’s fine. In my checked bag, like any other day, were my toiletries in a carry-on friendly zip-lock bag. The at-airport experience was standard, no issues. It wasn’t until arriving at my hotel late that night that I realized something odd had transpired.
When I opened my bag to unpack the basics I noticed that my zip-lock bag had been emptied into the side compartment where it was stored. Tucked neatly in the compartment was a notice of inspection. The head to my standard cartridge razor had been popped off, into the compartment, but the handle was nowhere to be found– The razor (and replacements) were left, but the inert handle was gone.
Confused, as I had traveled with this set a number of times in the past, I tweeted the manufacturer, @Harrys to ask them if they’d heard of similar occurrences. They too were surprised, said to their knowledge it hadn’t happened to others, assured me their products were TSA-compliant for checked and carry-on bags, and gracefully offered to replace the handle.
Did my razor handle pose some sort of a threat to national security? Curious, I had to ask. I reached out to the TSA and was put in contact with Sari Koshetz, TSA spokesperson for a number of states, including Missouri. After explaining the situation, Sari had this to say:
“Your razor handle is not a prohibited item. It may have been misplaced by the contract screening company First Line during a search for an item that did cause our EDS machines to alarm. We do apologize for this inconvenience and please do file a claim if you wish to be reimbursed.”
All of this reminds me of a story I heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition recently in which Mathematician David Hand explains to us that we, indeed, should expect the unexpected and not be surprised or terribly off put by it.
I can’t be too hard on the TSA – they put up with a frustrated and often irate public for a wage that doesn’t seem fitting of the duties. With the sheer volume they handle, mishaps are bound to happen. I don’t necessarily agree that they are helpful to national security, but this isn’t the right forum for that discussion. Instead, I look back to the time that, for whatever reason, my shaver handle disappeared and as a result I went to a meeting the next morning with a five-o’clock shadow and an excellent story to go with it.