My Frenchmen gets grilled at customs on arrival in the USA, but with my American passport I usually glide through security with a warm, welcome home greeting. Oddly enough, I have more trouble getting out of the country.
On one return trip to Switzerland, I was halted for bringing a tube of nutritional gel in my carry on luggage. Another time, Delta airline personnel stopped me at the boarding gate after checking my passport.
« M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. »
And so I learned you cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration.
Everyone knows that firearms, liquids, or scissors are forbidden aboard, but did you know that you may carry on antlers, artificial skeletal bones and air mattresses with built-in pumps? (see rules here)
I would also suggest do not wear dark glasses no matter how light-sensitive you are. Do not wear layers. The more you put on the more has to come off. Do not carry anything in pockets.
After waiting my turn at security, I stepped into the full body scanner and the TSA official insisted, “Empty your pockets.”
I pulled out my prescription sunglasses and Swiss residency papers. When she told me to raise my arms, a Swiss bill fell from the papers and I instinctively tried to grab it. Big no no.
“Do not move arms in the scanner,” she explained as she goosed me. “On the scan, it looks like you are trying to hide something.”
After the pat-down, the agent swabbed my fingertips with a blue tissue to detect explosives. An alarm went off again.
“Security check female passenger, “ she radioed backup into her armpit.
“Please step aside. Come with me. Bring your belongings.”
So as trays flew by on the conveyor belt, I scrambled to collect carry on possessions – Kindle, computer, tennis shoes, jacket, mittens, back brace, neck pillow, eye mask, and an ounce of toothpaste, body lotion, and lip balm in a quart sized plastic bag.
“Do you wear any medical devices?” another TSA official asked.
“Do toe inserts count?”
Apparently so. Off with socks. Out with my individually designed silicone toe separators.
While impatient passengers stared, I stood with my arms out at the sides, as another official felt me up again.
Some folks would be offended by such a rigorous investigation, but I commend the TSA and US Department of Homeland Security for doing their job well.
In the past, as an international traveler, I waited 6 hours with a team for a connecting flight in the Brussels airport, a week before the bombing. On the tarmac in Athens, I evacuated a plane due to a suspicious package and in a terminal in Paris I saw a bomb squad detonate an abandoned piece of luggage.
I am grateful for our security officials. Throughout my interrogation, the St. Paul/Minneapolis Airport officials remained polite, professional and patient.
I will gladly strip down to my skivvies and stand spread eagle if it helps keep our skies safe. Some consider it a violation of rights; I see it as assurance to travel freely in a society where so much has gone wrong.
Kudos to our TSA workers.
How many of us would be dedicated enough to frisk, irate strangers in overcrowded holiday airports without pay during a government shut down?