I recently went on a business trip, which, unfortunately, involved interaction with the U.S. commercial aviation system. If you fly, I don’t have to tell you how pure-T miserable the experience has become. But this trip included a lagniappe.
I was flying back from … well, I won’t say, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. The important thing is that I had in my suitcase a box of the small Flip brand video cameras that we use in our work. The TSA at airports usually gets very interested in them, because on X-ray they and their accessories look like, well, a bunch of small, rectangular things with wires and batteries. In other words, awfully like a bomb.
So I wasn’t terribly surprised when they opened up my suitcase and took out the box, and then opened the box and emptied it completely. That had happened before. They emptied my suitcase completely, too, and checked everything for explosive residue. Finding none, they repacked it all (or so I thought), and my flight went on uncomfortably but uneventfully.
Only when I got home did I discover that one of the cameras was missing. I had counted them before we left the client’s offices, and they had all been there. I called the client to be sure; no camera there. But I was definitely one short. The only thing I could figure was that when TSA tossed my suitcase, they’d taken out all the cameras and somehow failed to put one back in the box.
TSA actually has a lost-and-found page you can check for numbers to call if you’ve lost something, so I called. After a bit of phone tag, I got a supervisor who asked about my flight, date, time, airport, and so forth, and said he could pull the video of the search and also check with that airport’s TSA folks to see if the camera had turned up. When he called me back, long story short, neither his colleagues nor the video had had any useful info. In fact, he said, the video appeared to show that everything taken out of that box had, indeed, been put back in.
“Did you gate-check your bag?” he asked me.
Well, yes, I did. Because on most domestic flights, the overhead bins fill up well before the seats do, so I pretty much had to. I suppose I could check my bag, but, particularly on a flight with connections, as surely as I do, my luggage will get lost (with the cameras in the suitcase) and I’ll arrive at a client’s unable to do what we’re being paid to do. So if I don’t want to check my bag, principles of Newtonian physics dictate that I inevitably have to gate-check it.
And that’s the thing, the supervisor said. There was a time there after you gate-checked your bag where your bag was unattended. Maybe, he said, that’s when the camera disappeared.
Never mind the implausibility of someone opening the suitcase AND opening the box inside and just taking one camera, rather than simply snatching the whole box (smaller than a shoebox, though much heavier).
“So you’re saying that my bag was unattended during gate-check and so somebody opened it up and stole the camera then?” I said. “Does it bother you at all that if someone could have done that, they also could have put an explosive device in the bag and blown the plane out of the sky?”
“I know,” was all he said. “I know.” Over and over. “I know.”
We as a nation have spent an ungodly amount of money since 9/11 on making sure American commercial aviation is as safe as it can be — or so we’re told. But apparently it’s still possible for someone to steal a camera from — or place explosives within — a bag that has been checked and is supposedly being supervised. And I got that straight from a TSA supervisor.
Enjoy your next flight. I know I will.