Friday, February 6, 2015

Travel Horror Story

It's Gonna Be a Good Travel Day
When the Jet Arrives on Time

Traveling can be as much fun as it can be frustrating. When the jet arrives at the gate on time--it is generally a good travel day, but sometimes we may not be at the gate to take our jet.  The real challenge in traveling is successfully clearing airport security and the TSA checks which are done to ensure our safety as we board and travel to our destination. The TSA agents wield a lot of power and I respect them and the job they do to keep me safe. But as with every profession, there are some bad apples out there who can make a good day go bad very quickly.

The story, as told by Ronnie Polaneczky a Daily News Columnist in his article titled, Innocent frequent flier detained after run-in with TSA, is about what happened to frequent flier Roger Vanderklok, a Philadelphia architect and marathoner, who was detained, arrested, and arraigned on false charges after requesting a form to file a complaint regarding his treatment during a prolonged investigation of his carryon baggage during January 2013 in Philadelphia.

I have known for a very long time that TSA agents have a minimal sense of humor, but I always wish them a nice day when I travel for  a couple of reasons. First, I appreciate what they do and frankly, I'm not sure I could do that jobs every single day. Second, I truly hope they have a good day because if they are having a good day, then most likely I will also have a good day of flying. 

Vanderklok was in a difficult situation.

On this day, he was headed to Miami. In his carry-on bag was a packet of PowerBars and a heart-monitoring watch. When the bag went through the X-ray scanner, the items looked suspicious to a TSA agent whom Kieser supervises.

For the next 30 minutes, screeners checked the bag several times. Vanderklok told them that a tube-shaped case in the bag contained his watch. Then he was asked if his bag contained "organic matter." Vanderklok said no, as he thought "organic matter" meant fruits or vegetables.

PowerBars, which contain milk, grain and sugar, are considered "organic matter" and can resemble a common explosive. Terrorists often use a small electronic device, like a watch, to detonate the explosive. Hence the agent's concern.

Sometimes, when I travel simple things do not make sense. I think it is because I am out of my normal routine and struggling to retain a sense of normalcy. I remember being in Chicago returning from an overseas trip having been awake for the better part of 20 hours and the security agent asked me to "step up." There were no stairs and I was operating in a total literal mode at that point and just could not understand what he meant by asking me to "step up." Fortunately, he probably saw I was exhausted and through his patient repeating of the command I finally understood he meant to "move forward."

Vanderklok had a similar problem when the agents asked him about organic matter and he didn't realize the complete definition of organic matter includes, believe it or not, power bars. 

It was at this point that the situation got serious with Vanderklok missing his plane, being arrested, detained, and charged with a crime. There is also the part where one of the TSA agents is allegedly less than truthful in the situation when his story is compared against the videotape of the incident. It might be easy to suggest the story has a happy ending--but in reality the lost time and money spent on attorney's fees can never really be recovered.

My take away from the story is that when traveling, always be nice to the TSA agents and if I want to file a complaint--I will do it afterwards via an online resource.

So far I have been fortunate and all of my TSA interactions have been professional and positive. I hope to keep it that way.

Happy Flying!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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