Trip ends on a sour note

Back before it took a lot of nerve and a really efficient face mask, I flew commercially to Florida to see a friend. We spent many happy days together, one of which entailed taking a train (!) to a nearby town to do some shopping. There was a shop that sold nothing except a vast variety of vinegars and oils. I realize we have a shop just like that in Troy. I’ve been there. But when you are on vacation, you are almost obligated to do things that don’t make sense, like parasailing. So I bought three bottles of very tasty flavored vinegar. The nice store people knew a tourist when they saw one. They wrapped my purchases in bubble wrap, then put the swaddled bottles inside a zipped plastic bag. When it was time to pack to come home I placed the double-wrapped bottles inside yet a third bag. When I travel, I put a bright red band around my suitcase. This helps me identify it and also helps hold the bag together when it is being tossed around the cargo hold of an Airbus.

I had a little trouble spotting my bag when I arrived home. It finally dawned on me that the red band was no longer on my luggage. This meant one of two things: either the baggage handlers had had an exceptionally energetic morning or (cue scary music duh-duh-DUH…) the TSA had gone through my bag. I knew which one I was hoping for but, rats, the TSA had indeed opened my bag.

The Transportation Security Administration was created as an agency of the Department of Homeland Security in a glut of bureaucracy after 9/11. One would hope the intentions were good, but you know what they say about good intentions. Survey after survey found that ninety to ninety-five per cent of the tries by undercover federal agents to pass a weapon through TSA checkpoints were successful. Being the proud owner of three artificial joints, I have had numerous encounters with the TSA, some reaching the point of ridiculousness. I go through the metal detector, the alarm goes off, and out comes the wand. The agents ask if I want a private screening. I say no. There is no way I am going into a closed room with a TSA agent armed with a wand. I want witnesses. On one particularly memorable occasion after my first total knee replacement (which was on my left knee), the agent kept waving the wand over my right knee because it kept alarming there. “Are you sure you had your left knee replaced?” she wanted to know. Well first of all, there was a giant scar down the front of my left knee. Clue number one. And anyone who has ever had knee replacement surgery can tell you it is, shall we say, extremely ouchy post-operatively. No sane person would ever confuse their operative knee with their non-operative knee. I assured her it was indeed my left knee that was full of plastic and metal. The scanning went on for some time, the agent waving the wand, the wand peeping, and my getting closer and closer to missing my flight. Finally she stood up with a sheepish grin on her face and confessed she had been running the wand over her own watch the whole time. I tell you, I’ve never felt so safe.

In the latest adventure, I opened my red band-less bag to find the TSA had unwrapped all the vinegar to inspect it. They left me a little love note inside the bag telling me this. What they did not do was re-wrap the bottles in a safe manner. Or any manner at all. I did not need to open my bag to learn all this. You could smell that bag a city block away. It smelled like an explosion at the Newman’s Own salad dressing factory. My clothes were marinating in what would be a fine vinaigrette if only someone had been thoughtful enough to throw a little olive oil in there.

So I filed a claim. The little love note said that was my right. To file a claim. So I did. In February. For the vinegar, the red band, the ruined clothes, and mostly because the whole thing just ticked me off. I had to include my boarding pass, my receipt for the flight, and my receipt for the vinegar. I got a letter back from the TSA on Tuesday. Last Tuesday was in August, you understand. They, and just prepare yourself to be shocked, denied my claim. They said, and I quote, “After careful evaluation of all the evidence, we have determined that there are no legally sustainable ground upon which a finding of liability can be based on the part of TSA.” The letter further stated I could file a suit in the U.S. District Court. The Assistant Director of Management Services and Claims, Financial Management Division signed this letter. She implies someone else removed the red band and tossed it aside, opened my bag, unwrapped the vinegar, and broke the bottles

Maybe, and this is just a helpful suggestion here, the TSA should give up trying to find guns, a task at which they fail miserably, and just try to nab tossed salad terrorists … those people out there with a head of iceberg and the willingness to use it.