I love to fly, but am a fair weather pilot, a necessity brought about by my flying under Light Sport Rules which limit me to daylight hours in, well, fair weather. It should be no surprise that I would jump at the opportunity to grab the right seat in a beautiful airplane, a twin engined Beechcraft Duke, with a good friend and super pilot, John Purifoy, a senior Captain who flies for American Airlines. My thrill was compounded by the prospect of starting the flight in solid instrument flight conditions on a day where driving to the airport in a car was a bit iffy. The plan was simple. John was flying through Springfield on his was from Illinois to Dallas, and I joined him for the continuation of his trip. After landing, I planned to hop on an AA Eagle and return to Springfield later that day. Little did I realize that such a simple plan could be disrupted by a lapse in preparation, entirely of my own doing, which resulted in my introduction to new friends in the form of TSA agents and a couple of Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport police officers. My friends and family have enjoyed a good laugh since then, but at the time it was anything but funny. Let me explain.
The Dallas/Ft. Worth airport is a big airport. The drive from Meachem field to this airport was carefully planned to allow just enough time to stop for a Texas Bar-b-cue sandwich in a little hideaway restaurant that is frequented by pilots and the local working establishment, before dashing into the airport, clearing the TSA security check and making it to the gate with a half hour to spare. I found myself in a long line of folks, many of which had less time than I, to be screened for a list of prohibited items that most of us know about, such as knives, guns and other stuff that could be used to disrupt the flight. Before leaving Springfield, I was careful to remove my handgun from my backpack and leave my pocket knife on the desk. I did not want the folks in Dallas to think I was a rube, just out of the hills, enjoying my first experience in a big airport. As the line moved forward, I was required to remove my I-Pad and place it in a tray, my shoes went into a second tray and the backpack into yet another tray to be scanned while I walked through the magnetometer. My concern at this point was the large number of travelers behind me, many of which were nervously scanning their watches in an effort to freeze time and make it to their flight on time. As my backpack went into the scanner, the conveyer suddenly stopped and the TSA agent in a bell clear and loud voice shouted, “I need a supervisor”. I could hear the collective groans of the people behind me as 3 additional agents joined the agent operating the scanning device and they began looking for the owner of the backpack. I love my Fry backpack, crafted out of fine leather with perfect compartments for my cellphone and tablet, but at that moment sincerely wanted it to belong to anyone but me. At this point a TSA agent asked me if I had the pistol that went with the “clip” that was in my bag. I assured him that I did not, and mentioned that I had just walked through the magnetometer. He was in no mood for an explanation of how those devices work.
The people behind me were gradually transforming from a gaggle of tired, time pressed travelers into a lynch mob, and I began to fear for my safety. No problem as shortly thereafter, two police officers walked up and began eyeing me in the same fashion that I have eyed folks for nearly thirty years, in an effort to make the distinction between my being either brain dead or intent on some bad act. By now you have deduced that in my haste to render my backpack ready for travel, I had failed to locate and remove a spare .380 magazine that was buried somewhere in one of the compartments. I plead brain dead to the officers, introduced myself to them and after checking my retired ID and concealed-carry permit, they told the TSA guys that I was okay and to just process the event as usual. This is where the wheels came off.
TSA insisted on photographing the image on the scanning device before the backpack was removed. They produced a small camera, took several pictures and removed the bag where it then was THOROUGHLY searched. In a small canvas bag that I use to keep Advil, antacids and such, they found a set of nail clippers that also had a very small 1’’ folding blade attached. The clippers have joined the “clip” in the box of contraband the TSA uses to to publicize their efficiency from time to time. When I pointed out to one of the now 6 agents surrounding me that the clip was actually a magazine, he was not impressed with my knowledge of gun etiquette. Finally, I was taken to a desk, where another agent photographed the magazine again, along with my driver’s license and concealed/carry permit. I was not photographed in this process, and was released, with my backpack, just in time to hustle to my gate and visit with a nice AA agent about the next available flight to Springfield. I was finally able to make it onto a later flight and be on my way.
I needed the Advil to assuage a by now pounding headache brought about by sharing terminal space with a number of other passengers who missed their flights as a result of my misadventure. I found myself apologizing to everyone that cast a disparaging eye as I sheepishly made my way to a Starbucks for a double shot of caffeine. I did not want to fall asleep and be strangled with the straps on my backpack. My friend, the Captain, having already cleared security ahead of me, was sitting on the “other” side of the security area, watching, smiling and holding onto a bag of popcorn as I was enjoying being the center of attention. On the way to the airport, we ran a checklist of items that I could not clear security with, but our checklist did not include magazines and bullets. Who carries magazines without guns? Rubes from the hills……..
The takeaway from all of this? I do not fault TSA for their diligence and they were polite enough considering the circumstances. I do recommend they streamline the process following the discovery of contraband to insure the mitigation of inconvenience to those travelers behind the offender. The delay to the folks behind me was entirely avoidable and totally unnecessary. I likely will receive an admonishment from the TSA, could be fined and my name has probably been forwarded to the IRS as my identity as a “gun toting conservative” has been established.
When your backpack, briefcase, etc., is in the scanner, and you hear, “I need a supervisor”, steel yourself. You are about to become the center of attention!