My wife, 9-month-old son and I recently flew up to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and had a great two days checking out the city and staying at the stylish Thompson Seattle. On our way back to Los Angeles, we had an encounter going through security unlike anything we’ve ever seen before…and we’ve taken over 50 flights a year for the past 10 years as a couple!
When we arrived at SeaTac Airport, we used our CLEAR membership, which allows TSA PreCheck users to essentially cut the TSA PreCheck line. There was no line but since we had just become members a few days earlier, we wanted to use it to get more familiar with it. The only problem was that the TSA PreCheck lane was actually closed. I’m assuming this was because it was 2:30pm on a Thursday and not a lot of business travelers were using it at that time. But we were given a red pass so we didn’t have to take our shoes off or go through the millimeter wave scanner, but we did have to take our laptops and liquids out. Otherwise, we just had to the walk through the metal detector.
I’m so used to not taking my liquids out with TSA PreCheck that I forgot about Jack’s oversized eczema cream that was in my bag, so it was rightly flagged. The agent first tried to tell me it wasn’t allowed because it was oversized but as soon as I told him it was my child’s cream for medical purposes and he could see this on the side of the container, he realized it had to be allowed as long as he tested it. He said, “Well, you either have to give it up or get a full-on pat-down and thorough bag check.” I said, “He needs his cream and I’m not in a hurry.”
The agent then started giving me attitude since I wasn’t in a hurry like most other travelers and I don’t think he wanted to take the time to do the pat-down and bag search. I don’t really blame him. He told me it was going to take at least five minutes, and I said it was okay and to do what he had to do. As he started patting me down, I learned my wife’s belongings were also flagged. It turns out she put the baby food in the same bin as her laptop and her agent said that was a big no-no. She gave Natalie attitude for not knowing that the baby food had to go in its own bin.
When my agent really started to go on a power trip, I tossed Natalie my phone and asked her to record my pat down. That didn’t make the agent happy. He turned his back to the camera and called for his supervisor who was a nice guy but knew I had the right to record. However, I didn’t want to be a jerk so I stopped.
Supposedly, my phone tested for some kind of chemical and set off their alarm. And because Natalie touched it and her unopened bottles of baby food tested positive too, they said they had to call in—get this—the Explosives Unit! I thought it was a joke and I was on some kind of Candid Camera show but sadly, it wasn’t.
It took the two Explosives Unit agents a few minutes to get there and I could tell that Natalie was starting to get really worried. Jack was starting to cry because he sensed her fear and he hadn’t liked seeing his mother get a pat-down. I wasn’t worried at all but Natalie later told me she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.
Fortunately, she was immediately put at ease by the Explosives Unit agent who really couldn’t have been any nicer and probably sensed it was a false positive when he saw us. He had everything tested and run through the X-ray again, and had our carry-on bags hand searched. The whole process took at least 30 minutes but it felt longer and I felt bad because it was such a waste of taxpayers’ money. The security line was getting really long and those who had their bags flagged had to wait for us.
My takeaways about going through security with baby food are:
- Don’t put baby food in the same bin as your laptop.
- Try not to have more than 3.4 ounces of cream but know that if it’s for medical purposes, you can have more.
- Show up to the airport extra early, just in case you get flagged.
- Be polite to the agents but if they question the amount of food or medicine you’re traveling with, ask for a supervisor. Many agents don’t know the rules but most supervisors do.
Bottom line: It was an unfortunate incident but it was a great learning experience for me. As anyone who has ever met my wife knows, she is possibly the nicest person in the world and I’m a nice guy too, but unlike my wife, I will give attitude back if provoked.
I’ve heard from my friends on Facebook (where I first posted about what happened) that SeaTac is known for having overzealous TSA agents. Do you agree? Have you ever had the Explosives Unit called in? Any other tips I should add?
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