Becca Jane St Clair

Personal Blog

How The TSA Stole Christmas

I flew back to the UK from the US on Christmas Eve so I would arrive back in the UK to spend Christmas Day with my husband. My aunt gave me two small containers of Christmas cookies before I left – one was a small round tin filled with about a dozen and a half peanut butter cookies, and the other with some of my favourite cookie of all time, pinwheels. Since she packed the containers tight I packed them into my checked bag along with loads of Christmas presents for other people, including 6 packets of a McCormick Buffalo wing mix my FIL likes and some peppermint Hershey Kisses, so my bag smelled pretty interesting.

I checked my bags in Philadelphia and headed to security. Security in Philly was a LOT tighter than it was in London*. In Philly I was required to remove my laptop from it’s protective case, remove my kindle from it’s case, and remove my shoes. Oh, and could I step to the side even though the metal detector didn’t ping for a personal pat down?

Yeah. Don’t wear a dress when travelling through Philly or they will have to give you a pat down. Fortunately, there wasn’t many people present and the woman doing my pat down was very apologetic and explained to me that it was required because a dress/skirt doesn’t show the contours of your body so they have to pat you down. Nice. Here I thought I was making it easier by not wearing trousers that might have bits of metal all over them. The agent patting me down did not touch me above the waist, did not pat down my rear, and did not pat higher than mid-thigh. I thought the whole idea of the pat down was to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything? Not that I’m complaining. It just all seemed pointless, especially considering my dress was fairly form fitting to begin with and the fabric was clinging to my tights. I wonder what happens to people who go through wearing baggy clothing. Soon we will have to fly wearing form-fitted bodysuits.

Funny enough, I went through security with my 1-QT bag of liquids and yet in the bottom of my carry-on I later discovered two items that had fallen out – a small container of hand sanitizer and a breath spray, neither of which were detected by their machines. I also had a packet of mustard my mom stuck in the bag with the lunch she packed for me and that didn’t get flagged, either.

First trauma over, I headed on my merry way to the gate, boarded my flight, and was soon landing in London (LHR). The UKBA was on the ball and I didn’t even have to answer any questions on my return to the UK, she just told me “welcome back” and stamped my passport on the page opposite my spousal visa (unlike when I landed in the US!**).

I noticed the “cleared by TSA” sticker on the outside of my suitcase and found the “Notice of Baggage Inspection” buried inside as soon as I got home. I didn’t really think anything of it and assumed the combination of the peppermint Hershey Kisses and the Buffalo wing spice caught the attention of the baggage inspector. But it wasn’t until this morning that I discovered something was wrong with my luggage.

As I mentioned above, my aunt sent me home with two small containers of homemade cookies. The first container was a square vintage Tupperware container that contained my beloved Pinwheels. No problems there. The second container was a small tin she was re-using that contained some peanut butter cookies. When I opened the tin this morning, I discovered HALF MY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES WERE GONE, and the remaining cookies were broken and crumbled due to being shaken around the half empty tin.

I am NOTimpressed. Thank you, TSA agent for stealing my little bit of a homemade Christmas. I hope you were allergic to nuts.

*Security in London consisted of taking my laptop out of the bag but not the case, having my kindle out (but in it’s case), and I was able to keep my shoes and cardigan on.

**Oh, this is great, too. When I got up to the desk at US Immigration I was GRILLED by the agent. Excuse me, but isn’t it the right of an American Citizen to be able to freely leave and return to the US? No? I got asked when I was last in the US (I was vague and said “about two years ago”, why I moved to the UK, why I was returning to the US, who I was staying with in the US, and the best one? When was I leaving the US. Again, I thought American Citizens are allowed to stay in the US for as long as they’d like. Apparently not. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I didn’t get a time limit visa stamped in my passport!

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4 Comments so far

  1. Ruckus December 29th, 2011 21:11

    I’ve had similar(worse?) treatment from the border patrol upon re-entering from Canada after 2 1/2 days traveling there. This was in 1992 so I don’t think your experience is in any way new or different. Unfortunate though, that citizens are made to feel like criminals for no reason. Well actually there is a reason, just not a reasonable one. And it is, why in the world would you want to travel to or live in any of the 90% of the planet that is not america?

  2. Rebecca December 29th, 2011 21:16

    I never had any problem with the Canadian border on either side, and this was the only time I got seriously questioned upon re-entry from being international….not even on re-entry from a Caribbean cruise that stopped in Jamaica!

    Though I suppose this had been the longest I’ve been out of the US…*shrug* He really liked looking at my UKBA issued visa, too.

  3. Chris December 30th, 2011 4:09

    1. The laptop, shoes, etc. stuff has been going on for years in the US. If Philly was never strict on it before when you were going back and forth, poo on them, because they were supposed to be.

    2. Last I knew, you weren’t supposed to fly with homemade goods, or really ANY food of any sort. So while them going through the cookies is totally not cool, having that metal container was not a smart move – they couldn’t determine what it was during X-ray and is why it was flagged for a physical check.

    Sorry you had to go through this, and I would issue a complaint about the food being gone, but I wouldn’t expect it to go anywhere.

  4. Rebecca January 13th, 2012 12:24

    (sorry this has taken so long to reply to!)

    1 – It didn’t bother me, so much as I found it interesting how easy it was getting through London compared to Philly

    2 – I’ve never known those restrictions. Tim flew back to the UK with wedding cake after our wedding in 2009, and my mom brought me the same cookies in Dec 2010. If the issue was with the metal tin I could understand opening my case to look at it, even opening the cookie tin to see what it was, but to eat half of them?!

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