I’m so grateful that the folks at Delta and the TSA worked on a US holiday so that my husband and I could travel to Ecuador. Really, I am.
However, I am not grateful for the silly policies that make traveling out of the US these days more work than necessary.
Let’s start with that one bag policy at Delta. They allow each of us to have one piece of luggage at fifty pounds, which would be easy if we didn’t have to shove
everything that is a liquid in that one bag or bring any gifts to people we love abroad. We checked the weight of our two bags at home prior to putting in our shampoos and gifts, yet forgot to check after adding the necessary liquid items and gifts. That was our downfall, because we were now sixteen pounds overweight in one bag and underweight in the second. Instead of Delta checking both our bags’ weights at the same time, they sent the underweight one through and we had to get it back to move sixteen pounds out of it.
That little exercise took more time than the taxi ride to the airport.
In case you’re wondering, most items in the bag that we think of as “heavy” weigh about a half pound. Figuring out the right combo of what to take out to get the weight balanced was like one of those reality show challenges – you’re on an island and have to gain immunity to get through the next hurdle – and you are sweating and uncomfortable…and hungry. But we did it – we managed to get fifty pounds exactly in each bag. I asked the agent at the desk if we got a prize for figuring that one out. I was anticipating confetti and balloons. Her answer was a smile and a no, but ok, we were on our way.
Or so we thought.
As we stepped through to the TSA line, I realized that the carefully packed bottle of fig vinegar and small six small bottles of vinegar were not in the main luggage, but in my hand.
Liquid containers were IN MY HAND. TSA was not going to be pleased. (Insert expletive here.)
I was going to have to give up my vinegar, but not without a fight. It was a gift for my friend, Becca, who has been a tremendous help to us. She even visited potential apartments for us and providing tons of information to ensure that we have a smooth landing in Cuenca. I remember living abroad twice and missing some very random piece of home that meant so much – and for Becca this week it was fig flavored vinegar. That vinegar was going to get into her hands. I was determined!
My strategy was to practice the fine art of distraction. I always opt out of the TSA scanner because I don’t believe that it is safe or necessary for the government to run me through a machine. I always ask them to hand check my health supplements because I don’t want to ingest anything that has been through – as they put it – “low level radiation”. It always takes longer, but to me, it is a necessity. I was hoping that my bag full of vitamins would distract the TSA from my contraband vinegar.
It did not.
Thankfully, it was very quiet at the airport because it was Thanksgiving. We arrived nearly three hours before our flight so we had plenty of time to deal with what we now jokingly call “the vinegar fiasco”.
I was escorted by TSA back to the Delta counter to see if they could help me repack the vinegar bottle into our perfectly balanced 50 pound bags. Delta had to recall one of our bags for a second time and agreed to put the vinegar in without charging an overage for the two pounds. Phew!
Now, I had a six pack of small vinegar bottles to contend with. They were small enough to pass the regulations to bring on the plane, but they were not in the TSA required plastic bag. TSA directed me to the information desk downstairs to get free bags for the vinegar. It seemed odd that they didn’t have them at the security check but rather at arrivals on the ground floor, but ok, they had them and they were free.
I found gratitude in the fact that my husband could hold onto my backpack while I ran downstairs to get the necessary TSA items and that I didn’t have to lug all the extra weight that got shoved into my backpack from the overweight luggage all over the airport to find the (insert expletive here) plastic bags.
After getting the plastic bags, I then got in the TSA line to be pat down, all over again, by a woman who touched more of my body parts than my doctor has in the past year. I really wonder why they call it “pat down” instead of “felt up”.
I got back to the kind TSA employee who now goes through each of my vinegar bottles to look for explosives. Yes, on my six tiny vinegar bottles which combined, are nearly half the size of my original bottle. Why could they not just test my original bottle so we didn’t have to weigh down our cap of fifty pounds each for the luggage with liquids?
I begin to see light at the proverbial TSA tunnel at bottle five, as she wipes each tiny bottle down and pops the paper into a machine. Yet, Murphy’s law was at play at bottle number six – the coconut infused vinegar – now sets all sorts of bells and whistles off.
At this point, the script in my head begins to goes something like this: “Be calm. Be grateful. It isn’t her fault, she is just the employee working on a holiday. She is required to do this nonsense. She knows that I’m not a terrorist who has slipped explosives in my freakin’ coconut vinegar. Really, this is ridiculous. Don’t roll your eyes Missy, don’t do it! You’ll make more work for everyone. Breathe. (Insert expletive here.) Stay calm. Dammit, you have told your students HUNDREDS of times not to bring liquids on the plane. How did you miss this one? Argh!!! (Expletive. Another expletive.) Breathe Missy breathe!”
She then OPENED my little coconut vinegar bottle to do some sort of litmus test. Yes, you heard me correctly – ON MY COCONUT VINEGAR. Really, she did. I offered to get some bread so we could just eat it instead of testing it like it was a forensics course. She smiled and politely declined.
Keep in mind that when we eventually arrived in Quito, our bags are x-rayed on the way out of the airport. No shoes are taken off. No jackets. Our small travelers’ bags around our necks were not required to be put through the machine. I know that this is how we’ll be treated in Ecuador during our stay and I waited as TSA did their testing knowing that I am in transit to a place that doesn’t require me to be felt up to get on a plane.
So obviously my coconut vinegar passes the litmus test with flying colors. Why?
BECAUSE IT IS COCONUT INFUSED VINEGAR, NOT AN EXPLOSIVE .
Additional time in the airport that I spent dealing with TSA and Delta because I didn’t put the dang vinegar in the luggage: ONE HOUR.
Also longer than the taxi ride to the airport.
But it was Thanksgiving, so I’ll focus on gratitude:
- We got to our plane on time.
- No one got killed by coconut vinegar.
- My friend WILL have vinegar in Ecuador.
Let’s put this experience into perspective:
While in Quito, Tony and I spent a beautiful evening with some new friends at El Panecillo. Tony observed the scene and said, “If we were in NY at the Statue of Liberty, there would be guards everywhere. There would be security all around. We are standing up here with dogs running around, kids playing and people eating and having fun. No one is overly concerned about safety and I don’t see a guard anywhere.”
The only security looking over us was the Madonna, sitting high atop the hill, watching over us and the city of Quito.
And for that, I am grateful.