Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TSA...SAVES THE DAY?! At Columbia airport, notorious agency saves family vacation

In an airport security agent's common-sense kindness, a little Potter-like wizardry   

COLUMBIA, 7/19/11  (Beat Byte) -- Summer travel advisory:  CAUTION -- airport rules can vary without notice, leaving you stranded if caught unaware.  

That's what happened to my family and I a few weeks ago, as we prepared to depart for Florida's beaches and theme parks, a kid-driven family fest long-postponed as we spent the last 18 months pushing back on breast cancer with everything prayer and medical science could muster.   

Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation -- family vacation.  Sounded like a plan, except for one hitch:  We arrived at the Columbia Regional Airport well within the timeline our online tickets required, but shy of current airport regulations.   The check-in counter was closed, leaving only Transportation Security agents on the floor to deal with customers. 

TSA customer service.   Isn't that some kind of oxymoron?  

At first -- as visions of adult diaper searches, full body scans, and lurid pat downs danced in my mind -- it sure seemed like it.  The agents were mulling about, grumping and scowling, reciting this and that regulation and strictly prohibiting mom, dad, and three kids (my daughter brought a friend) from boarding that all-important flight (which was still in process, moving slowly toward the tarmac).

I didn't say much, instead thinking about driving to Florida; my wife was shaking, nearly in tears.  No one could check our bags, the agents explained.  No adequate security could possibly be brought to bare on our little group -- there simply wasn't enough time.  And look -- there was no one from the airline at the boarding counter.  "We don't work for the airline," one of the agents explained.  "There's nothing we can do." 

We were doomed.  It was hopeless.  Where at first we planned to fly with Harry Potter on his new ride at Universal Studios, now we were nothing but muggles, no magic brooms, no Dumbledorian wisdom, no Hagrid to come to our rescue. 

Then, some wizarding happened, but of the decidedly human kind.  My wife, who never once raised her voice nor acted angry, told one of the TSA agents about the importance of this vacation.  She could see people standing around, waiting to board in the other room, and thought there just must be some way, some manager or higher power that could see us onto the plane.  

She said maybe a dozen words about how this was going to be such a welcome relief from the past 18 months, and a return to life without cancer.

What happened next was so sudden I thought I was caught amidst a rousing Quidditch game!  The TSA agent rallied her troops, who suddenly started inspecting our bags.  Hands flew into the air, tears of joy fell, children jumped -- and I quickly unloaded a large bag the agents said we couldn't bring (it wouldn't fit through their scanner). 

Take that, Lord Voldemort!   We're going to see Harry and Hermione after all!   I was never so eager in my life to remove my shoes, empty my pockets, slide off my belt and wristwatch, and walk through that scanner, remembering shoe bombers and underwear explosives and all the other crazy things about life in the friendly skies these days, arms in the air, security wand (no wizardry here) at my sides. 

Jostling tourists, scorching sun, outrageous prices -- and TSA agents -- here we come!  It was good to be back among the living, especially with those little moments of kindness that make living feel alive. 

"You're my family," said the boarding agent smiling, as we started toward the small jet.  Yes ma'am -- we certainly are. 

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