January 31, 2023


TSA Madness

By: Grant Van Eck

The phrase “government overreach” is tossed around so often that it has become a household phrase. The unfortunate reality is that the government (that we fund) touches nearly every aspect of our lives. Personally and professionally, it is hard to conduct any business without the regulatory state getting in the way and its crushing tax and fee burden. 

On a recent family vacation, I experienced one of the most disgusting examples of the government quite literally overreaching into our family. A government official touched personal items of ours in the most unsanitary and inappropriate manner. And I never  imagined something like that happening. 

Before I tell the icky details of what went down that fateful morning, in a brutally long crowded security line in an old run down terminal at a deteriorating international airport, I want to give all due respect to the thousands of individuals who have government jobs and truly strive to do their best every day in the function of their role. I imagine many of them do not agree with every aspect of the job they are required to carry out. 

Some of them may even feel bad at times with how far it goes in violating someone’s dignity—for example sending a law abiding, taxpaying American through a body scanner so they can go forward to buy a magazine, some gum/candy, and maybe a quick bite to eat then get on an airplane they reserved a seat on. However, it can get even worse. 

Traveling with young children is a joyful challenge as a parent. I am old enough to remember traveling with my siblings pre-September 11th. We would just pass through a metal detector, and it was never a hassle or stress on my parents and grandparents. My kids are growing up in a very different country and they only hear stories about how it used to be. 

I still believe it’s worth it to take your family on vacations to make wonderful memories, take cute pictures, and have formative experiences. But this incident makes me second guess if it is worth flying to get there. 

Two double strollers, two adults, four kids, four full backpacks, one bag of snacks, one cooler bag of baby bottles, blankets, jackets, shoes, whatever is in pockets (I always forget to take out the chapstick) is a big deposit to the conveyor belt. We are ready and make it happen. Always following the ‘be prepared’ motto drilled into my head by my Boy Scout leaders, we surprised those around us on how smoothly this process went. 

We also practice with the kids, by playing ‘airport’ at home so the older kids know what to do. This includes informing the TSA about getting the baby bottles pulled aside and checked out in a special machine. I have done this side bar routine with my first two children many times when they were still on the bottle. TSA opens up the cooler bag, swabs the cooler bag & ice packs down, then the bottles, drops each bottle in a small machine, gets the results and then I am packing up and on my way. This time was different.

Seven month-old twin boys drink heavily… breast milk and formula of course. 

So I had much more in tow, double the amount in fact, than I had traveled with ever before since this was our first vacation with them. First, the agent went ahead and started opening up each bottle without changing his gloves! Yikes, I had just finished witnessing him molest a woman’s purse and small designer backpack with those gloves. No idea where those latex covered digits were before that, but what I witnessed with my own two eyes was enough. Based on a hunch, my guess is those gloves had been on for a while, and were touching all sorts of lovely items from all the many happy travelers who were on the line in front of me. Basic food safety please! 

Food safety, a subject the government loves making rules about and enforcing, tells you this is not okay. For the purpose of this blog, I did not search if those food safety rules apply to TSA agents and baby bottles. Common sense would tell most individuals that this is probably a situation where you would want to snap a clean pair of gloves on those useful prehensile appendages.  

Of course, I quickly interceded and asked nicely that he stop. “Sir, you do not have to open the bottles, this is unsanitary and even the smallest amount of bacteria could make the babies very sick.” As if I wasn’t standing there or speaking, they proceed with laying the nipple and the vent that sits inside the bottle on the table where all of that marvelous screening check work is done. For context for those reading that have never seen or used a Dr. Brown’s natural flow bottle click here

Without even looking up he starts to drop a dipstick of some kind directly into the milk inside the bottle! Ewwwww, gross! Okay, so that bottle and the food inside it is trash now. Thanks, a lot.Since he is ignoring me, I decide to take my cell phone out and begin recording what is going on. As quickly as I move through my password unlock and click the camera app, a supervisor approaches me saying I can’t film them. I say, “Isn’t my every move in this airport being recorded? Why can’t I document you like you document me, especially since I am paying for all of this including your salary and benefits.” 

Here is the proof of that taken straight from the TSA Website: “The Passenger Fee, also known as the September 11 Security Fee, is collected by air carriers from passengers at the time air transportation is purchased.  Air carriers then remit the fees to TSA. The fee is currently $5.60 per one-way trip in air transportation that originates at an airport in the U.S., except that the fee imposed per round trip shall not exceed $11.20.”

Turns out, they really don’t want to be on camera. The agent stops what they are doing and I explain that they do not need to open every bottle. They insist that they do need to do this disgusting act and taint all of my twins’ food. Turning to the supervisor, I asked: “Has something changed in policy since intentionally contaminating milk has never been the case before?” They then called another senior official over, who I could instantly tell was not a reasonable person. They explain that there are two ways to do this check, and one of them is testing the liquid inside each bottle and that is how they like to perform the safety check. 

I said, “what is the other way to test so we can avoid poisoning my two babies’ food supply?” Keeping my calm but speaking firmly as a father who is going to protect his family at all costs. 

I must pause the story and thank AF for great training and experiences that have prepared me to speak up and handle myself appropriately in these situations. 

Now for the conclusion of this story, you may imagine that this situation was drawing much attention from both the agents around and the other passengers making their way through the checkpoint. What was really neat about all of this is I was quickly gaining the support of the crowd. It gives me great faith in the American people, they still know right from wrong and are fed up with government overreach too. 

Some ladies were chattering and pointing at what was being done to me and my family, heads were shaking in disapproval, and I was getting that sincere nod and thumbs up from other dads. That is all good news for our future. And there was just enough pressure to change the course of this negotiation to my favor. 

The agents went ahead and checked the remaining bottles using option two by swabbing the exterior, then dropping the sealed and sanitized bottles in that little x-ray machine which quite honestly also bothers me but sure beats option one. Once this is all done, I discard the bottle polluted by that TSA agent and we head over to the terminal to purchase an overpriced snack and a cup of stale coffee then prepare for boarding.

To our surprise, a woman we had never met approaches us and sweetly expresses how horrible what the government agents did to us was in her opinion. She was furious and at the same time, so sorry that we went through such an ordeal. An elderly woman sitting near us joined this debrief conversation and said that she saw the whole thing, couldn’t believe it really happened, was shocked and disgusted. 

Good news is we had a fantastic trip and there were no issues on the way home through security. While this may be an isolated incident, by a lone actor in a single smelly terminal in the United States, something tells me that it just is not the case. It is unfortunate that this is the state of our world and government overreach continues to get worse. 

Although if people, like the crowd on the security line or those nice ladies we chatted with before boarding, took that reasonable common sense approach to their politics, voting, and got involved in their local communities it could make such a big difference. Then our children might be able to tell stories to their kids of how bad it used to be before the people got their freedom back.