Today is my first cross-country trip on an airplane in 16 months, and I did not expect to start out by failing the canine security check. He was a young, handsome, mellow-seeming dog, doing his duty, and I was not the only soon-to-be passenger noting how sweet looking he was. None of us reached out to touch him, knowing that it is strictly verboten to interfere with a working dog, but it was tempting.
I am not sure why this particular canine signaled me out. I am very fond of dogs, so certainly it was not fear on my part or any other emotion. Could it have been that he took umbrage with a couple of fluffs of cat hair on my trousers? Certainly, I worked hard to upgrade my usual at-home wardrobe –substituting my yoga pants for a nice pair of slacks, topped by a floral blouse and summer blazer – but the darn cat fur often appears despite my best efforts.
Or perhaps it happened because the stranger I was paired with to walk through the checkpoint refused to walk side-by-side, as directed, but rather swiftly marched off two feet before me. But then, it wasn’t him who failed the canine security check.
In general, I like to fly. I keep checklists for packing to avoid any early morning last minute rush to find a hairbrush or contact lens case. I always arrive early at the airport, where I can walk some laps around the terminal and perhaps enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while reading the morning’s headlines. The car service arrived right on time, a luxurious Tesla SUV.
My practice of arriving early to the airport served me well today. Following a half hour wait in a short line of similarly befuddled passengers detained for further TSA security screening, I relinquished my spot in line to another passenger whose plane already was boarding. I had time to spare, but she did not.
When it was finally my turn, my computer and new iPhone were screened, as were my shoes. I had to repeat twice that I was not carrying an iPad or tablet with me. My jacket was checked, my handbag and briefcase were scanned and rubbed with some substance. I went through the body scan machine. At long last, I was sent on my way.
A fellow flyer who also had just been screened and released remarked jokingly that I must have hidden the drugs well. Although I may never know why the dog flagged me, one thing I know for sure is TSA agents do not relish this kind of joke. It was good that we were out of earshot.
TSA agents at the San Francisco International Airport generally are some of the nicest people I encounter when traveling. They are exceptionally patient, courteous, and professional. Prior to the pandemic, they would often joke with the passengers waiting in line. Today was no exception, other than the lack of joking. While waiting, I asked one of the agents which items I should place in separate bins for the extra screening. He gave me good advice, saying that it is easier for the agents to scan one’s belongings with fewer items in a bin, so I separated my carry-on items and spread them out.
After an additional 15 minutes, the TSA agent told me I could go. He thanked me. For once, courtesy failed me. I was speechless. In general, I am happy that our airport personnel work hard to keep us safe. I understand that safety procedures are necessary and that TSA has been understaffed. But I did not feel convinced that this had been anything other than a random screening. Forty-five minutes is a lot of time to be detained when one needs to catch a plane. Fortunately, I arrived at the Gate, where my husband was waiting, with a few minutes to spare.
While I will never know the reason I was stopped, failing the canine security check came as quite a surprise. But now that I am in the air, more than halfway to New York, I am thankful that soon I will see my children and grandchildren once again after a long hiatus. Fully vaccinated freedom to travel once again is an awesome thing.