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Answers are ready; I packed them myself

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

Come on, be honest.

How many of you have lied at airline check-in counters during the past 16 years that they have asked you those same two questions.

"Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry an item on this flight?" and "Have any of the items you are traveling with been out of your immediate control since you packed them?"

And, for some reason, I have always gotten a third question that apparently was not required, which was, "Did you pack your bag yourself?"

"No," I've always been tempted to answer. "Using my dirty underwear to wrap the champagne flutes we ripped off from room service was my valet's idea."

Maybe they just asked me because I didn't look like I was capable of packing for myself (okay, you try to figure out how to pack a 6-foot walking stick.)

Nobody unknown to me has ever asked me to carry an item on a flight, but my bags are frequently out of my control after I pack them.

They are alone in the back of my van for whatever time it takes me to stop and buy lottery tickets and bottled water en route to the airport. If I eat in a good airport restaurant, they are frequently checked with the head waiter, and when I stay at the airport hotel the night before an early departure, they are alone in my room for hours at a time. I guess it would be possible for a maid to place something evil in my bags, and I have, honestly, never searched my luggage before leaving in the morning.

I have also known that saying anything other than "no" would result in more hassles and delay in an already hassle-ridden process.

I understand the spirit of the questions and have always made the correct -- if not the 100 percent accurate -- answer in that spirit.

Finally, someone at the recently created Transportation Security Administration has figured out that the questions, to the best of anyone's knowledge, have not prevented a bombing or hijacking and that -- guess what -- bad guys sometimes lie.

Actually, there are other questions they should be asking, like, "Do you suffer from low blood sugar?" "Do you realize that due to delays and the lack of in-service meals for the poor people back in steerage, you might not be able to eat anything more than six pretzels during the next 24 hours?" "Do you have any objections to spending a considerable portion of the rest of your life in the Atlanta airport, where you will be given imprecise information about the status of your flight and warned not to get far enough from the gate to eat or drink anything?"

Don't get me wrong; I'm up for airport security. In fact I was impressed a couple of weeks ago in Cincinnati when I was finally pulled out of line for a random security check.

After years of working hard at creating the kind of appearance that gives me a lot of entertainment when I walk through an upscale hotel lobby and watch the security folks go on full alert, I have been disappointed time after time as blue-haired old ladies and CPA types have been pulled from the line in front of me while I, in a Grateful Dead T-shirt, sandals and headband, am waved blithely through.

Even my 21-year-old, short-haired, politically conservative graduate student stepson, the type who would have had a slide rule in a holster in precalculator days, was searched before we boarded a flight in Greensboro, N.C.

"I wonder what kind of people they pull out of line to search?" he asked me as we waited to board. His question was answered a few minutes later when they came for him.

And, wonder of wonders, he wound up talking to security supervisors about a tiny pocketknife he had forgotten was on his key chain.

I couldn't resist. "Among other things," I opined, "I think they go after guys who look like they might be carrying knives."

I can't help it; I always feel guilty when approaching metal detectors and search sites, even when I know I am not doing anything wrong. But I think the guy in Cincinnati was just bored because it was between flights, and I had arrived early. He was polite enough, used a wand to check my shoes rather than have me remove them as I have seen others do, and sent me on my way while other passengers gawked.

I didn't mind. I felt vindicated.

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