Not Your Average Pet Post, Traveling Home from Mexico Made Me Growl

"You must put all medications into your packed luggage." Those were the instructions we received as we made it up to the ticket counter at the airport in Cancun, Mexico on December 28, following a vacation in nearby Playa del Carmen. My wife Robin frantically pulled pills from her purse, and I had some allergy medication in my brief case.

Still, we wondered out loud about the person who might require meds during a flight as long as this one back to Chicago, well over 3 hours. What if a passenger requires insulin or a heart medication? The person at the counter clearly had her orders and even if I happened to be such a person, the message was not open to discussion, "No pills on the plane." I was told this decision was made as a directive of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I have no idea if that's true.

What's more - passengers have always been told by the airlines NOT to pack medications. What if the luggage is lost (sadly, that's a common issue), and you need the medication upon arrival. Also, some medications are susceptible to temperature extremes and may no longer be effective. Do the airlines want to pay for these lost or potentially ineffective meds? Of course, they're not responsible, they never are. Will the airlines take responsibility for people who may literally die as a result of a medication being ineffective because of temperature extreme?
The woman giving us our boarding passes was very polite, though. She
was merely doing what she was told, and didn't think about it or care if the instructions made any sense. Then she told Robin that her make-up also needs to go
into packed luggage. Thinking somehow a language barrier may be an issue,
Robin showed her it's pancake make-up, not a liquid. The reply again,
"It doesn't matter." So, Robin complied, grabbing her pancake make-up
to drop it into the packed luggage just before it's whisked away.

through security was uneventful. We didn't even have to take
off our shoes. When we arrive at the gate we observe five small
portable tables set up. We were last in Mexico this past February when
passengers were spot checked as they made their way to the jetway. I
recall three tables set up then.

This time, everyone entering
the airplane was checked, their hand bags, brief cases, back packs,
everything was checked - including them! Parents with several small
children including an infant, were all checked. The baby was held above
the head of the security worker, then shaken for a moment while upside
down. The baby didn't cry. I don't believe the parents noticed
because they were busy dealing with their other children. I can't possibly explain why security personnel might do this.

I was
told to take off my collar shirt (I was clearly wearing a t-shirt
underneath). My pockets were padded down and then I was asked to remove
my I-touch and tissue. I was asked to removed my belt. Everything I was
carrying was checked. Luckily, some headache pills still in my
briefcase (I simply forgot I had them in there) weren't noticed, or
apparently I might have wound up in la carcel (jail). Like many who
service American tourists in Mexico, you should know - at least at the
Mexican security personnel we met were polite, even seemingly
embarrassed by carrying out these measures.  

I was asked to
remove my Greyhound Rescue baseball cap once by the security amigo at
the table, then again by what seemed to be his supervisor (less than a
minute later), and still again (maybe ten seconds later) by the person
taking the boarding passes. That's three times in about three feet. I
was also asked to remove my cap at the initial security clearance as
well. The guy who sat next to Robin on the plane was also wearing a
cap, and he wasn't asked to remove his cap once.

Robin was
carrying her large going on airplanes purse, and a backpack. When the
security woman at the table went rummaging through her purse, she found
make-up and instantly seized it. No one looked in her back pack at all
- it wasn't even unzipped. Other passengers told us, they weren't told
about the make-up going into packed luggage and no one said a thing
about them taking it on the plane, and their make-up wasn't taken.
Others had make-up confiscated as Robin did.

When we boarded, I asked the
flight attendant (and I was just inquiring, didn't have an attitude,
and most certainly wasn't raising my voice, etc) about these new
policies, explaining we've been on holiday and didn't know. She also
seemed surprised, when we told her about no meds on the plane, or
make-up. She said, "I'll be right back." I also told her about the
erratic security, and baby shaking I witnessed. Sure enough, she
returned saying she knew nothing about it, but the Captain said if I
need medication - and from now on if people need meds on furture flights - before
the flight leaves, the drugs can be taken out of the packed luggage.

Since this answer makes little sense to me (how would
they know which piece of luggage and find a specific medication inside the luggage????), I
made a face (like you've gotta be kidding)....but simply said "Thanks for checking." She asked if I
needed a pill or something. I said, "no." And she looked annoyed.

flight was pretty normal, except the captain didn't say a word, not
even "welcome," "here's the altitude we'll fly at," or "thanks for
flying our airline." Nothing.

For the last hour of the flight
passengers were discouraged from going to the bathroom, had to put away
all electronic equipment, and told their hands must be in full view
(even though flight attendants were otherwise occupied in the back and
the front of the plane and couldn't see most hands anyway). People were
clearly on edge, first time I heard applause from a plane load of
people returning from sunny Mexico to wintry Chicago.

going through customs Chicago, and retrieving our luggage - Robin and I
were (as far as we can tell) the only people on our plane singled out
to go to a special place instead of being allowed to exit the airport.
A customs officer began to politely ask up questions - but I will tell
you, it was very awkward to return home being interrogated for no
apparent cause.
- Did you go to Mexico on vacation? Where did you
stay? How long were you there? Tell me about what you thought of the
Mexican security? He checked us out on a computer, which we weren't
allowed near - this process seemed to take hours - it was likely around10 minutes. Then, more questions, including more
about Mexican security, as he non-nonchalantly went through the motions
of going through our luggage. I truly don't believe he was looking for
anything in our luggage. I do believe our name was given to him because
I asked questions on the airplane. The customs official told us this
check was random. I absolutely don't believe him.

Sorry - but to
me - this is no longer be America. I did nothing warrant the extra security check. Or to
raise any red flag. And I was never told that I did anything or said
anything which was of concern by the Customs agent.

I was very honest with this
customs guy. I figured, as long as I'm telling the truth...The customs official also knew nothing whatsoever about not taking
medications or make-up on Board. 

While I was very calm. and
conversational - I did make my opinions clear. Why are good citizens
like us being scrutinized when clearly some bad guys, or at least
potential bad guys, are not being scrutinized? If 'profiling' is too
politically incorrect a term, call it something else. But let's face
it, that baby being shaken or little old ladies from Iowa aren't likely
to be terrorists. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be checked, I understand that you never know....But let's use some common sense. Maybe the extra effort, extra scrutinization ought to be directed where
it makes the most sense.   

Silly  knee jerk responses like
limiting people to not play video games or work on computers for the
last part of the flight makes no common sense, just because the bad guy tried to blow up the plane at the end of the flight.  What if someone else tries something at the start of a flight?  He also hid the explosive in his underwear. Does this mean we should no longer be allowed to wear underwear on airplanes?

So far, no one I've spoken with has an explanation about why make-up or medications are not being allowed,
and if the restrictions are only flights from Mexico into the U.S., all
international flights to the U.S., or just flights from Cancun, or
maybe this ariline??  If medications aren't allowed - of course, people
may die. That restriction is shocking and in my opinion plain stupid. Let's just shut down the airlines.

Even the customs guy in
the U.S. agreed with me on this - the U.S. screwed up, there were SO
many warning signs about this guy (who tried to blow up the plane in
Detroit) - and now average citizens, business all over the world (since
some may not fly now), the airline industry, etc. will all
suffer...Already there are copy cats out there. And clearly all because our
government is at a loss about how to react meaningfully.

I'd like to believe I know my a pet
writer/broadcaster/blogger and animal behavior consultant, but I claim no expertise whatsoever on national security.  I'm just a guy who travels a fair amount for
business and when I'm lucky for a vacation. But certainly a good start
might be to target people who might be bad guys, and do it aggressively
so other bad guys are dissuaded. If the bad guys and potential bad guys
are off airplanes in the first place - there's no need to worry about
what they may bring on planes. Where's President Obama's
common sense? It seems we're afraid - afraid to offend bad guys, while offending U.S. citizens is supposedly for our own safety.


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  • My return flight experience was totally different from yours. I flew out of Canada where the security is always worse than in the US. It took me 2-1/2 hours from check-in counter to gate, including a trip to secondary inspection. Only went to check-in counter because I had to check the suitcase.

    They were pretty strict about carry-on luggage - women got to take a purse no larger than a piece of 8-1/2 x 11 paper, nothing else. There actually was someone walking up and down the lines with a piece of paper to measure purses They didn't seem to care how wide the purse was (i.e. crammed full), but it had to be smaller than that piece of paper on the outside.

    Men were allowed NO carry-on luggage or computer bags. They could hand carry their computers, iPod, iPhone, cameras, books, etc. OUT of their cases, but had to check the cases. It was actually quite funny to see grown men walking around juggling their electronics, laptops and multiple cords.

    There was a pat down of every person after the security. They went through my things in the small bin, hand feeling my coats to make sure there was nothing hidden in them. Men got through faster because there were more male TSA personnel to do the pat downs than female personnel.

    In Canada, when you fly out of the country to the US, you go through US customs at the airport before boarding a plane. Yesterday, they were sending people into secondary inspection randomly, getting their checked luggage from the airline brought up and going through it manually, then rerunning it through an x-ray machine before sending it back down to baggage.

    On the plane there were none of the normal announcements made about flight route. No mention was made of staying in seats an hour prior to landing, and we were allowed to keep blankets and pillows (I was in the first class, so we actually had blankets and pillows.) Overhead bins on the plane were virtually empty. No announcements about those being full! But we were late leaving because of all the luggage that had to be loaded. Baggage handlers must be furious! The baggage claim area at my US destination was a zoo.

    That said, I did see people with carry-on suitcases coming off a domestic flight, so travel within the US may be OK. I don't know. This trip back was just lengthy and a royal PIA. I'm grateful not to be flying this weekend!

  • Absolutely ridiculous, I'm sorry that you had such a horrible experience. I checked the TSA page, and no significant changes seem to have been made. I always travel with medications, and I will not pack them in my luggage, ever. And if that ever becomes the rule, then I will no longer fly, and I'm a fairly frequent flyer. I have a potential trip to Mexico this spring; you can be sure that I'll be contacting Sen. Durbin about this, and if I'm forced to face this situation, I'll just stay home.

    I was just thinking that silly, knee-jerk responses that make no sense seem to be what many in our country have become really good at. Take breed bans, for example. A lot of responsible dog owners and good dogs suffer because of a few irresponsible people, despite expert opinion and scientific proof that breed bans don't work. Sigh.

  • The Toronto Star
    Pearson Airport Staff left holding the Bag(s)

  • Steve, what airline were you flying?? Just curious. I figure the personnel in Mexico would be operating from a different "rule book", but I am surprised US based flight attendants would have reported you in such a way that you would be detained at Customs in the US. Very odd. If our gov't can't figure out how to protect us with any more intelligence than this patchwork quilt of everchanging weird rules and regs, they might as well just shut the airlines down. How can they run a business in these conditions, especially now that we all know that these hassles and inconveniences are only that, and likely not keeping us any safer.

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