The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 10, 2013

Krohn: Humor lost at the airport

Free Press Staff Writer

— The Transportation and Security Administration now says it’s OK for people to carry small knives, baseball bats and golf clubs onto planes.

This struck me as odd as we went through security and immigration at the Cancun airport last week. As I went through the metal detector and waited for our carry-on bags to go through the X-ray machine, the attendant pulled my bag off the conveyor and approached me. 

“I’m going to search your bag, sir,” she said. She unzipped it, and pulled out one of the newspaper-wrapped gifts we’d bought in Mexico. Unwrapping it, she said, “Oh, this is the problem,” holding up my four-bottle pack of quality Mexican hot sauce.

“I’m sorry, I have to take it,” she informed me.

“No, not my hot sauce.”

I’d forgotten, you can’t carry liquids on a plane. My hot sauce is more dangerous than a Swiss Army knife?

There is a long list on the TSA website about what you can’t bring on planes: ice picks, meat cleavers, bows and arrows, torches, spear guns, crowbars, nunchucks, stun guns or spray paint, to name a few.

But the TSA has been relaxing restrictions, much to the chagrin of the flight attendants union, which would rather not have its workers facing terrorists or sloppy drunk passengers with knives.

I’m not sure why people want to be flight attendants. It used to sound like a glamorous career, hopping around the world for work.

The American Airlines attendants we had on our flights — pretty much equally split between men and women — didn’t seem to have particularly alluring job: close overhead doors, check seat belts, pull a heavy cart of beverages up a crowded aisle, pick up trash, land and repeat, then ride to a hotel and back to the airport the next morning.

They’re not paid particularly well for being the guardians of safety in flight — their starting pay is about $23,000 a year and the median salary is $27,000.

Flying, in general, isn’t so glamorous anymore. Planes used to have some leg room, pretty decent meals, an aura of fun. And planes were often only about half full, allowing people to move around and spread out over two or three seats.

You now rarely see a plane that’s not packed full with seats squeezed closer.

The personality of airport workers is hit and miss. A guy checking boarding passes at security joked with passengers and made funny faces at kids who looked nervous.

But when coming out of immigration and walking toward a big strapping uniformed and armed agent, I asked, “Hi, could you tell me where we take our bags for the connecting flight?”

“I can’t answer your question until you give me your declaration form,” he snapped.

Geez, sorry Rambo.

After handing him the card declaring I wasn’t bringing food, more than $10,000 or animals back into the country, he jabbed his thumb toward the next door we were supposed to go through.

This guy would never do a commercial to “Fly the Friendly Skies with United.”

The nicest guys seemed to be outside the airport — working stiffs driving shuttle vans. The Mexican driver who shuttled us from our hotel to the Cancun airport was non-stop entertainment. His name was Kennedy — “I was born in 1963 when Mr. Kennedy was shot.”

He named his son Billy: “I love the Yankees — Billy Martin my hero.”

In his 20 minutes of questions and comments, I realized he — like many in Mexico — has more interest and knowledge of American politics, finances, entertainment and business than most Americans do.

It makes you kind of proud to be from a country so looked up to. But kind of sad we fall so short of living up to the expectations.

Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or