Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Snakes on a Plane – Academics vs the TSA, round n+1

 

The airport security line has ground to a standstill. Again. Some bozo packed a giant plastic penis in his carry-on, and of course the bozos working for the TSA couldn’t resist. From the depths of the man’s carry-on, one TSA worker unsheathes “this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.” Yep. A Gigantic. Plastic. Mouse. Penis. 3-D printed.

If it makes you feel any better, it’s for science. The biologist carrying it is on his way to a two-day conference, and so has no checked luggage. Other times, scientists carry on stuff that can’t go into the cargo hold even when they’re checking luggage. Permits issued to biologists to collect live specimens may stipulate the specimens must be hand-carried onto planes. Other live specimens simply don’t travel well in cargo holds. A duffel bag full of ants. Live frogs in Tupperware containers. Roaches. These things:

Those are amblypygids. Whip spiders, colloquially. They’re not dangerous. Just horrid-looking. Which isn’t to say venomous spiders aren’t ever your fellow airline travelers. Scientists have been known to pack along black widows, too.

Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold. According to guidelines, not only do snakes go in the hold, they’re very securely packed:

Snakes should go into a pillowcase or cloth bag tied with an overhand knot and then into another pillowcase that is also tied.

The animals should then be placed inside a box, which can be made of plastic foam. This whole package finally goes inside a wooden box, which has to be screwed down.

Venomous snakes are permitted, though they must be duly labeled as such. Of course, these guidelines don’t keep smugglers from secreting snakes and other reptiles somewhere on their persons, hoping they won’t get caught. Last summer, one smuggler was caught because airline security noticed a suspicious “wiggling in the passenger’s pants as he walked through the X-ray machine”.

It’s not always animals, of course. Eerie looking (and smelling) liquids, along with devices that look suspiciously like bomb hardware, might attract the most suspicion. Vials of blood and urine might be disgusting, but it’s the odd mechanical contraptions scientists sometimes carry with them that TSA personnel could be forgiven (if TSA personnel should ever be forgiven for anything) for mistaking for explosive hardware. Series of timers and fuses. Animal-monitoring collars that look like explosive belts. The “Petterson D500x bat detector“, which, as the scientist who got caught with it, explains,

is a “big, black box with blinking lights on the front.” She had one in her backpack on a flight going into Houston. “The security people said, ‘Take your laptop out,” and I did that. But they don’t really say, ‘Take your bat detector out,’ and I forgot about it.”

Well, you know what they say about academics. Book-smart and life-dumb. Just the sort of people who’d thoughtlessly inconvenience regular Americans by forgetting about their bat detectors. Or by furiously scribbling away in “secret code” while looking dark and shifty. What’s worse, these thoughtless academics can hold up the line even further with their impromptu scientific outreach:

Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach. Various scientists are said to have claimed that you don’t really understand something if you can’t explain it to your grandmother, a barmaid, a six-year-old, and other such sexist or ageist variants. But how about this: can you successfully explain it to an TSA official—someone who not only might have no background in science, but also strongly suspects that you might be a national security threat? Can you justify your research in the face of questions like “What are you doing?” or “Why are you doing it?” or “Why are you taking that onto a plane?”

At least some scientists have the decency to keep their replies to the TSA short:

Astrophysicist Brian Schimdt was once stopped by airport officials on his way to North Dakota because he was carrying his Nobel Prize—a half-pound gold disk that showed up as completely black on the security scanners. “Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?” they said. “The King of Sweden,” he replied. “Why did he give this to you?,” they probed. “Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.”

There are 63 comments.

  1. Bishop Wash Member

    A coworker missed a conference because of this incident last year at Albuquerque Sunport. A Los Alamos employee shutdown security for two hours.

    • #1
    • May 25, 2017, at 10:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Barry Jones Thatcher

    And some time after 9/11 Joe Foss (WWII Marine Ace, former 2 time North Dakota governor, Commissioner of Baseball, etc) was returning home and security tried to confiscate his Medal of Honor. Not only did they not know or care who he was (and he was in his 80s at the time, I think) but they had no clue what the MoH was. Or wanted a nifty little souvenir. Idjits.

    • #2
    • May 25, 2017, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My sales people always check their demo kits anymore, not because they trust them arrive intact that way, but because carrying a hard-sided case full of electronics in metal cases, with lots of fiddly wiring harnesses, is a sure fire way to miss their flights entirely.

    On one recent trip, though, one salesman did get pulled aside because his backpack had 3 laptops for a customer training class. Normally we would have shipped them in advance, but this was a new system and so engineering was still working out kinks the night before.

    • #3
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:08 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    • #4
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:14 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. RightAngles Member

    The last time I flew, they searched my ponytail. Must be my shifty eyes.

    • #5
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:14 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I used to do a bit of travelling. In addition to schlepping around a bag of 9-track tape reels, I had the occasional weird-looking black box.

    They never looked twice at the boxes, but I would have to stop them from running the tapes through the X-ray machine.

    • #6
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:15 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Judge Mental, Secret Chimp Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    • #7
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    Get those [redacted] snakes out of my [redacted] fridge! I can’t get to the beer!

    • #8
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:23 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  9. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    I know they can handle the cold. I’m just concerned about their air. Fridges are comparably big to snake boxes and are opened often enough to ensure atmospheric mixing.

    • #9
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:26 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  10. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    The TSA sucks.

    • #10
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:27 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. Robert McReynolds Inactive

    Can we all agree that TSA needs to be abolished? I mean if there was ever a government entity that conservatives should be in lock-step in getting rid of, this is that entity.

    • #11
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:29 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  12. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Can we all agree that TSA needs to be abolished? I mean if there was ever a government entity that conservatives should be in lock-step in getting rid of, this is that entity.

    Abolish the TSA and bar their hare-brained employees from any further federal employment.

    • #12
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:31 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. bridget Inactive

    Back when I was an engineer, two of the men at my firm told a story about their now-infamous trip to Baltimore. One was mid-thirties and Irish; the other, mid-sixties, white hair, vaguely Irish-looking.

    They rented a SUV in Boston, loaded it up with their materials (the firm did a lot of work for the military), and everything was great until they were pulled over for speeding.

    Once the officer took all this in (the Boston rental vehicle, guy who looks like Whitey Bulger riding shotgun, what might be pipe bombs in the trunk), the phone call went through and the vehicle is just surrounded by manpower and firepower. Eventually they were able to explain that they were physicists and not mobsters.

    • #13
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    A coworker missed a conference because of this incident last year at Albuquerque Sunport. A Los Alamos employee shutdown security for two hours.

    Foolish scientist! Believing he was entitled to carry on his mockup just because he worked at Los Alamos and the Department of Energy wanted to see it!

    Though arrested, he was eventually cleared.

    • #14
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. Paula Whitney Inactive

    Okay I have to admit I might be one of those “bozo” travelers but all my sympathy is with the “bozo” traveler. I have very little sympathy with TSA agents. Yes, I know many TSA agents are great people who use their common sense to ease the burden the security puts on the traveler. However, I have yet to meet one of these agents.

    My experiences have shown me that its really hard to anticipate what will happen when you enter the TSA security area.

    1.  Out of a family of 5 my 3 year old daughter was chosen for an extra pat down when leaving Hawaii. (a real hot bed of terrorist activity 10 years ago). We probably slowed down the line when I had to explain to her that she was not allowed to hold my hand for this procedure. The TSA agent seemed shocked when my daughter became upset that some stranger was going to pat her down. Interestingly enough while she was patted down nobody looked thru her backpack which had all sorts of weird lumps as it was filled with toys and books.
    2. My son was stopped for having a sweatshirt that had a zipper pull that looked “like a bullet replica”. Yes, it did look like an artistic bullet, kind of like how a rough brass sculpture of a mouse looks like a mouse. The TSA agent decided that this violation of the law required that the police be called and that a report had to be made. I was on the other side of the security gate. Stupidly I had set my ticket and ID on the conveyer belt and it started moved to just past security line but it had not entered the x-ray machine. I was told I wasn’t allowed to proceed thru without those items, nor was I allowed to reach a few inches to grab them before they went into the x-ray machine. This impasse was finally resolved after 10 min when the police came and the TSA agent demanded a police report be made. Then we were told the sweatshirt could not go on the plane with the “bullet” nor would the TSA agent let us use her scissors to remove the item as “it might damage the sweatshirt”. Her suggestion was that we either throw the sweatshirt away or just go home. At this point the police officer grabbed the sweatshirt and removed the “bullet” This took around 30 minutes to resolve.
    3. I was stopped for having a snowglobe. I was a “bozo” traveler that time. Now it was a really small snowglobe but who knows how much liquid is in those pesky snowglobes.
    4. I was stopped for having a box containing a brand new fondue pot. Again my fault since I never thought about how to prove there were no skewers in the box.

    So I try very hard to not judge the traveler, since I too have been that “bozo”

    • #15
    • May 25, 2017, at 11:49 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Paula Davidson (View Comment):
    Okay I have to admit I might be one of those “bozo” travelers but all my sympathy is with the “bozo” traveler.

    I have reason to fear I am one of those “bozo” travelers as well.

    • #16
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    Paula Davidson (View Comment):
    So I try very hard to not judge the traveler, since I too have been that “bozo”

    I don’t mind those kind of delays nearly so much as the “even though we have had to take our shoes off for over a decade now, you still decided to wear lace-up combat boots” and “the TSA agent has been telling everyone in line to take off their belts for the last 20 minutes; are you deaf?!” kind of bozo-ness.

    As passengers, it’s not our fault if the TSA people are idiots; it is our fault when we can’t obey clear instructions and anticipate obvious potential delays (like wearing shoes that cannot easily be taken off).

    • #17
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. kelsurprise, drama queen Member
    kelsurprise, drama queen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I was helping my grandmother sort through and dispose of a lot of stuff after a move once and scored some fun props and costume pieces in the process. We were working right up until the second I had to leave for my flight so I had just been shoving all the little treasures she gave me right into my carry-on, which then got a second . . . third . . . and supervisor-assisted fourth look by security at Fort Walton before I was pulled out of the line, hustled into an office and sat down for questioning.

    That’s when I suddenly remembered the set of BBQ roasting forks I’d wrapped in butcher paper and packed in my duffle bag. They were intended for a friend of mine here who had a working fireplace. I apologized, told the guys where to find the “suspicious package” and a sheriff’s deputy pawed his way to it, then stared, flummoxed, at his boss.

    “No,” said the burly head of security. “What we saw on the monitor looked like a derringer.”

    And that is when I remembered the little pistol-shaped (non-functioning) lighter that I’d shoved in the pocket of my jacket. I stammered my way through a second apology/explanation and directed the deputy to the offending item. It was so tiny that the Security guy couldn’t even get his beefy finger in there on the “trigger” and clearly not “loadable” but no matter, “you’re not taking this on the plane” he said. I asked if I could give the “family heirloom” to my aunt, who’d driven me to the airport and was now pacing outside, wondering if she’d have to post bail for me. They said I could, and since my flight still hadn’t left, I’d be allowed to board after all.

    Then the nice deputy packed all my things back into the duffel for me . . . including the sharp, pointy BBQ forks, and sent me on my way.

    • #18
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:10 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  19. Guruforhire Member

    I hadn’t considered that I could make a giant mouse penis with my 3D printer. Is there a model on thingiverse?

    Update: There is not.

    • #19
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. Bishop Wash Member

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Can we all agree that TSA needs to be abolished? I mean if there was ever a government entity that conservatives should be in lock-step in getting rid of, this is that entity.

    Abolish the TSA and bar their hare-brained employees from any further federal employment.

    I flew out of Maui this year and the person in front of me at the airline counter was having some trouble. He was a minute or two past the baggage check-in cutoff and was trying to make sure he’d still make the flight. He’d forgotten to run his checked bag past the agricultural people and had to run back to their checkpoint. He left his ID on the counter during this. I hadn’t seen an ID like it before, but it looked a lot like my DoD Common Access Card with the letters TWIC on it. It stands for Transportation Worker Identification Credential, the TSA. Yes, not all TSA employees are like this guy, but it feels as though most are.

    • #20
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    I know they can handle the cold. I’m just concerned about their air. Fridges are comparably big to snake boxes and are opened often enough to ensure atmospheric mixing.

    Apparently, if the snakes get loose from their boxes, they’re likely to perish in the hold. Reptiles’ very slow metabolism, especially while cold, reduces their need for oxygen. I guess by enough to be OK in their packaging down there?

    • #21
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:32 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. RightAngles Member

    My sister and her daughter nearly missed their flight home after visiting me because they took her daughter out of line to search her. Yes, they searched my 12-year-old niece’s blonde pigtails while they waved three young Middle Eastern-looking men right through because they said their flight was leaving soon. (well that’s good enough for me!) Think these people care about keeping us safe? Not if they’d rather take obvious risks than appear to be profiling. (Never mind that profiling is actually a pretty good policy. I mean do we have to reinvent the wheel?)

    • #22
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Full Size Tabby Member

    An acquaintance used bats (the mammals, not the wood or aluminum baseball type) in medical research. He used to carry them on board the airplane when flying back from his South American vendor, contained in what amounted to a shoe box. After TSA was instituted, he had them shipped, but too many of them didn’t survive the trip, and he couldn’t find a suitable domestic supplier, so he had to drop his bat testing.

    • #23
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:43 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. Profile Photo Member

    Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I’m sure baggage holds are pressurized and heated. I’ve shipped my dog in a transport cage several times. I would put a frozen water dish in the cage so she could drink as it thawed out.

    • #24
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  25. Full Size Tabby Member

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    I know they can handle the cold. I’m just concerned about their air. Fridges are comparably big to snake boxes and are opened often enough to ensure atmospheric mixing.

    At least some part of the baggage hold must be pressurized, as they routinely carry dogs there.

    • #25
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Full Size Tabby Member

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Ophidiophobes might be relieved to know that snakes are perfectly happy in the cargo hold

    I’m rather surprised they can handle the depressurization. Granted, as they’re not warm-blooded, they can slow down body systems with less trauma, but even snakes gotta breathe.

    I had a herpetologist cousin, who would keep snakes in the fridge. Instant hibernation.

    Get those [redacted] snakes out of my [redacted] fridge! I can’t get to the beer!

    I was thinking more the reaction of a visitor who unsuspectingly goes to the fridge to get a beer and find a bunch of snakes there. Boy, if the visitor is not expecting that, what a surprise!

    • #26
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:51 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    My sister and her daughter nearly missed their flight home after visiting me because they took her daughter out of line to search her. Yes, they searched my 12-year-old niece’s blonde pigtails while they waved three young Middle Eastern-looking men right through because they said their flight was leaving soon. (well that’s good enough for me!) Think these people care about keeping us safe? Not if they’d rather take obvious risks than appear to be profiling. (Never mind that profiling is actually a pretty good policy. I mean do we have to reinvent the wheel?)

    The TSA performs white-guilt security theater, nothing more.

    • #27
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:52 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  28. kelsurprise, drama queen Member
    kelsurprise, drama queen Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Every time I fly out of Kansas City wearing a skirt (i.e. most times I fly) I get felt up by Security.

    They pull me aside, clutch any extra skirt material close to my body then run their hands down each leg to make sure I’m not hiding anything under there. One time, I figured I’d get around their touchy-feely ways by boarding in workout wear, but no, apparently my pants legs flared just enough at the bottom that they decided my ankles were still in need of a good groping.

    The weird thing is, this seems to be a protocol singular to Kansas City. It has never happened to me in any other airport.

    • #28
    • May 25, 2017, at 12:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  29. Full Size Tabby Member

    kelsurprise (View Comment):
    Every time I fly out of Kansas City wearing a skirt (i.e. most times I fly) I get felt up by Security.

    They pull me aside, clutch any extra skirt material close to my body then run their hands down each leg to make sure I’m not hiding anything under there. One time, I figured I’d get around their touchy-feely ways by boarding in workout wear, but no, apparently my pants legs flared just enough at the bottom that they decided my ankles were still in need of a good groping.

    The weird thing is, this seems to be a protocol singular to Kansas City. It has never happened to me in any other airport.

    Hmm. My wife encounters problems at almost every airport with her skirts. She has fewer problems with pants, but still gets frustrated with the frequency with which she gets pulled aside. We are flying several trips in the next month, and she is not looking forward to the airport process for each trip.

    • #29
    • May 25, 2017, at 1:14 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Bishop Wash Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    A coworker missed a conference because of this incident last year at Albuquerque Sunport. A Los Alamos employee shutdown security for two hours.

    Foolish scientist! Believing he was entitled to carry on his mockup just because he worked at Los Alamos and the Department of Energy wanted to see it!

    Though arrested, he was eventually cleared.

    Thanks. I should have used an article to note that he was cleared, but grabbed the first one that came up in a search. My coworker is just out of frame to the right. He stayed until he wouldn’t be able to catch any connecting flights to his conference.

    • #30
    • May 25, 2017, at 1:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes