JASON EDWARD HARRINGTON
March 30, 2014
I recently had a bad flashback. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I was hit with a vivid memory from my time as a Transportation Security Administration officer at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was 2008, and I was conducting a bag check when three of my TSA colleagues got into an argument with a passenger at the checkpoint. Things got pretty heated.
The subject of debate? Whether mashed potatoes were a liquid or a solid.
In the end, of course, the TSA agents had the last word: Since the potatoes took the shape of their container, they were determined to be a liquid—specifically, a gel. That’s the official TSA line. “Liquids, aerosols and gels over 3.4 ounces cannot be brought through security.” The potatoes were forcibly surrendered.
If you’re anything like me, you may have thought, “Well, mashed potatoes are technically gelatinous, so…”—which sends one down the rabbit hole of bureaucratic absurdity that ends with a passenger looking a TSA officer in the eye and saying, “Do you really think my mashed potatoes are a terrorist threat?” And the officer, if he or she is just an all-around tool, saying: “Ma’am, possibly. Rules are rules.”
I’ve had a lot of flashbacks lately—nearly buried memories that have come flooding back ever since Politico Magazine published “Dear America, I Saw You Naked,” my first-person account of working for the TSA and anonymously blogging about my adventures in airport security.
Another one: It’s 2010, and a passenger is trying to bring her live goldfish through security. One of my co-workers informs her that the fish can go through but the water cannot. The woman is on the verge of tears when a supervisor steps in to save the fish’s life.