Monday, June 18, 2007

Sippy-Cup Battle Looks Good on TV, But Real Story Isn't Being Told

No Water-Gate Here: Baby Or Not, This Time The TSA Got It Right

A preface: I've had enough rotten experiences at airport security lines like almost all of us. So, you won't see me reflexively rushing to the defense of the TSA, even if they did reimburse me $150 for a destroyed bag without giving me a hassle.
This weekend, the agency was once again on the wrong end of the spotlight, when network news programs showed video of a woman named Monica Emmerson -- who just happened to be a former Secret Service agent -- having an angry confrontation at Reagan National Airport in Washington after being told she couldn't take a sippy cup for her baby filled with water through a checkpoint.
The donnybrook kicked off when Emmerson then either dumped out the water on the floor, or as she says, accidentally spillled it. Eventually, she cleaned it up. But the damage was done. Amid this version of Water-gate, she and her 19-month-old missed their flight.
And that should have been the end of it, except for the fact that Emmerson made a big stink of what happened by posting in a local forum, and soon the blogosphere took hold of the story. The TSA then responded by posting a video of the incident on its Web site, to show its agents did nothing wrong. So vehemently did the TSA believe in its position that it placed the video under a heading blithely labeled "Mythbusters."
ABC tried to present a balanced report by saying "in a tense environment, some argue that passengers need to be more aware — and that the sippy cup mom may have acted inappropriately."
The problem phrase here is "may have." The video was provacative enough and relatable to millions of beleaguered travelers. Yet, in the end, it really shouldn't have been much of a story, if any at all.
The real news here may be that the TSA got this one right. As is stated clearly at, "[p]rescription medications, baby formula and milk (when traveling with an infant or toddler) are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces...."
Not water.
We don't know if this was explained to ex-agent/pissed-off Emmerson. Either way, her reaction was not the one warranted or deserved. The mere presence of the incident being caught on tape didn't make it any more newsworthy.
I came up against this rule myself traveling with my toddler earlier this year at LAX. If there had been milk or juice in my son's sippy cup, that would have been fine. But it was water, and that it was verboten was conveyed to me in a matter-of-fact, even apologetic way.
I've long since shrugged off incidents like these as just one of the many annoyances of flying today, rather than throw a hissy fit. You won't win the argument nor should you.
I've actually noticed an increased level of professionalism and courtesy among TSA personnel, who had been more prone to make up rules as they went along and treat passengers like cockroaches who stood in the way of their coffee break.
Which is not to say they are perfect, but on this day at Reagan Airport, they were right.


JoAnnO said...

Once you accept the premise that it makes sense to have such incidents, of course the woman was wrong. The real ridiculousness lies in the laws and procedures that have upended all semblance of sanity in an impossible pursuit of some fable called guaranteed safety. Fear never produces reasonable realities as this whole story symbolizes.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the overblown response. The excuse for the response is the tension and fear in airports. Of what I ask, a few ounces of water that she offered to drink.

I think the TSA has it wrong. The rules are wrong (water not OK, juice is), the response is wrong.

Hope the story gets bigger, not goes away as you wish. Even if the woman was not 100% in the right.

Anonymous said...

If she spilled the water, give her a ticket for littering. I don’t even think spilling water is a crime, because it evaporates and there is no litter. Don’t grab her arm and threaten to arrest her. The security has no right to put a hand on anyone who doesn’t look like they would physically harm anyone. The security at Reagan National is worse than the criminals they are supposed to protect us from.

Anonymous said...

I'm 100% with the mom, even if she did spill the water deliberately. I'd have been frustrated and wanting to lash out, too, and I'm a pretty mellow person.

I've been through enough airport security lines with my twin toddlers to know what a hassle and stressful time it can be, and to then have TSA folks force you to go out of the area to dump the water (instead of just drinking it or doing the sensible thing of conceding that water in a toddler's sippy cup probably doesn't pose much of a threat) from a sippy cup would put a lot of people over the edge. I certainly would not be inclined, after having put child, stroller, shoes, laptop etc. through security, having to exit the area and do it all again from the back of the line.

Yes, there are published rules, but there is also sensible enforcement of said rules. And there was nothing sensible about what the TSA folks were asking her to do. I know they get a lot of flak from people, but their actions show to me an appalling lack of judgment and restraint. Why not just let the parent drink the water or just pass them through?

This whole incident is yet the latest example of what I call the "Post-9/11 Stupidity Syndrome," where any inane policy or practice can be defended by invoking 9/11, and vilifying someone who questions it as irresponsible, unpatriotic or selfish.

BadTux said...

The stupidity was in thinking water in a toddler's sippy cup was worthy of security consideration in the first place. But we must protect the nation from sippy cups of mass destruction! Why, don't you know them funny-talkin' furriner types might, like, drag a toddler with them on one of them terrier missions and use a sippy cup to DESTROY US ALL?!

Sheesh. Some people. Why, if the TSA isn't allowed to demand sippy cups or anything at all they fell like demanding, no matter how stupid, idiotic, or just plain dumb, them islamoawhatchamaclallits will swim across the Atlantic with knives in their teeth, sneak into our bedrooms, and KILL US ALL! USA ! USA! PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin