Slaying Lyons

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If it came to a choice between your family and the career enabling you to feed and support that family, which would you choose?

That devilish dilemma confronted Christopher Lyons of Oxford, Connecticut, when he, his wife, Karen, and their two-year-old boy, Spencer, fell into the clutches of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last February. Screeners who unearthed a penknife in the Lyons’ carry-on bag decided it was “artfully concealed” and called the cops. The stunned and shaken couple agreed that she would take the rap lest his job as a corporate pilot be threatened. While her son sobbed and her husband watched helplessly, this 34-year-old mother was marched away in handcuffs to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Presumably, arresting Mrs. Lyons struck some sort of blow against terrorism, but I’m a bit fuzzy on exactly how.

The Lyons’ saga began when they set off on what was supposed to be a vacation to sunny Disney World in the pre-dawn blackness of a winter’s day. Federalized airport security does its best to turn travel into torment, and the Lyons’ attempt to board their 7 AM flight on Southwest Airlines was no exception. Screeners rifling their belongings found a Swiss Army knife with — horrors! — a 2-inch blade nestled midway through a container of “Huggies” diaper wipes.

The TSA wants us to believe the couple deliberately concealed the $15 penknife so it can fine them up to $10,000 each. That Mrs. Lyons used to work as a flight attendant while Mr. Lyons is a pilot and former Marine and that both of them are, therefore, familiar with airports and security and much cleverer ways to hide “weapons” — yes, the TSA persists in calling a 2-inch blade a “weapon” — doesn’t faze Our Rulers. Nor does the glaring absence of any motive or criminal record.

The Lyons have a reasonable theory for why the knife was lurking in the Huggies, though they can’t say for sure (“I have no idea…,” Mr. Lyons, 43, told the Hartford Courant, while his wife added, “We didn’t even know it had fallen out of his pocket”). To minimize the overwhelming stresses the government now inflicts on travellers, the Lyons drove the 65 miles from their home to Bradley International Airport the night before their flight. They slept at a neighboring hotel. Mr. Lyons thinks he had the penknife in his pocket when he changed his son’s diaper around 5 that morning before checking out of the room. Because he didn’t turn on a light, he didn’t see the knife when it slipped from his pocket into the Huggies container. Nor did his wife, who replenished the canister, thereby “concealing” the knife, in preparation for long checkpoint lines and a flight with a two-year-old. They say it’s also possible the “weapon” fell on the bed and one or the other inadvertently scooped it up with the extra Huggies in their rush to leave.

But a knife so innocuous neither parent worried over its proximity to their son alarmed those courageous dipsticks at the TSA. Never known for their smarts or speed, the screeners ran the diaper bag through their X-ray gizmo time and again while the Lyons’ anxiety mounted. Then came a quarter-hour consultation with screening supervisors. Bradley’s TSA honchos are at the same moronic level as those in the rest of the country: their response to this insane sunrise scene was to call the Connecticut State Police. Good bureaucrats all, the cops told the Lyons, “We have to arrest someone.” And, by jingo, though lacking any crime, these whizzes still managed to come up with a charge: the Lyons were “circumventing airport security.” Husband and wife conferred. Knowing an arrest could badly injure or even kill his career, the couple agreed that Mrs. Lyons would sacrifice herself. Troopers cuffed her and dragged her off, not to Disney World but to a holding cell.

A hearing on this criminally absurd case was scheduled for this week. “Any and all attempts to purposefully conceal a prohibited item at a passenger security checkpoint will result in the issuance of a civil penalty,” sniffed TSA spokes-stooge Ann Davis. Apparently, neither she nor the other bullies at the TSA lose sleep over destroying their fellow-citizens’ lives, impoverishing them, or persecuting sincere, hard-working parents trapped in a silly web of events. But never let it be said the TSA has no heart: it has magnanimously recommended the Lyons be fined only $6000 apiece, rather than the full $10,000 allowed by its regulations. I suppose the hearing will feature endless testimony about dim hotel rooms, penknives — excuse me, “weapons” — and Huggies. Let’s hope the diaper in question is submitted for evidence so the court stinks as badly as the rest of this tyrannical charade.

Mr. Lyons made the obligatory obeisance to the TSA by telling the Courant that he “appreciates the need for strict airport security.” But “this is my career, and it’s not something to be taken lightly and mess around with.”

Then he cut to the heart of the matter. “I was in the military and I hate to say this, but I just don’t trust the government.”

Welcome to the club, Mr. Lyons.

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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