Flight of the Living Dead

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Dead men tell no tales, but apparently those wingdings at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) fear cremated ones can hijack planes.

Given all that the TSA bans, it’s surprising that the agency allows passengers to transport ashes from a cremated body. In fact, you don’t even have to check the ashes: you can carry them right onboard. You’ll be respected for it, too, the TSA promises: "We understand how painful losing a loved one is" — I’m sure Rigoberto Alpizar’s widow appreciates that — "and we respect anyone traveling with crematory remains."

"Respect" in the TSA’s lexicon means groping the grieving and rifling their belongings. The "respect" decomposes further when the urn in which your loved one now remains thwarts the TSA’s X-rays: "If the container is made of a material that generates an opaque image and prevents the security screener [sic for u2018busybody’] from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container cannot be allowed through the security checkpoint."

Proving you’ve got brother Bob and not a bomb in there should be a simple matter of opening the urn. Or so you would think. That’s because grief has made you forget you’re dealing with the TSA rather than folks with a lick of common sense: "Out of respect to the deceased and their family and friends, under no circumstances will a screener open the container even if the passenger requests this be done." Balderdash. The agency doesn’t pry in extremis as a nod to local tyrannies and their various regulations on handling human remains. Believe me, dweebs who rummage through our underwear and molest young girls for a living don’t suddenly grow a conscience when it comes to disturbing the dead.

Travelling with a loved one’s ashes may not be your preferred way to go, but the TSA says it’s common. (NB: the TSA’s respect for honesty is surpassed only by its respect for sorrowing passengers.) The Indianapolis Star quoted "Rene Harris, a customer service official" with the TSA ("Customer service"? At the Transportation Security Administration? Who knew? Who even suspected?): “Maybe not every day, but at least every week,” people take their late loved ones for that final flight.

So when a man tried to carry his father’s ashes onboard at Indianapolis International Airport earlier this month, screeners should have "respected" him. After all, they’d "respected" passengers in the same tragic circumstances the week before and the week before that; you’d think so much "respecting" would teach even these boneheads how to deal with the dear departed. But no. The Star reports that "TSA X-ray screener Lyle Harper pulled the remains aside after seeing a u2018dark image.’ TSA bag checker Brad Eastman then did an explosive-trace detection test on them. The results were negative." Alas, the TSA sees negative results as an invitation to further harassment rather than a reason to desist.

The Star then quotes a "police report" because, yep, the TSA "respected" this grieving "customer" so much they eventually called the cops on him and his dead dad: “‘Eastman spoke to the owner of the urn and learned that the urn was the passenger’s father [Whoa! An urn that spawned! No wonder the TSA’s keeping an eye on it] . … Eastman was satisfied with the urn and bag and allowed the passenger and bag to go down the concourse.’ Moments after the man was sent on his way, Eastman told Harper he hadn’t put the urn through a second X-ray screening." Cremated guys can be sneaky: you never know when they’re faking death, so it’s best to X-ray them twice. And when you forget that all-important repeat radiation? Well, then you alert your supervisor, who, in grand TSA tradition, shuts down the checkpoint.

It gets better. Despite its "respect" for the now-departed departed, the TSA decided to hunt his ashes down for further searching, as if screeners hadn’t already pestered him and his son with swabs and X-rays and other voo-doo. He should have been easy to spot, according to the Star: his son, who "wore a red shirt and pink hat" was "carr[ying] the ashes in a box inside a garbage bag." Still, "airport officials could not find" this distinctive duo.

Ah, the efficiency of the police state. And the sour grapes, too: since they couldn’t locate these terrorists who’d taken such crafty care to camouflage themselves and draw no attention, they punished passengers by closing the terminal. "About 500 people were evacuated from Concourses B and C for more than an hour, and eight flights were delayed." Naturally, the TSA searched these victims all over again before sending them on their way. Dead men not only hijack planes, they also pass liquids and gels to the living.

Even the TSA admitted this was overkill, so to speak. Lara Uselding, a TSA spokesgal, said that "…the mass evacuation [was] made u2018out of an abundance of caution’…"

Yo, Lara: make that "an abundance of powerlust."

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

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