When Lies Fly — and When They Don't

If you tell a lie within the gulag that has become American aviation, be sure you work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It pays employees for such sin. Meanwhile, prevaricating passengers risk twenty years in prison and million-dollar fines.

A couple of recent whoppers illustrate this double standard. The first issued from the lips of passenger John Azzinaro, 37, of Oak Ridge, New Jersey. John appears to have been drunk, distraught or both onboard Continental Express Flight 2772 from Cincinnati to Newark, according to his fellows: "Passengers interviewed by local television stations Monday night said Azzinaro kept switching seats [and] at one point put a blanket over his head…."

Maybe it’s me, but the Linus routine seems a sensible response to the tension that the TSA (Traumatic, Stressful Aviation) inflicts on folks. Who doesn’t long to crawl into his seat and disappear beneath a blanket after running the airport gauntlet?

Alas, John was also "drinking alcohol on the flight." That alone is enough to damn him in these prudish times, even without his having played musical chairs. One passenger "told WOIO-TV that Azzinaro had at least one alcoholic drink onboard. u2018The guy asked for a second drink and the flight attendant said no…’"

This seems to have angered John, as it would anyone under the illusion that flight attendants are there to serve passengers rather than to control them and order them about. Perhaps the airlines should ditch attendants’ existing uniforms in favor of camouflage and AK-47s to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

John retaliated to the attendant’s effrontery by claiming he had a bomb. Under the circumstances, that’s about as credible as his claiming to be Continental’s CEO, dammit, so fetch him that drink, quick. He apparently muttered his "threat" to the passenger beside him. We aren’t told how it progressed from there to the flight crew, but given the police state’s incessant demands that we snitch on one another, I bet we can guess.

Both the crew and the TSA overreacted to John’s drunken rage with all the hysteria, dramatics, and bells and whistles we’ve come to expect. The flight was "diverted" to Cleveland, John was "removed" from the plane, and "authorities" rewarded the other passengers for their snitching by "isolat[ing], search[ing] and question[ing]" them. Naturally, all bags were also re-rifled. Surprise! — no bomb was found.

"The chances of an actual bomb being on board is [sic] extremely slim,” admitted Pat Smith, spokesgal for Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. “But you still don’t dismiss it.” Well, of course you don’t, Pat. What else would Cleveland’s cops do if they weren’t wasting everyone’s time and taxes mistaking an angry drunk and those who tattled on him for international terrorists? Work to reduce Cleveland’s murder rate, a mere three times the national average in 2004? Good gracious, that might require taking one’s chances against actual criminals instead of bullying disarmed, cowering passengers.

John found himself in court less than 24 hours after his attempt to buy a second drink mid-flight. Who says justice isn’t swift? Magistrate Judge Patricia Hemann of the U.S. District Court in Cleveland played the charade superbly: though she had to release John on $25,000 bond, she, too, pretended that his inebriation endangers American transportation. She not only barred him from all flights except those between his home and his future appearances in her court, she also "ordered Azzinaro not to drink alcohol in excess, not to drink on the flight and to avoid alcohol three hours prior to his flight." If convicted of the "crime" of "interfering with a flight crew," John’s drunken drivel could cost him 20 years and a million bucks. In addition to the First and Fourth Amendments, the War on Terror and Passengers has also felled the Eighth, with its prohibitions against "excessive fines" and "cruel and unusual punishments."

Meanwhile, as John was indicted for lying about a bomb, a bureaucrat at the TSA lied about the agency’s theft of our belongings. Lara Uselding, "TSA Midwest public affairs manager" asserted to the Chicago Tribune that “TSA does not confiscate items at the checkpoint; the items are voluntarily abandoned.”

No doubt this comes as a shock to passengers forced to choose between their $15 pocket knives and their $200 airline ticket. What happens to all the scissors, corkscrews, and lighters we "voluntarily abandon"? The TSA gives them to state agencies that "[handle] federal and state surplus material as well as items surrendered at" airports. Sales of these stolen goods have netted states such as New Hampshire "about $26,000 per year" while "Illinois also does quite nicely…, generating $38,000 in the fiscal year ended June 30."

Voluntarily abandoned. Yep, that would explain all those "ornate knives used by brides and grooms to cut their wedding cakes" New Hampshire’s selling. Most newlyweds can’t wait to unload those pesky little keepsakes from the most memorable day of their lives on a TSA goon. Ditto the "rolling pin painted with chickens and something scrawled in indecipherable French [that] still bears its $19.99 price tag": tourists often buy souvenirs in the hopes of donating them to the TSA. Indeed, there are an awful lot of very generous Americans in the air: they "voluntarily abandoned" 9,835,349 "passenger possessions …during the first eight months of this year."

Lara’s lie, presumably told when she was sober, helps keep the TSA in operation, stealing from and molesting us. John’s lie would have hurt no one had it been treated for what it was: a drunk’s stupid stutter.

So far Lara hasn’t been indicted. Nor does she face a million-dollar fine and 20-year prison term.