A few weeks ago I was transporting a cat from South Carolina to New York, returning it to a friend of mine.
The feline’s name is Juanse or “Juan” in Catalan. He’s a Burmese. Very cosmopolitan cat, and fairly well traveled, having lived in NYC and SoCal prior to South Carolina.
Juanse and I have been through airport security before, but never together. I got into line for security clearance, and prepared to remove the cat from his carrier. I knew he would have to go through the metal detector in my arms. However, I did not know that the metal detector has now been replaced by a puff machine: a walk-in ion mobility spectrometer.
I could have gotten into the line with the old fashioned metal detector, but hadn’t. I had made a mistake. Cradling the cat like he was sitting on a pillow, I edged around the security station, toward the x-ray.
I asked to switch lines but was told, no, I could go through the puffer. I knew this was wrong, but I obeyed the uniform. We’ll just get through this, I thought as I got a good grip on the cat’s neck and got inside.
We didn’t get through it. The device lets off three puffs of ionized air from above beside and below. By the second puff, Juanse, inert as a slinky just a moment ago, kicked powerfully down with his hind legs, claws out. His rear quarter cleared my forearm and got traction on the wall of the spectrometer.
Running up the side of the machine, Juanse pivoted out of my right hand grip, flipped to the ground, froze, and ran as I dived through the plastic swingaway door, yelling his name. He ran to the right, away from folks putting their shoes back on. I saw him run between two beefy TSArs who would’ve sooner locked lips than fallen on a cat. I knew I couldn’t OJ the baggage table and so I stopped. Also I was being told to stop. I watched Juanse skitter away into the food court.
I was told that would have to go through the machine again. I complied, “Fine. Somebody call a supervisor.” Back in the machine, three puffs. The operator began speaking to me. I exited the machine. He switched gears, “It wasn’t done. You have to go back into the machine.”
“Well what were you telling me?”
“That you have to wait before you leave the machine until I tell you to leave the machine.”
“Where is that supervisor? I knew I shouldn’ve listened to you.” I got back in the machine. “Don’t talk to me until its time to leave.” I shut my eyes and crossed my arms like an Egyptian mummy.
Three more puffs. Five seconds later, I was out. I noted that the operator had put his hands over his eyes and was rubbing his temples. I collected my things. “Now go find your cat.” a non-diving guard said, albiet in a friendly way. Shoes and luggage in hand I walked out into the food court. 1:00 on a Friday and the place was full. My flight departed in 20 minutes. I wouldn’t make it.
I turned around to find the TSA supervisor and others, already there: a troop in glasses and security outfits, a little older than the scanner operators, otherwise only distinguished by their walkie talkies.
They’d found the cat in the Burger King. After taking the corner, Juanse had hung an immediate right and pushed through a swinging door. He’d found himself in the employees changing room and immediately hid under a locker. The supervisor was discussing with her bald lieutenant and someone on the horn whether I should be permitted into the locker room.
“Will he come to you if you call him?”
“Then you can go get him if you go with me.”
We walked all of ten feet to where all the BK employees were gathered. Juanse was being cornered by a prone cat lover. I got down, got him by the neck, again, and hauled him out into the light.
“Oh! She’s pretty!” “Does she want some meat?” I refused on his behalf. Too nervous to eat, probably. I thanked them, suddenly cooling off like I’d just stepped into air conditioning.
I stopped to grouse to the TSA supervisor on my way to the gate, “I never should have listened to that guy.”
“Oh don’t worry,” she said,”he’s in trouble.” What did that mean? They acted like they swept cats through that thing all the time. I didn’t have time to follow up. I booked it to the gate, where the plane was late and I made the flight.
I’d figure that the TSA workers would be pretty numb to the concerns of pet owners. I found some blog entries by reputed security checkers that support that thesis.
There is some slightly more friendly reading material out there, Signal’s Airport Adventure is one:
Its nice to know that little boys are encouraged to say something if they see something.
The TSA’s own page is quite brief on the subject of pets, but it seems as though the scanning is optional.
You will need to present the animal to the Security Officers at the checkpoint. You may walk your animal through the metal detector with you. If this is not possible, your animal will have to undergo a secondary screening, including a visual and physical inspection by our Security Officers.
Talk to the supervisor if you have a pet, and insist on the secondary screening.