The unintended consequences of airport rules

In humankind’s quest to be God, we run into a significant dilemma. We can close the gaps on time and distance. We can become all-knowing, omni-present and powerful beyond our imagination. We can be god-like, in certain situations — masters of our own fate.

But we cannot be simultaneously just and merciful, and this is our problem. While each of us contains the ability to be each, we default to one side or the other of these opposite values. There may be times when it is just to be merciful, and there may be times when it is merciful to be just, but we cannot sustain such for long.

In Psalms, it say, “Justice and judgment [are] the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” In Deuteronomy, we find, “The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” And in Jeremiah, “…they have sinned against the LORD, the habitation of justice.”

This conflict exists in the human soul, and we encounter it every day in our lives, for the left brain governs rules, while the right brain governs mercy. I’ve often written that we’ve gone too far down the rule-based side of culture, and that it’s time for a right-brain renaissance. Experience-driven postmodernism is too chaotic for left-brain modernism. Let me explain using two events from this weekend at airports in different parts of the country.

We all know that the TSA must abide by strict rules in order to maintain a level of safety against threats of terrorists who like to use airplanes as weapons. Nobody argues with that, myself included. I do have issues, however, with how far down the rule-bound road we’ve gone, especially as it relates to logic and common sense (which, I think, is very logical).

My daughter Larissa went home Sunday from Spring Break, and I took her to the DFW airport. I asked for a boarding pass to clear security, so I could accompany her to the Admiral’s Club and then the gate. She just turned 18. I was informed that age 17 was the cut-off, and I could not obtain a boarding pass. Bear in mind that I’ve done this many, many times and for many causes. I’m a Platinum level member with American Airlines, so they know me — at least their computers do. Why the arbitrary line? What difference does it make? I pitched a fit and got a pass, but I was told it would be the last one. Nice way to treat a very frequent customer, and, again, what difference does it make to anybody that I get past security to be with my scared and sad daughter? This is example one of the unintended consequences of rules. I should add that American Airlines will graciously provide “unaccompanied minor” privileges, for an extra $200. Nice.

Now let’s go over to Dulles, where my girlfriend’s 15-year old daughter was about to get on a plane to return home to Dallas this morning. She was visiting her 21-year old sister, who’s married to a Marine in Virginia. The older sister requested and obtained a boarding pass to accompany her little sister to the gate. Dulles is a big place. They got to security, and the younger sister was carrying a bottle of expensive perfume she’d received as a gift. Not knowing the 3 ounce rule, she had put it in her handbag. Despite pleas, the TSA agents would not hold the bottle of perfume, so that the older sister could retrieve it upon returning through security. Rather than just give away (to some TSA guard) a brand new bottle of expensive perfume, they decided to split. Consequently, the very scared 15-year old got lost in the terminal and had to be helped to her gate.

These are examples, I think, of the unintended consequences of our rule-bound lives. Airport security is a touchy subject, one that you dare not criticize. In neither of these cases, however, would security have been endangered whatsoever, but rules are rules. These illustrations are the feces of a culture that’s happy to consider only one side of human nature, and I’m not the only one with such stories to share. Only at airports do the citizens of the United States feel like we’re living in a police state, one governed by people given responsibility but no authority.

It’s all about justice, mercy be damned.


  1. We had a similar experience with TSA returning home from Europe. We had already cleared security in two European airports (Barcelona and Paris). However, upon trying to enter the U.S. from Vancouver, we discovered a small pen knife (used for a picnic the day before flying home) was in one of our carry on bags. Smaller than my little finger, this Swiss Army pen knife was a momento from a prior European trip, irreplaceable.

    We asked about mailing it home. TSA had no envelopes (although the TSA agent had told us that this was an option). I asked to speak to a manager; that got me no where. To say that we were frustrated is supreme understatement.

    Yes, they were enforcing a rule. But the rule, itself, is not based on common sense.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.