Galley Gossip: Ma’am, is that a frying pan in your bag?

“Ma’am,” said the TSA agent as he stared at the screen in disbelief.

I gulped. Oh no, here we go, I thought, as I stood in line and watched him sitting on the stool inspecting my bag on the screen in front of him. I smiled a friendly smile and tried to act nonchalant, as if I hadn’t been dreading this moment all day. Man, I knew this was going to happen!

The TSA agent looked at me, and back at the screen. “Is that a frying pan in your suitcase?”

“Yes, sir, that is, in fact, a frying pan in my bag,” I laughed.

All I could do was laugh. Not only had my grandpa given me a cast iron skillet (or two – okay three!), earlier that morning, he’d also given me a pound of potatoes from his garden in Texas. Luckily I found all the items he’d hidden in my bag before leaving for the airport. I only kept one cast iron skillet, and in my defense, it was the smallest one.

“Is everything okay?” I asked the TSA agent as he looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with another agent.

Guess not. Because now there were three agents surrounding the screen. They whispered amongst themselves and studied the frying pan with great intensity. It’s just a frying pan, I wanted to say, but didn’t, because now all three of them were looking at me. I, of course, just smiled and held my breath. Normally, in this kind of situation I’ll crack a joke, say something silly about cooking eggs for the crew, but this time I kept my mouth shut.

NOTE: Always – ALWAYS – keep your mouth shut when TSA is inspecting your bag. And do whatever they say. Whether you like it or not.

It seemed like an eternity before the backup agents walked away from the screen. The one left sitting on the stool just shook his head and didn’t say another word as the conveyor belt started to move again. When my suitcase popped out on the other side I thanked the guy and went on my merry way. That was close. Maybe a little too close.

TSA, I’m sure, has seen it all. And then some! I mean if I’m hauling a frying pan across the country, I wonder what other people are packing in their bags. It got me thinking.

“Excuse me,” I said to a TSA agent standing beside me at the Wendy’s counter at La Guardia airport last week. I had just ordered an iced tea, a little treat before starting a killer three-day trip flying in and out of Miami. (I still don’t know what I was doing on that trip.) After explaining to the TSA agent I was in the process of writing a post about weird things people pack, I went on to ask, “What strange things have you seen on the job?”

As the TSA agent reached for a bag of food, the words, “Nothing too strange,” were mumbled.

“Really?” I said. Now I was completely disappointed. Certainly this person had seen something! I handed a tired looking cashier lady two dollars and grabbed my drink. “I’m surprised to hear that.”

As I punched a straw through the plastic lid, I almost didn’t hear the agent mumble, “Well, there was a lady last week who…”

I spun around. “Who what? Tell me!”

“Kept setting off the security machine. We couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally we had to take her aside and that’s when she told us she was wearing a remote controlled (the following two words are my words – not the TSA agent’s words) body massager.”

My mouth dropped open and my eyes had to be bugging out of my head. “A what!”

“In her underpants,” the agent said matter of fact, as if this kind of thing happened daily, before heading back to work.

Now I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I hope I never do, but once, while flying an international trip, I did happen upon a very strong senior mama carrying two rollaboards down a flight of stairs where the crew van awaited on the tarmac in London.

“Are you a commuter?” I asked eying both bags, one in each hand, as I stood feeling so teeny tiny beside a gigantic 767.

“No, sweetie, this is my Cappuccino maker,” the flight attendant said, nodding at the bag on the right. “I make coffee for the crew in the mornings in my room. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

And I did join in for coffee the next morning, since our layover rooms did not have coffee makers. Just tea pots. We were in London, remember? Thirteen years later I can say that toting a coffee maker across the ocean is not the norm. However, it’s not-not the norm either, because when relaying this story to another flight attendant she laughed and said, “What about flight attendants who bring their sewing machines with them on their layovers?”

Apparently we have a hat maker amongst our ranks.

While I’ve never met the hat guy, I did watch in shock as a flight attendant carried a very large item through airport security and onto the airplane. I must add that the flight attendant dragging the monstrous machine also wore a wet lopsided bee hive of a bun on the side of her head. I couldn’t decide which was more disturbing, the item being hauled through the airport or the hair.

Crazy is on the plane, each and every flight, but usually crazy is sitting in a seat and waiting for a drink – not working the other side of the cart. With me.

“Excuse me, ma’am” I said to the flight attendant with the screwy bun, channeling the TSA agent above. “Is that a vacuum cleaner attached to your bag?”

What other strange things have been found on planes?