Two weeks after the Transportation Security Administration banned liquids, gels and mascara in carry-on baggage, I traveled to the Caribbean on business. It was anything but a seamless trip. I understand the "why" behind the need to provide security in travel. It's the implementation that left me a bit ragged at the end of a journey.

Departure Day. Newark Liberty International Airport, 6 a.m. It was dark. It was raining. The MapQuest directions to an off-site parking lot landed me on a dead-end street facing a padlocked cyclone fence. I whipped a U-turn and ended up dumping my car on the rooftop level of the AirTrain parking lot at the P4 station -- the farthest from Terminal A and American Airlines.

I ran through the rain, boarded the train and 10 minutes later entered Terminal A. By habit, I headed straight for security and the gates. Then I suddenly remembered: I had a suitcase to check. For the first time in more than 15 years, I stood in a long line at the ticket counter to check the same bag that I'd previously carried with me on umpteen flights all over the world.

I had not been able to rationalize traveling without the essentials, which in my case included liquid makeup, toothpaste, perfume, hair gel, mouthwash and lip gloss.

I know, I know. I was going to Turks and Caicos, not exactly a third world country. But it's difficult to find sapphire blue mascara in New Jersey, not to mention Providenciales, and my time was limited. I had less than 48 hours on the island.

When I reached the counter 20 minutes later, the American agent studied my itinerary, took aim and fired: illustration by Thomas R. Lechleiter"This is an international ticket. The rule is that you must check in three hours before departure."


"I know that where I'm going to end up today is international, but my first flight goes to Miami," I said. "I have a four-hour layover before I connect to Provo. So from here to Miami is domestic, right?"

She did not answer my question. Instead, she repeated the this-is-an-international-ticket speech. 

I persisted. "My flight to Miami leaves at 7:20 a.m. You're saying I should have been here at 4:20 a.m.? This counter doesn't even open until 6 a.m. It's 6:05 a.m. now."

She ignored that point. "No, you're too late for this flight. You still have to go through security. You haven't allowed enough time for the check-in process. You can't check in now, and even if you could, we can't guarantee your bag will get on the flight."

"So what do you suggest I do?" I asked.

To more thoroughly confuse me, she contradicted herself. "Well, you can try and get on this flight, but you will have to take your bag with you."

"But my bag has all the stuff that the TSA said I can't take on."

"So throw the stuff out."

Immediately, the image of me tossing a $50 bottle of perfume given to me by my husband flashed before me.

"You just said I can't check in, but now you're saying I can check in but I have to throw away my stuff?" My frustration was mounting. My voice had a tremor.

In the end, it was the agent who decided my course of action. "Forget it. You're too late for anything now. You'll have to take another flight."

Again, I attempted clarification. "Lady, first you say I'm too late. Then you say maybe I can get on the flight, but I have to bring this bag -- after I throw everything out. Which is it? What am I doing?"

Elapsed time at the counter: 17 minutes.

The agent had long since stopped making eye contact or answering questions. She pounded her keyboard. "Our next flight is 12:10 p.m. You're in luck. There's a seat available."

Luck? No, this was not luck! I'd been up since 3:30 a.m. and on the road by 4:10 a.m. to make a 7:20 a.m. flight to Miami.

"Are you checking your bag?" she asked. I just nodded. She handed me my boarding passes.

"This one is for your Miami flight. This one is for your next flight. You have a three-hour layover in Miami."

Whoop-dee-doo! Miami is such a fun airport to hang out in. The only decent coffee is in the Cuban restaurant outside security.

"Next!" she bellowed.

So I had six hours to kill at Newark. I went through security -- that ate up 40 minutes -- and stockpiled snacks until my 12:10 p.m. flight, which departed at 2 p.m. No reason given for the delay.

I barely made the connection in Miami. I sprinted from Terminal A to Terminal D (a 19-minute walk, according to the signs in the airport) and then back to A again (a gate change had occurred during my mad dash through the labyrinth).

On the flight to Provo, it was soft drinks or coffee. I knew that real food had gone the way of the pillow, blanket and leg room, but hope sprang eternal.

"Do you have any pretzels?" I asked.

"No. We have a food box. You want to buy it?"

The attendant dumped a grey cardboard container on my tray table. I couldn't see inside it, but I knew that the $5 covered cheese and crackers, maybe an apple and/or a granola bar. I declined on principle.

I arrived in Provo eventually, and so did my bag. It was well after dark. The resort had no room service and its restaurants were closed by the time I checked in. Traveling is good for diets.

Fast-forward to departure day from Turks and Caicos. The wake-up call never came. When a worried colleague called my room at 5:30 a.m. as he was getting into the airport van, I woke up real fast. Eight minutes later, I was in the lobby and then in a cab to the airport.

I don't know why I bothered to rush. Check-in and security took an hour-and-a-half.  When I got to Miami, the scheduled four-hour layover stretched to six hours. "Air traffic control is holding all New York-area flights here for a while" was the explanation. I called home. "Is it raining?" I asked my husband. "No," he said.

Once I arrived in Newark, it took an hour for my bag to tumble onto the carousel. Why does everyone, including me, have black former carry-on bags?

The escalator was broken, so I followed the signs to the stairs, boarded the AirTrain to P4, then headed for my car. The rooftop was deserted and dark. Not one light illuminated the parking lot. I moved quickly.

I encountered the cyclone fence again on my way home, but I navigated the U-turn and somehow found I-78 heading west.

To contact harried reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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