Our last few years in China, we went on visa runs every 60 days. Since all my kids have November birthdays and our one-day trip to Seoul came up in the same month, we decided to take them to Toys R Us to pick out a toy for their birthday.
We landed at ICN, took a long subway ride and found the toy store without a hitch. The kids shopped for over an hour before deciding which toy to take home. The boys chose Nerf guns and my daughter chose a doll. We shoved the loot into the empty duffle bag we brought along, explored the neighborhood and returned to the airport to catch our flight back to China.
We arrived with time to spare and only had one duffle bag, which we chose to carry-on. Upon reaching airport security, I placed my backpack on the baggage x-ray conveyor and stepped through the metal detector. I turned to grab my backpack which had already received the all-clear just in time to see the x-ray screen displaying the contents of my husband’s duffle bag.
The highlighted outline of an assault weapon flashed on the screen, and the security officer, pale and frightened but trying to keep her calm simply asked me, “Is this your bag?”
“No! It’s his!” I exclaimed, pointing a finger at my own husband.
“Sir, you are not allowed to carry guns into the airport,” the security officer explained.
As we frantically explained we were carrying TOY Nerf guns in our bag, the situation quickly escalated to a full-blown security breach. People snapped into action, unzipping the bag and revealing our concealed guns.
As my husband pleaded to be permitted to return to the ticket counter to check the bag, the straight-forward response from the security officer (who was now flanked by three additional security officers) was “Sir, please come with me.”
I stood there with my three children (aged 2, 6 & 8) and watched them escort my husband out of the area, suddenly realizing he was carrying ALL FIVE of our passports. All I could do was wait and pray that they would view the situation with humor and not wrath.
After what felt like 5 lifetimes, my husband appeared back in the security line. He looked unharmed and didn’t have the duffle bag, and I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. He wouldn’t be spending the night in a Korean jail and we wouldn’t be stuck in transit like Tom Hanks in the movie “The Terminal.” I love airports, but I don’t know how long I could sustain myself and the children on a diet of ketchup packets.
Thankfully, the airline agreed to check the bag, and everything worked out swimmingly. We continued our journey, but we were running a little short on time. Since we’d heard that a brand-new Taco Bell had opened in the transit area, we were determined to get our taco fix before returning to China. The time crunch lead to a hasty family pack order of 20 tacos to go. So, there we were, two tall Texans, two bags of tacos and three kids rushing through the airport to catch our flight.
We arrived dead last at the gate.
The airline staff saw us coming and greeted us with “Are you Jeremy Taylor?”
This struck us as a bit strange and we exchanged worried glances.
“Um…yes,” my husband replied.
“I need to talk to you about your bag.”
“Oh, no!” I thought, “He’s definitely going to prison this time. At least I’d start my terminal stay with 20 tacos. The children and I could probably last a few days on those before we’d have to resort to ketchup packets.”
“You can’t check the guns to China. It’s not allowed,” they said.
“They’re TOY guns!” we replied.
“Sorry,” they said.
“That’s our kids’ birthday gifts! We just bought them today!” we pleaded.
LONG PAUSE. Up to this point, the kids had been fantastically calm. But the boys were paying very close attention to this conversation (which, truth be told included the dialogue from above repeated 3 times with increasing passion).
“No. I’m sorry. It’s not permitted,” was the final answer.
Upon hearing this, my oldest son LOST IT. He threw his head back like Charlie Brown and wailed. But, guns or no guns, we had a plane to catch. We promised our son we’d make it up to him and reminded him of the taco feast. That calmed him a bit, and we headed down the tunnel for the plane.
Everyone else was already seated, and somehow, by the grace of God, we were in the bulkhead row. As we settled in, my husband placed the two bags of tacos on the floor in front of him in order to help situate the kids. Like a seagull swooping in for a Cheeto at a beach picnic, the flight attendant snatched up the bags containing our dinner (and at that moment our happiness) and crammed them into the overhead compartment.
“Sir, you may not place your bags there during takeoff,” she said.
“Those are my tacos! We were about to eat them!” the hungry Texan replied.
“You may retrieve them after we reach cruising altitude,” she said.
Cue the Charlie Brown wail. My kids FREAKD OUT. At this exact moment, an official looking airline employee boarded the plane. He stopped right in front of us.
“Are you Jeremy Taylor?” he asked.
For the third time in an hour, I’m thinking my husband is about to be hauled away.
“Yes,” Jeremy reluctantly answered.
The man explained he could keep our Nerf guns until we returned to Seoul on our way home in a few weeks to get them. We’d be allowed to check them on a flight to America. It was a nice gesture, but since we lived in China, we wouldn’t be traveling back through Seoul to America for nine months.
There we sat, guns and tacos surrendered, defeated and headed home to China. That’s the end of my sad, sad story. I’m so glad it didn’t end with me stuck in the airport feeding my kids condiments while awaiting my husband’s release from prison.
Do you have an epic airport story to share? Share in the comments below!