Home & Leisure

The Oily Reason I'm Worried About Flying


I'm planning an overseas flight with my kids this summer, and I have a bad feeling.

Not because of COVID (though that promises now to, forever, be a problem), not because of tensions between Turkey and Greece (though that could get ugly fast) and not because I've seen post after post warning that travel this year will be hellacious.

It's because of the oil.

The story starts in the 1980s, when my mother and my two brothers and I were preparing to return home from visiting family in Greece. My father, who loves olive oil from his village more than he loves life itself, couldn't go with us. As a consolation, he'd asked his mother, my grandmother, to send some oil back with us.

My grandmother handed over to my mom an obscene amount of olive oil, sealed in huge metal containers, and mysteriously, my mom agreed to take it on two planes, over an ocean, while also traveling with her children, one as young as 4.

When we got to JFK Airport, we were late for our connecting flight to New Orleans. We ran through the halls as fast as a woman and three children laden with four full tins of olive oil can manage. My youngest brother was too small to carry one, so my brother and I hauled one apiece and my mom had two, in addition to the luggage.


I remember the look on my mother's face then, and even as a child, it transmitted to me so clearly the contents of her mind: This is hell.

We arrived the X-ray machine out of breath but full of relief. There was no line. We put the four tins of olive oil, clink, clink, clink, clink, on the conveyor belt and stepped to the side.

Now, airport security wasn't then what it is now, but even 35 years ago, people who worked the X-ray machines knew they should probably give at least a cursory inspection to giant metal containers holding unknown substances.

"What's in here?" one of the guys asked with suspicion.


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