Credit: Rachal Duggan

I was hunkered down at Gate C21 next to a very pathetic-looking Christmas tree—patchy, weak light job, zippo presents. The agent behind the desk was singing—off-key and to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”—that our flight had been delayed another 30 minutes. These days, airline companies know that every customer interaction teeters on a razor-thin edge between viral-marketing sensation and disaster. Thus, flight attendants increasingly serve ginger ale and peanuts while beatboxing or relay the essential features of seatbelt safety with winking double entendre and ironic sexy lunging.

Every few minutes, a loud computerized chime tolled over the PA system, and a nonhuman voice reminded us to report all foreign, unattended packages to our nearest airline representative immediately. Sometimes another voice, charmingly human, would cut in to announce an item that had been left behind at security: headphones, a belt, something either so precious or so salacious they claimed they could not name it over the loudspeaker.

I asked a young mother sitting across from me if she would watch my bags while I got up to get a Diet Mountain Dew. When I returned, the woman was coaxing her son into spitting out a recently consumed left AirPod.

Though I found my own luggage unmoved, I noticed a box beneath the bony-ass Christmas tree beside me that hadn’t been there before, a box wrapped in shiny yellow paper with a red bow.

I waved, trying to catch the young mother’s attention, and asked, with profuse midwestern apology, if she had happened to see the package sitting there before.

“What package?” She narrowed her eyes and pulled her son closer.

I gestured to the package under the tree, apologized again, and emphasized that I didn’t mean to cause alarm.

“Alarm?” an older woman cawed, spinning around. She stood up and pointed her large index finger like an Irish setter. “Are you suggesting that’s a foreign, unattended package?”

Many gasped. The phrase “foreign, unattended package” began to circulate throughout the C terminal. All eyes turned toward the loathsome tree and me, standing beside it. Four TSA agents and a German shepherd pushed through the crowd and flanked us.

“What’s going on here?” the lead TSA agent barked.

“Foreign, unattended package,” I muttered.

The TSA agent reached down, picked up the package, and, to my horror, began to open the lid. There was a bright flash as an explosion of green and red confetti sprayed into my face.

Twenty minutes later, the official TSA Instagram account posted a split-screen photo to its 958K followers. One photo showed the package bursting its Santa-shaped confetti into my abject face. Another showed me arm in arm with the four TSA agents and the drug dog, all of us clad in festive red hats.

“It’s not cool to leave a package unattended, even if you’re Santa,” the caption read. “Congrats to the winner of this month’s Aviation Security Samaritan award and happy holidays from the TSA!”

Instinctively I smashed the like button—3,097 and counting.  v