NEXT MONTH, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will flock like papal doves to Philly for the World Meeting of Families.

Many will fly into and out of Philly International Airport. Some will have babies in tow, and those babies will get hungry on their flights back home.

And they will want milk. Because they're, y'know, babies.

My prayerful entreaty is that the Transportation Security Administration is more accommodating with them than it was with the Bunn's baby.

Last Monday morning, Steve and Susana Bunn were headed home to Santa Ana, Calif., after a long visit here with friends and family (Steve is a Philly native). Their son Matthew, who's almost 3, is an easy traveler. Hand the kid an iPad, and he's in the zone.

But Lily, 14 months, gets antsy and cranky, Steve says, especially when she's hungry. So they pack milk for her, since it's loaded with nutrition and also soothes her.

For this particular journey, they brought two milk boxes for Lily - one for the flight from Philly to their layover in Houston; the other for the flight from Houston to Santa Ana, Calif.

The boxes - designed just like juice boxes, right down to the attached straw and push-through seal - don't need refrigeration until they're opened. So they're perfect for travel.

Plus, the TSA permits them on board. On the Bunns' trip to Philly, agents in Santa Ana and Houston passed the milk boxes right through the security scanner and sent the family on their way.

But on Monday, as the Bunn Bunch entered security for their flight on United out of Philly, a TSA agent insisted on opening Lily's milk for testing.

"We tried to explain that if we opened the milk, it would quickly get sour and not last for the time when our daughter would need it," says Steve, 34, a deputy district attorney in Orange County, Calif. "And we wouldn't be able to pack the carton without the milk spilling once the seal was opened."

But the agent continued to insist that he had to open the milk to test it - which he did, destroying Lily's milk for the afternoon.

"I can't believe the level the TSA has stooped to, that they would ruin a baby's milk, depriving her of important nutrition," says Steve, flabbergasted. "Maybe this is why they miss most of the dangerous items being brought through security - they're too busy depriving babies of milk and inflicting other abuses."

My thoughts precisely.

In June, the TSA's acting director was "reassigned" after undercover agents for the $2 billion agency were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through TSA checkpoints 67 out of 70 times.

That's a 95 percent failure rate. Who do they think they are - the Phillies?

In one case, an undercover agent with a fake bomb strapped to his back set off a metal detector. So, a TSA agent patted him down, didn't find the "bomb" and let him go.

Maybe the Bunns should've strapped Lily's milk boxes to her back.

The Bunns aren't the first family to endure milk madness in the security line.

In April 2014, a breastfeeding mom won a $75,000 settlement after being harassed by TSA agents at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for bringing breast milk - an allowed liquid - through security.

As part of the settlement, the TSA was to retrain its officers on proper breast-milk screening procedures. But six months later, at the same airport, another breast-feeding mom was hassled and humiliated by security when she tried to pass her pumped breast milk through security.

She said she was told repeatedly that if she "didn't want to be treated this way, she shouldn't have brought breast milk with her to the airport."

Talk about a gleeful abuse of power exercised by dolts who 1) don't know their own agency's protocols; 2) have no compassion for parents traveling with kids; and 3) are ignorant about breastfeeding, which, for some babies, is their only nutrition.

A spokesman for the TSA told me that, without reviewing security tapes of the Bunns' trip through Stupidville (OK, he didn't call the checkpoint Stupidville), he couldn't comment on the veracity of their complaint. But he assured me that milk boxes, like juice boxes, need not be opened to be screened.

The most stupid thing about this stupid tale? Steve says that the TSA agent screening the Bunns told them he needed to test only one milk box and that the Bunns could choose the box they wanted screened.

Which raises the question: If the Bunns had been traveling with a liquid explosive concealed in a milk box, wouldn't it stand to reason that the box they'd choose for screening would be the box that didn't contain the explosive?

The agent also told the Bunns that if they didn't allow him to test the milk, he'd have to put the entire family through a more invasive screening: heavy pat-downs of them and the kids, sifting through their three carry-on-bags and testing Lily's stroller.

Which would, what, mitigate the danger of the possible liquid explosive in the milk boxes?

"We were afraid we'd miss our flight," says Steve. "So we said, fine, open the milk."

Thankfully, Lily would end up sleeping most of the way home, sparing passengers' patience. But the episode still steams Steve.

"I don't want to bash law enforcement; I work in law enforcement myself," he says. "But it seems like we've had more problems with the TSA in Philly than in other cities we fly through."

He recalls the time Susana removed her bracelet - a lovely gold piece - as she went through security. When she emerged on the other side, the bracelet was gone. Agents shrugged; no one knew anything. She summoned a supervisor, who reviewed security tape, spoke with another agent and - presto! - she got her bracelet back.

"This whole situation with the TSA is disappointing," says Steve. "If we have to endure abuses and oppression like this while flying, then the terrorists have already won."

Leaving us to cry over spilled milk.

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

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