Monday, October 19, 2009

TSA Trauma

I think enough has been said about the mommy blogger and her TSA trip. I don’t want to cast aspersions on either or give any more mileage to that incident.

Instead, I think one of the best things that has come out of this is that maybe the TSA will take a long, hard look in the mirror. If that many people could react that quickly and so vehemently to an alleged infraction by the government agency that stands between you and your next flight, what does that say about their current public image? Lots. And it ain’t good.

I can certainly understand why. I know a TSA agent and while he’s a really great guy, he told me that the way the rules get enforced depends on where you’re flying and who’s on duty. What one agent may let drop, another will go three miles over the line. Good to know.

The last few years, I haven’t flown much. But before that, I was a flyin’ fool. I’ve had my own set of run-ins with the TSA. The first occurred in 2003. I had on a suit where the jacket was actually the top. It has a false panel that gave the illusion of a blouse underneath.

The friendly TSA agent (read a**hole) decided I had to remove my jacket. The first two times I politely explained that it was my top, not my jacket. The third time I said, “If I take this off, I will be standing here in my bra. And I’m not standing here in my bra.” This immediately set off a firestorm. Three agents came to escort me to a corner office. A female TSA officer asked that I take off my jacket.

As it turned out, all I had to do was unsnap the false panel. Even that revealed a little more of myself than I felt comfortable doing with a stranger, but I didn’t have to strip. Everyone was relatively nice.

Fast forward to 2006. I’d had a really bad business trip. The first leg of my flight had been delayed. The second leg was running late, too. Of course, I hadn’t had dinner and the one thing I wanted was outside security. So I went and grabbed dinner and came back. As I stood in line, which had gotten quite long, agents were walking along and pulling out about every 10th or 12th person. Apparently, I was whatever that lucky number was.

I got walked off from the crowd to be hand-wanded. But first, I had to remove my belt, my jewelry and of course, my shoes and put my computer into one of the tubs. They had three or four other people waiting to be wanded ahead of me so my carry-on, my computer, my jewelry and my shoes all came through the conveyor well ahead of me. There I was, sitting on a chair 20 feet away from the conveyor where my computer was teetering closer to the edge with each push of a tub. When it became obvious that one more push would send it to the floor, I slowly rose from my seat.

“Please sit down,” a friendly agent barked.

“May I please get my computer off the edge?” I asked politely. “It’s about to fall.”
“You’ll be done in a minute, just stay in your seat,” came the answer.

A huge carry-on was heading for the tub. It collided with my computer and, had I not already been halfway to it when I got the response, it would have hit the floor. It fell into my hands instead. The agent practically leaped over the conveyor. “I said …”
“Hey, this computer helps me make my living,” I said. “It may not mean much to you, but it means a hell of a lot to me.” I gently laid it on the empty table at the edge of the conveyor and returned to my seat. When it came time to get wanded, I “accidentally” got cracked in the head with the wand. Yeah. Accidentally.

I know that the TSA doesn’t make the rules. And I know that sometimes, they get a bad rap. But even if they did no wrong this time (and I think even their own tape would dispute that) it shines a light on a much greater problem. The rules are stupid. Their enforcement is arbitrary and the people who oversee this operation could use a refresher in people skills.


karen said...

I am way behind on your post. They are all great.I have only flown once and that was last summer. It went ok except for the 3 hr delay. And all the changing flights we had to do because of the 3 hr. delay.But I want to fly again . Someday.

De-Blurker Kate said...

I believe that both companies & government agencies are finding more & more that Twitter, youtube, blogosphere, etc., CANNOT be ignored. It's the 21st Century versions of sit-ins, protests & strikes, but a lot faster & much more widespread.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. You just reminded me of all the things that are really annoying with flying these days. I am taking my two littlest ones on their first plane trip in a few weeks and now I'm starting to get a little nervous! On the up side, I have an in with the TSA in little brother. And he is a pretty good guy. ;-)

NV said...

Yeah, traveling is a lot different than it used to be, that's for sure. I can't begin to imagaine what it's like with youguns!

Anonymous said...