Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Airport Security: What TSA Really Means

TSA doesn't mean Transportation Security Agency.  It means Travel Sucks for Americans.

My wife and I travel fairly often.  Okay, not weekly, like so many others, but we fly to Denver several times a year, to Reno, to San Francisco, Hawaii or other vacaton spot and even to Istanbul now and then.  And I get why air travel needs enhanced security, but does anyone really think TSA officials are saving us from anything?

(Editor's Note: Do not paint everyone with a broad brush.)  Okay, Ed., fair enough.  Some TSA workers are pretty good and probably useful.  There's that really cute old TSA guy at PDX who tells you where to go and reminds you that you have to show your picture ID and boarding pass.  And he seems to zero in on people who don't travel often and Very Old People who seem mystified, kindly telling them the same thing even though he's done it 42,000 times that day.  Last Thursday, a woman tried letting everyone know that the line for the D-E Gate was shorter than the A-B gate.  And on the whole, PDX security people are consistent.

But that's not true in the rest of the world. TSA may have rules, but every airport either makes up its own or only uses the ones they can read in one sitting.  My daughter who travels back and forth to Istanbul opined that the smaller the town, the more Barney Fife-like the TSA workers are.  She made this observation after being detained several hours with four Persians a few years ago, the Portland TSA guy asking over and over what she knew of the Istanbul bombing.  And I recall the Eugene people to demonstrate IQ levels which would describe the daily afternoon temperature.

But a recent trip to Denver upended this hypothesis.

We have a carryon which contains my shaving kit and a bag of my wife's cosmetics and personal care items.  This bag has gone through TSA check after TSA check after TSA check with no problem.  Reno.  San Francisco.  Denver (last summer). Portland.  But apparently, the Denver International crew recently drank a new kind of Kool Aid.

It didn't help that the Denver Airport's security has to be among the worst ever.  It's a busy airport, but has a security facility geared to half the passenger traffic actually there.  Arrive an hour early?  At Denver, plan two, and don't forget you have to ride a train to your departure gate. Now, though, TSA-Denver has decided to body scan everyone.  Okay, (un)fair enough. But then, my wife failed scanner walk-through because she'd forgotten to remove her sandals, whose soles aren't thick enough to hide a quarter, let alone a vial of Semtex.  Body scan, patdown, and since I was with her, body scan and patdown for me as well.

We were almost free, but then Captain America spotted the carryon bag.  Slight, stiff crewcut, clenched lips, the kind of guy who wears mirror sunglasses in a movie theater, his last job had to have been part-time security at a half-empty strip mall, but he saw his Chance at Glory and seized our bag.  Commanding us to follow, he took us to a nearby table and proceeded to remove each item as though it were an organ being transplanted and laid them on the table. Next, he re-arranged them by size and examined each one to be sure each was within the regulation 3.5 fl. oz.

He looked at me and said, "Sir. Do. You. Know. That. These. Items. Are to be. Packed. In a clear. Ziploc."

Look sideways and cough, please.
I asked if the rules had been changed lately.  Liquids are supposed to be visible, and we'd never been stopped for this before.  He interrupted and said, "Sir. These. Are. The. Rules. I'm just telling you. The. Rules."  When I said we had never, ever had this experience, he again interrupted and said, "Sir.  These. Are. The. Rules."  Then he walked off, making sure we sent the carryon bag through the scanner again.  Our flight was already boarding when we arrived at the gate.

Again, I appreciate the need for enhanced airport security.  I know Al Quaida terrorists are out there and want to kill Americans and take all our stuff, and I know the TSA is there to defend us.

I just hope the terrorists are half as scared as I am.


1 comment:

  1. OMG I'll bet mom went completely batshit (and perhaps still is?)

    In the pre-9/11 glory days, I smuggled a live rat (twice!) through airport security. In a hidden shirt pocket. Taped with duct tape. One time, I got pulled over for a pair of needle-nose pliers in my bag that concerned security. While they inspected the pliers (which they allowed me to carry on, BTW), the rat started making a valiant escape. Her head was all the way out and her body was on the way, and I was sort of covering her with awkwardly positioned arm, and no one noticed. Hee!