First, they come for your shoes

Read over this experience with the TSA. Sure, “No, you don’t get your shoes,” isn’t the same as 14 hours of “sorta” torture, but it still sucks.

Someone noticed that box cutters could be used as a weapon, and that airplanes could be used as a weapon. We can’t undo that. But do they think that any of the security theater has an impact on real safety. How stupid are they? Or more to the point: how stupid do they think we are?

A trip to LA. No problem at the Buffalo Airport: my wife and I go through the automatic check-in, show our boarding passes and ID at the security check point, go through X-ray, and board the plane. In Cleveland, we switch planes. Before the doors close, someone comes to our row and says he has a ticket for my seat. Happens all the time: obviously, he is mistaken. I pull out my boarding pass — no, wait, it’s my wife’s boarding pass. The other one must be… also my wife’s boarding pass. I look back at the last two boarding passes, and they too are identical. So, I’ve managed to get through security in Buffalo (obviously, my ID and the ticket did not match), as well as board two planes, basically without a valid ticket. The US Air flight attendant: “Oh, sometimes this sort of thing happens. Don’t worry about it.”

On the return flight, I’m going through the security maze at LAX, and get pulled aside. I am used to this. I am clearly a flight risk. I think bad thoughts sometimes. I look to the right and can’t see my laptop. I start toward it and the TSA agent tells me to stop. I explain that I came in with a laptop, and it is not there now. She says, of course it is, right behind your bag. I feel dumb. I still can’t see it, because to do so I would have to leave my zone of permission, but I trust that it is there. “Why are you so paranoid?” she asks, accusingly.

I stand in the same spot for about five minutes. They have no space to search me. She makes a lame attempt at conversation, “One way ticket, huh?”

“Nope,” I say, “returning whence I came.” (No, I don’t use the word whence, at least not with TSA agents, but you get the idea.)

“What do you mean? You are on a one-way flight.”

“No,” I assure her, “my wife and I,” (I gesture to my wife who is very patiently waiting on the other side of security), “are returning home. We flew here just a couple of days ago, on round-trip tickets.”

I debated telling her the truth, but quickly thought the better of it. If they learned that I had evaded their crack security (or is that security on crack?) in the first direction, no doubt they would consider me even more dangerous this time around.

The agent darts over and asks someone how she (my wife) got through. This is an absolutely idiotic question. They have no idea who she is; after all, she cleared security ten minutes ago, flagless.

Eventually, they put me into the search, where I am poked and prodded (why yes! those are my testicles!) by a latex-gloved professional poker & prodder. If they wore all latex, and carried whips, this whole process would be a lot more amusing, and a lot less humiliating and annoying. The whole search takes another fifteen minutes since my prodder, I kid you not, has run out of fresh latex gloves and has to go and find another one. I while away the time thinking up witty remarks that, if uttered, would put me on the “do not fly” list. When I grow bored with that, I think of all the ways I could hide bladed instruments in my carry-on — as part of the computer, in the extendible metal handle of the roll-aboard, as part of a razor, in a car seat — not to mention how easily I could conceal a taser, baton, or aerosol. I watch a security person punch in the code at the door, a code that anyone with acceptable vision now knows. (Next time you are at the airport, see how long it takes you to learn the code simply by sitting next to a door on the jetway.)

And I think. If I were a terrorist, I think I would buy a round-trip ticket. I think I would charge it on my American Express card. If they scribbled an S on my boarding pass, I think I would probably choose not to fly that day. I wouldn’t board at LAX, I’d board in Albany or any of a dozen airports where the screeners would rather do anything in the world but actually pay attention to their X-ray machines. Or, I would shoot the plane out of the sky with a shoulder-launched missile. Or, I would fly a private plane into a large airport (say, JFK), park at an FBO, and walk across the tarmac to a restricted area. I’m not a criminal mastermind; any half-wit like myself realizes that this is what is necessary if you want to attack another plane. Yet we support this crap in our airline terminals.

I’ve said it before, America. Suck it up. Walk it off.

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  1. Brian
    Posted 6/27/2005 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    My brother works for TSA, he has from the beginnig of its existance, one thing remains the same, freedom has a price. Always has, always will. Examples would be that we have the freedom to purchase a vehicle, whether or not we can afford it, but we must pay the high cost of gas, we have the freedom of owning a home, but pay the price if someone breaks into it, we have the freedom of walking down the streets at night but pay the price of maybe getting mugged, rapped or killed. Flying has it’s freedom and price. The ability to get onto an airplane and turn a 10 trip into 2 hours. The price, being screened. What are our alternatives, no screening at all and we take our chances? You know as well as I do that American freedom would not stand for it. Last I checked terrorist do not walk around with a sign on their forehead. They use all means available to them. Women, children, elderly and people in wheelchairs. Bottom line is they have one goal and that is to cause death and destrcution. A couple of years ago a man gave a teddy bear to a toddler, it contained a loaded .22 firearm, parents have ducted taped cash and drugs to their kids in the hopes they would get through security undetected. Are some of the restrictions, or prohibited items unreaslistic, yes, I believe so, but they are there to ensure those that have or want to do ill things to those that are free do not have the opportunity to do them. The OK city bombers were Americans, the BTK killer, an American, the man who ate people, American, Charles Manson, American, all the serial killers in this great land, American. This point is made to indicate that you can not profile, guess or pin point a certain ethinic background because we, as an American public have no clue where the next attack is coming from and it is not at the fault of TSA.

  2. Alex
    Posted 6/27/2005 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Wait, um, you are saying that the price of freedom is… lack of freedom? I don’t get it. The price of freedom in the US is, and always has been, security.

    If our primary objective is to save lives (i.e., security), there is an easy way to do that: make drivers tests include emergency braking and accident simulations. If you ever get a moving violation — of any kind — you get your license yanked for 10 years. A single DWI means no more driving for you, ever. Outlaw personal vehicles over 2,000 pounds and make the minimum driving age 23. Bingo, you’ve just saved thousands of lives. But as a society, we are willing to see tens of thousands of people die every year just so that we can have a beer and drive home in my Hummer. Classic American thinking: I’m willing to allow the roads to be less safe — I’m willing to have children die — to provide for a bit more social freedom.

    More importantly, however, you missed the point of my story. It is not that we shouldn’t have security: I think it’s probably a pretty good idea. I just don’t think what we have is good. They let me fly on someone else’s ticket. They provide groups the chance to identify who belongs to what bags when they pull them aside (“My bag is the one without the bomb in it…”). When was the last time screeners caught even 75% of the materials being sneaked through as part of a test?

    In other countries, the security professionals are more professional about what they do and the systems they design. My problem is not that we have security, it is that the security is meant largely as a charade, as PR for the airlines. Train them, pay them, and have them do a half-way decent job, and you won’t hear complaints from me.

One Trackback

  1. By on 12/1/2004 at 10:10 am

    TSA Is Losing Its Grip (Or Overusing It)
    My personal experiences with TSA vary from great to OK, and tend to be much better than my often not real good experiences with private cops doing airport security. It seems, though, that other people are having bad experiences and terrible experiences…

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