Farcical TSA needs Miss Manners lesson

July 20, 2012

Katy Grimes: I’ve just returned home a trip across the country. And once again, I vowed to never take another cross-country flight.

I thank our government for this sorry state of affairs, because anyone who has traveled by air in the last decade, knows that the Transportation Security Administration is not about safety or security.

Nearly everyone I talk with has a TSA horror story. Face it–the Transportation Safety Administration is not exactly staffed with Harvard educated rocket scientists, or trained by Miss Manners.

While some TSA agents are friendly and professional, an overwhelming number are bullies with badges and bad attitude. I encountered one such team last week, while trying to leave Niceville, Florida.

Small airport syndrome

The Niceville airport is actually in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It’s a small airport in a lovely area on the Gulf of Mexico. Flying in from Houston was rather uneventful, although when we arrived in the small plane, the ground crew announced that they were understaffed and passengers would have to wait for their bags.

Hmmm. Attitude problem number one.

Departing the Fort Walton Beach airport was another story. My husband and I had packed lightly and each had one small carry-on suitcase. As we were ushered up to the TSA podium, the female TSA agent made small talk, and then asked us to remove our toiletries.

She didn’t care about our computers–it was all about the tiny bottles of lotions.

Looking around, I noticed that even this tiny airport had one of the new full body scanners, inside of which you are forced to stand with your hands in the air like a criminal under arrest. Prior to standing inside of one of these airport scanners, I’ve never been forced to assume this position by someone wearing a badge. Imagine how the experience makes grandma feel.

“I’m looking for anything that’s liquid, sprayable or spreadable,” she announced. I assured her that all of our toiletries were in the TSA-authorized 3 ounce bottles. But that would not suffice. Apparently it’s not okay to speak to these people… it only confuses matters.

She quickly ushered us out of the line and to the conveyer belt where she began taking apart our bags. And as she did this, she pulled out my toiletry bag and announced loudly, “This isn’t a quart-sized bag; this is a gallon bag. All of your toiletries must fit into a quart-sized bag.”

Divide and conquer

She handed me over to another agent, who began stuffing my shampoo, hairspray, lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, and makeup into a quart-sized ziplock bag, which clearly wasn’t going to fit. As this was taking place, she pulled my husband over to another table, along with our two suitcases, and started rifling through his toiletry bag, all-the-while lecturing him with TSA babble.

The TSA agent I was handed off to asked me what I wanted to throw out. This is where things got sticky. I told him that instead of throwing my toiletries away, I would just check our bags instead of carrying them on the plane.

But that was too confusing. This TSA agent had a job to do, and by golly, he was going to get me to throw out my expensive shampoo and hairspray. I have a thing for nice shampoo, and would rather inconvenience myself at the baggage claim, than throw it away.

But my luggage was separated from my toiletries now, and my husband and I were separated. My poor husband was getting searched, removing clothing, and told to go through the scanner, while my TSA agent insisted that he needed to run my toiletries through the X-ray machine again. Who knows why since all he did was re-bag them.

After stepping out of the security area to go back to the airline to check the bags, at a cost of $50, we had to go through security one more time.

The final TSA bully was now manning the podium, apparently brought over by the dimbulb female TSA agent to deal with us. He noticed that our boarding passes already had the TSA clearance on them, and looked at me for explanation. “TSA wouldn’t allow me to board with my toiletries, so I just had to check our bags,” I explained.

“Well, at least you had a choice,” he sneered, glaring at me over the top of his reading glasses. “You’ve got an interesting definition of the word ‘choice,'” I said. “My ‘choice’ was to either throw out my toiletries or pay $50 to check my luggage. That’s not a ‘choice.'”

“And how is it that I made it across the country through two airports?” I asked him as I walked away. As I went through the stupid body scanner again, he stared at me.

But my husband wasn’t so lucky. The bully TSA agent took his sweet time checking my husband’s ID. He lingered over the boarding pass, writing several notes on it, checked and rechecked my husband’s ID, before he finally, slowly, handed everything back.  As my husband tried to take the boarding pass back, the bully TSA agent tightened his grip on the paper, staring  at my husband, like he was trying to start something. So my husband yanked the boarding pass out of the agent’s hands and walked away.

The bully TSA agent lowered his glasses and his pen. “Excuse me sir, come back here,”

As my husband turned around, he said, “This isn’t so much about you as it is about the system, my husband said. “This is a farce, and you know it.”

Fortunately, we didn’t end up in TSA jail. Airport security has become a no-rights zone.

The end

After four trips through the body scanner and baggage X-ray machine, we arrived at our gate to find that our flight had been cancelled.

TSA is a farce

We all know that the TSA is a farce run by boobs. But the real tragedy is that the TSA appears to nothing more than a conditioning process, preparing U.S. citizens for the loss of liberties that the government has planned for us as it expands into every area of our lives.

The farce of the ‘remove your laptop’ rule was easily proved by New York Times writer Matt Richtel’s in his story, “The mystery of the flying laptop.” As Richtel made inquiries about why laptops must be opened and placed in a separate TSA bin at the airport, the TSA would provide no answers. “I was starting to feel like a Monty Python character, riding a pretend horse, clomping my coconut halves together to simulate the sound of horse hooves. A comical quest for a mythical grail,” Richtel wrote. After months of inquiries, research and discussions with real security experts, Richtel never got an answer.

NYT writer Nick Bilton wrote about the “turn your devices off ” policy during takeoff and landing. “Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists,” Bilton wrote.

Bilton’s research found that the CTIA, the wireless industry association, said a study that it conducted more than a decade ago found no interference from mobile devices. The radio frequencies that are assigned for aviation use are separate from commercial use, the CTIA found. And, wiring and instruments for aircraft are shielded to protect them from interference from commercial wireless devices.

Another farce.

Yesterday, the headline read: “TSA Let 25 Illegal Aliens Attend Flight School Owned by Illegal Alien.”

I’m all for the push to disband the TSA. “Americans have spent nearly $60 billion, and they are no safer today than they were before 9/11,” Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) announced when releasing a Joint-Staff Majority report on the agency.

(Raw Justice has the Top 10 TSA horror stories – and the photo above is theirs)

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