As many of you know, I recently went on a trip to Hawaii.
But this post isn’t about Hawaii, per se.
This post is about to most wonderful part of any travel adventure: the Transportation Safety Administration.
This was the first “long haul” flight I’ve been on in a while, what with a three-year old and all. But I’ve had plenty of short and long trips throughout my life, both before and after 9/11, both with and without a small human in tow. I know the TSA and its procedures well enough. And they’re utter bullshit.
This time through the anal-probe carousel that is Security Clearance, the agent was nice enough to give my daughter a sticker. I have suspicions as to why this time, her eight or tenth time flying, she was gifted a sticker, but at this juncture, I’ll just mention the form of the sticker:
How fitting. Of course she’s a junior TSA agent. Isn’t every toddler? She rifles through bags that don’t belong to her, not bothering to put back or refold any displaced items. She makes arbitrary, continuously-changing rules with little basis in reality or logic. The consequences for breaking said rules, however, are dire. She is also prone to some inappropriate tantrums and is entirely unaware of personal space.
One time I was flying on Christmas and the TSA unwrapped one of the presents in my checked luggage. It was a cookbook. They placed the torn-open wrapping paper inside the front cover of the book. Hopefully you sleep better at night knowing that pancake recipes aren’t falling into the hands of terrorists.
My biggest problem with the TSA is the lack of consistency from one airport to the next. In Sacramento, I have to remove my laptop and my kindle from my carry-on bag and put each in its own bin. In San Diego, laptops come out, but tablets stay in. On a recent trip out of Orange County, all of them could stay in the bag. Same airport, different time? No.
I take back my earlier comment. My three-year old is way more consistent. Her make-believe ice cream stand seems to have squid ice cream every time I ask for it.
I thought the whole point of federalizing airport security was for consistency. If what is allowed or not allowed is based on the whims of the high-school dropout hoping to see ladies’ boobs at the MRI machine, then we might as well return the process to local control.
On a recent trip out of Sacramento, I was asked if I had any food in my carry-on. Food? I know about liquids, but when did food become an issue? The agent said food was allowed, but they would have to take it out of my bag and open it or cut into it in order to make sure it’s legitimate food. My aunt in Southern California has an avocado tree and I was planning on returning with many avocados. If the jackasses cut into each one, that would greatly reduce the amount of time they would be of use to me.
Fortunately, the return trip was out of Ontario, so no mention was made of food. Also, this did not come up the next time I flew out of Sacramento. So terrorists, if there’s some new food-based plan of attack, don’t try to get it on a plane in Sacramento. They might or might not be onto you, depending on who’s working. The other 5,000 airports seem to have missed that memo, though.
Part of it might be personal. You see, I have an Irish last name and a relatively common first name. Which means there’s an IRA terrorist with the same name as me. Hooray!
For most of the 2000s, this meant I was often “randomly selected” for additional screening. Often at the gate. Nothing’s worse than being pulled out of the “first come, first seated” Southwest line and watching all of the window seats passing me down the tunnel.
It happened often enough that I started to wonder if it wasn’t all that “random.” Not that the government would lie to us or anything. But maybe I was being singled out because I was a twenty-something male, traveling alone, usually without any checked luggage. Or maybe it was because I had ordered a copy of “Triumph of the Will,” the Nazi propaganda film, for use in my classroom.
But it was really just fun and games until airlines started using those kiosks and online check-in. You see, Mister IRA-name can’t use either of those methods. Mister IRA-name needs to physically hand his ID to a real-life human being. How many of THOSE do you see at the airline desks these days?
Thankfully, a Southwest Agent (not a TSA agent, mind you) finally told me one time that it wasn’t my Nazi film or my demographics, but my name that was tagged. The Irish terrorist is thirty years older than me, so just seeing my birthdate was enough. I started booking with my middle name and have never had a problem since. Which is nice, because these days, if you can’t check in 23 hours, 50 minutes early, you’re going to being sitting in a middle seat.
With my curiosity piqued, I googled my name and learned more about the OTHER guy. He killed a cop in Belfast while escaping from jail. Yikes. Except it also appears that his whereabouts are fully known. You know, the whole Good Friday Agreement and “What’s a little car bomb amongst friends?” He still lives in Belfast. Meaning it probably ain’t him boarding a flight to Burbank.
But whatever, TSA, good job protecting us from British separatists. Wait, did the IRA want to leave or stay in Britain? I don’t remember. I’m American, and we try to ignore white terrorists. But the 3/8 Irish in me says, “Go Catholics! (or Protestants) Get rid of those rat-bastard Protestants! (Or Catholics) Semper fi, motherfuckers!”
Semper fi is gaelic, right?
All of this talk of “random screenings” and excessive scrutiny brings me back to my recent trip to Hawaii. We got the magical TSA Pre-Check designation. I had assumed I was ineligible, but it turns out that, as long as I’m not the first name on the reservation, it’s all good. “Right this way, Mrs. Smith and your husband, Mr. Bin Laden.”
The reason I could pre-check on this flight was because my in-laws, who booked the reservation, have paid for the privilege of pre-check. And if you’re willing to give money to the government, then you are clearly one of the “good guys.”
So I was prepared for an expedited security process with the TSA Pre-Check. But I figured it would be faster because there were fewer people in front of us. And that was part of it. But wait, there’s more! If you order in the next fifteen minutes, you get…
I was allowed to leave my laptop in my bag. No questions about food. No standing spread-eagle and holding my breath while the perv behind the screen checks out my junk. And, are you sitting down for this last one? I was able to keep my shoes on.
What the fuck? Aren’t shoes non-negotiable? Isn’t the shoe the single most-used weapon in the entire history of hijacking?
No? It was only one attempt made by one dude one time? And it failed? Hmm. Does the TSA know that?
Regardless, how the hell does the purchasing of a security clearance mean I don’t have explosives in my shoe? Wouldn’t someone with the resources to turn a shoe into a bomb also have the resources to pay for pre-check? And, to repeat, we only had to go through the metal detector, not the MRI, and I don’t think C-4 triggers a metal detector.
And maybe my in-laws had to go through some additional screening to get a pre-check validation. But I sure as hell did not. And I don’t even think you have to be a citizen in good standing, because my brother-in-law is British and I’m pretty sure he gets pre-check.
And I know, there is really nothing more American than”money = good.” It is a practice going back over a century, when first- and second-class passengers were able to go through quick look-overs on the ship, while the steerage (human cattle) class had to endure hours of lines and inspections and possible quarantine at Ellis Island.
Not at Angel Island, mind you. Those immigrants were not white, so they ALL had to go through the lines and inspections and quarantine. Wasn’t it Chester A. Arthur that wondered aloud why we have to let in immigrants from a bunch of shithole countries? No? Was it a more recent president?
I hate to go all populist, Occupy loser here, but seriously, what is it about poor people’s shoes and laptops that make them more likely to be used as weapons?
It’s either that, or the TSA would still be able to detect weapons with laptops in bags and shoes on feet. But if that’s the case, why do the riff-raff still have to do the whole rigmarole?
It has to be a marketing ploy. I assume fewer people would buy the pre-check if they still had to do the shoes and the computer thing. And of course, the only thing the government cares more about than curtailing our liberties protecting us is money. So if a terrorist hijacks a plane but there’s a new park in Tulsa, everyone’s cool with that trade-off, right?
All I know is that, if the government treated everyone the way they treat the rich, we’d all be making it through security in a matter of minutes. But would we feel safe if we went through security too fast? Because the TSA’s job is only to make us feel safer, not actually protect us.
If I have to take off my shoes, then cure up the Louis Armstrong, because it’s a wonderful world.
Unless I paid a lot for those shoes. Those shoes stay on. Membership has its privileges, and everybody’s happy.
Including my daughter. She got a fucking sticker!
We never got that kind of kickback in steerage class.