Following is an extended comment in response to the post OMG! A Speargun! On a Plane!:

My comment in the recent “OMG…on a plane” post reminded me of an incident I want to share with you. My opinion may not be popular, but I wanted to put it out there. I agree that a lot of the security measures that the TSA promulgates are theater, and I don’t feel any safer, just a lot more inconvenienced when it comes to flying. I’ve only been patted down once or twice in my last dozen or so flights, and I’ve never been through the naked scanner, although some of my traveling companions have been.

I’ve flown 5-6 round trips to Virginia with my XD(M) as checked baggage. Up until my second to last trip, I’ve had one empty magazine in the gun, in the checked rifle case, and four empty magazines in my backpack as a carry on (no room for extras in that rifle case).  Four trips, both directions, no hassle, never a question. On this particular trip, on my outbound leg, the agent on the X-ray machine saw the empty magazines in my backpack and flagged a supervisor. The supervisor pulled me off to the side and called the airport police. Apparently the rule against firearms covers empty magazines, too.

The supervisor was an ex-cop in his late 50s, and a really nice guy. He acknowledged that I had run afoul of a stupid rule and that empty magazines were clearly no threat (his words), but it was the rule, so we had to do some paperwork and turn the magazines over to the airport police.  He expressed frank amazement that I’d made this same flight, same airline four times previously without incident. He asked me, and I told him, approximately when those four previous flights were. I wonder if that comment resulted in some “additional training” for anyone.

Everyone I dealt with was courteous, professional, even nice. They started the whole process by letting the gate know that I was held up in security. They expedited the process such that I didn’t miss my flight, to the point that one of the TSA agents had a second form that duplicated my personal information from another form, and he said, “I’ve got all the information I need right here, I’ll fill this one out after you’re gone so you can get on your way.”

When the TSA guys were done, the airport police officer took possession of my magazines, and told me he would check with his supervisor to see if it was OK to hold the magazines and return them to me when I flew back in 5 days, but made no promises. He took down the bare minimum of information from me directly, then said, “I’ll get the rest of what I need from the TSA guys,” and sent me on my way. I was the last person on board the plane, and they closed the door behind me before I sat down.

I hadn’t been on the ground in Virginia an hour when my cell phone rang and the airport police officer told me the magazines would be waiting for me when I returned, and to just have him paged when I hit the terminal. That proved to not be necessary, as he was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator when I arrived back in town. I signed a form saying I’d received them back from him, he handed them to me, and I was on my way.

I know it’s popular to demonize the TSA generally, and the agents specifically, but in my experience, from the normal flights to the most extreme circumstance related above, I’ve found that the agents I’ve encountered have just been guys trying to do a job. A thankless, unpopular, and often hostile and unpleasant job. The ones I have encountered have been at worst, professional and polite, and at best, friendly and helpful.

I have not seen a single incidence of unprofessional, rude, or incompetent behavior toward either myself or my traveling companions. I only fly four to six times a year, so perhaps I’ve been lucky; I don’t know. I’m a good traveler; I have my stuff ready, I know how the system works, and I know the rules (empty magazines being the exception), so perhaps that contributes to the lack of problems I’ve had.

I guess my point is that by all means, we should endeavor to rid ourselves of the TSA and its ilk, but while we’re doing that, remember that where the rubber meets the road are the regular guys, who are just trying to do the job and get through the day, even if they don’t always agree with the policies they are tasked to enforce.

Approach them with the basic respect that any other human deserves, not like they’re all a bunch of perverts that just want to grab your naughty bits.  I’m fairly certain that my polite, easygoing, respectful attitude was the reason I made my flight that day, but even absent those extreme circumstances, a little basic human courtesy goes a long way toward making everyone’s day smoother.

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36 Responses to In Defense of . . . the TSA

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’m glad to know there are some good ones out there. He was probably a “gun guy” and knew how expensive they are. Kudo’s to him.

  2. Sounds like we should promote the man you dealt with to a supervisory role and have him train people at other airports. Best way to spread it around.

  3. And yet….

    I have met the opposite. Poorly trained people who do NOT know the rules and just make stuff up as they go along.

    There are of course, both, but it only takes one bad apple….

  4. The good treatment was the policeman. The TSA wasn’t bad.

    Frankly you got better than you deserved. I don’t know how anyone can claim ignorance about bringing magazines in carry-on baggage.

    There are good eggs in any organization, even the TSA. I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences of a minor nature, but the real reason to despise the TSA is the naked scanners. I can’t believe we haven’t burned down a few airports by now. One hundred years ago no American man would have let his family be subjected to such humiliation.

    • Kabuki.

      I’m ignorant. Please, enlighten me on how a commercial flight can be taken with a spring, a follower, and a cheesy box made of welded sheetmetal or plastic. That is, without all those other parts that make them dangerous.

      • without all those other parts that make them dangerous

        I think you hit on their theory (such as it is) right there. Five people carry on a “can’t do anything by itself” part, and then do a Man with the Golden Gun, and use it to take over a plane. Or something.

  5. I have two incidents to add, one happened to me, one to my boss:
    Mine: I was flying out of O’Hare to meet my son for some off-road motorcycling. I was dressed in my Aerostitch motorcycle gear. The screeners, who were polite, insisted that because the jacket was made up of ballistic kevlar and therefore bulletproof (this was their assessment), I was not allowed to take it on board. Eventually, the supervisor decided to simply swab my stuff and run the swabs through a sniffer. Since I had plenty of time and everyone was being so nice, I decided against showing my credentials or making a fuss. On the return flight, the screeners on the other end laughed when I stripped off the jacket and told them to just go ahead and swab it. Apparently there is more off-roading in North Carolina than Chicagoland.
    My Boss’ Story: My boss was authorized to carry a firearm on airplanes. Arriving at the Miami airport, he showed his credentials and was waived through alongside the scanner, however, he had to put his briefcase through x-ray. Lo and behold the screeners noticed the miniature flame thrower he used to light his cigars and confiscated it. Try as he might, even to the point of showing the supervisor his holstered weapon, they would not let him fly with it. Of course, when he got back to the office, it was my job to try to get the lighter back. (No luck, of course, as to that.)

  6. Sounds like it’s the LEO that did all the good work there.

    I did the same thing with the magazine in December and I’m still waiting on my “letter”. I’ve heard that the TSA can and does send out Civil Fines when you break the rules like that. I’ll post if I get one.

    • The LEO definitely did the visible majority of the “good work,” I suppose. The TSA guys did good work in that they appeared to expedite the process/paperwork to a noticeable degree. They could easily have simply been methodical about making me hang around for all the paperwork, and caused me to miss my flight.

      I did get a letter from TSA a few months later, in which they referenced the incident, advised me of the law on the matter, and said they were taking no further action, and considered the matter closed. It was good for a laugh, since unlike you, I didn’t know they sent letters, and wasn’t expecting it.

  7. So we are to be happy that an agency whose entire purpose is marketing and surface appearance of security seized a citizen’s property and returned it in a timely fashion?

    The real question is why we are spending money on an airport security system when we have the FBI, the CIA, and local law enforcement and a rather competent military force. If a terrorist slips through the fingers of all those government artifices there is precious little our vaunted TSA is going to do to stop things at the last second. Rather than fund a shell game security apparatus designed to pacify the voting base into thinking theres airport security, how about we authorize legal carry in Airports. Ater all , unlike a government agent or law enforcement when a private citizen takes a lawful shot he or she tends not to miss.

  8. At least ST gets it. So, you were hassled, made to jump through several hoops and it cost you a lot of time, but they were nice about it? You are writing a column extolling the virtues of the TSA because they were nice about stealing your time? Another fine example of what’s wrong with this country.

    • Clearly, neither you nor ST “gets it.” That cracking sound you just heard was my point flying over your head.

      I did not, and do not, extoll the virtues of the TSA. I extolled the virtues of the 4 men (3 TSA, 1 LEO) that I came in contact with, in that they did their jobs, professionally and politely, and with an unexpected amount of haste. This was only to draw a contrast between these four and the generally common demonization of TSA agents as perverts and imbeciles.

      I was hassled because I broke the rules. Rather clearly, in retrospect. Disagreeing with those rules does not change the fact that I broke them, and does not, in my opinion, give me a right to be a jackass to the guys enforcing them.

      My point, repeated so you can take another swing at it, was that we generally afford everyone we come in contact with a certain minimum level of respect, but it often seems that the guys at the security gate are treated with open contempt when it is (in my limited experience) undeserved.

      • Clearly, neither you nor ST “gets it.” That cracking sound you just heard was my point flying over your head.
        ************************************

        It seems neither of us are hearing well as you missed my own point.
        ************************************************
        I did not, and do not, extoll the virtues of the TSA. I extolled the virtues of the 4 men (3 TSA, 1 LEO) that I came in contact with, in that they did their jobs, professionally and politely, and with an unexpected amount of haste. This was only to draw a contrast between these four and the generally common demonization of TSA agents as perverts and imbeciles.

        ***********************************

        Why do such people have jobs to begin with at TSA? What is the purpose of that agency that isn’t already being done better and cheaper elsewhere?Unless you are a terrorist thwarted by their actions, what they did was a literal waste of your time and taxpayer dollars.No amount of professionalism is going to change that fact.

        ********************

        I was hassled because I broke the rules. Rather clearly, in retrospect. Disagreeing with those rules does not change the fact that I broke them, and does not, in my opinion, give me a right to be a jackass to the guys enforcing them.

        My point, repeated so you can take another swing at it, was that we generally afford everyone we come in contact with a certain minimum level of respect, but it often seems that the guys at the security gate are treated with open contempt when it is (in my limited experience) undeserved.

        **************************************************
        Undeserved Contempt you say.

        Imagine being pulled over on the interstate on-ramp and dragged out of your car by the local constabulary to have the officer mandate that you disrobe of all metallic items and to take your shoes off. After complying with this embarrasing procedure on the side of the road, the officer wands your person and then mandates that the pair of scissors and your liquid soap in the bookbag in your backseat could be explosives and as such would be confiscated to the authorities .

        If this in fact happened to you in reality that would be plenty of cause to feel contempt no matter how courteous the officer is at their illegal duty,as that department and that officer would be sued into oblivion for violations of law and your rights. It is unfortunate that you think that gross infringements on personal liberty are acceptable simply because the mode of transit changes.

      • I have no respect for someone with a costume and a tin badge interfering with my time. You can lick their boots all you want. I am so glad you are a repentant rule breaker who has now learned his lesson. May your chains rest lightly upon you.

    • +10

      Although its against the law to be Jewish, the gentlemen in the jackboots were very nice, and held my hand and helped me into a cattle car. I’m sure the bayonets at my back were just for show…

  9. A nice fascist is still a fascist.

    I no longer fly. I’ll drive across the country or walk if I need to.

    Its not firearms related, but I essentially watched a cadre of elite TSA officers bully my 65 year old disabled mother, threaten, harass, and intimidate her. They held her in a locked room outside of public view *AFTER* she had requested medical attention, which they refused to provide her untill after she had been propperley “Screened”. I had to call paramedics. She has a breathing condition, and her blood oxygen levels were so drastically low she was nearing the point of unconsciousness by the time I worked with local LEOs and Paramedics to rescue her from them.

    Just because they were polite in no way shape or form means that their existence should be tolerated.

  10. I also no longer fly. I used to (10 years ago) fly two to three times a week in the CONUS area for business.

    After experiencing the feckless incompetence of the TSA before the “grab your junk” era, I ceased flying. I now drive everywhere, and if that’s not good enough, then I’m obviously not going to be where someone wants me when they want me to be somewhere.

    When requested to be somewhere in a hurry, I tell people that I no longer fly, and that it isn’t a negotiable issue. What is interesting is the change in response from people over the last 9 years. From 2003 to 2006, people would tell me that I was being silly, stupid, paranoid, etc.

    I never have people tell me this any more. They just sigh and mumble “OK, I understand” in response to why I won’t be where they’d like me in some too-short-to-drive time.

    Now, as a guy who used to do computer security (some of which was based upon mathematical threat models), I’ll say this: TSA’s security model is completely worthless. What they’re doing isn’t security. It is “security theatre,” – that is, it is a lot of activity substituting for accomplishment.

    As far as I’m concerned, the airlines can go out of business and the TSA should all be fired for incompetence and fraud. More than a few of them should be in prison for felonies of theft, dealing in stolen property, assault, sexual assault, etc.

  11. I try not to fly. I cannot say I have really been hassled by the TSA, but I do not take guns or knives and have minimal simple luggage. I do not like being frisked and my luggage checked and having to take off my shoes and belt. I do not like all the screening time and hassle.
    I can think of a lot of ways a terrorist could smuggle stuff on a plane after the security check point area. Especially if he is in collusion with airport services, airline, or security employees.

  12. EDIT — Sorry for the ridiculously long post, I’m new to the site, if anyone administrative feels like re-posting this as an editorial I understand and you have my permission. —

    Not to jump on any apparent bandwagon here, but in terms of negative and positive experiences with TSA I’ve had a “mixed bag” you might say.
    A quick disclaimer, I do not agree in principle with TSA nor do I agree with their powers and practices in practice (natch) but this is not the place or time to have that discussion nor, I will add, does the place and time for that discussion happen to be when you are standing on line or passing through I security checkpoint in the airport while knowingly or unknowingly in violation of rules or regulations set forth, rightly or wrongly, by TSA.

    That said, my background; I am an active duty member of the U.S. Army. I have flown on a variety of airlines out of a variety of airports to include several international destinations around the world both as a civilian and/or on orders (deployments) on average 3-5 times a year for the past 15 years. Prior to 9/11 I traveled several times (once internationally) as an unaccompanied minor.
    I am, as Dan reports himself to be above, what you would call an “easy” traveler. On many occasions I have found myself in violation of some rules and regulations that are either so ridiculous as to be unapparent to a reasonable person or just plain new (they change the things monthly) and very early after 9/11 I adopted the strategy of taking a few minutes before each trip through security to observe my surroundings, the behavior of the TSA employees at the security line and the behavior of other passengers who show signs of being more frequent travelers than myself. After a few minutes I usually have some questions, in which case I simply walk up to the nearest TSA agent and politely ask my questions about whatever issues I might have. I have never once had an encounter with a TSA agent who reacted in any manner that was less than helpful, polite and even one might say, appreciative of this practice. Those extra five minutes on each trip have undoubtedly saved me hours over the last decade+ in both time and frustration.

    Furthermore instead of texting, talking or otherwise f**king off while I stand in the security line I make sure to look for signs or other information posted that I might not have been aware of. Shortly after the rule about liquids was instituted (no more than two-oz, clear, etc.) I found myself inadvertently in violation of said rule thanks to a freshly posted sign (at waist level rather than eye level, for those who might think I’m soft-balling TSA here.) Realizing this I flagged down a nearby TSA agent, informed them that I was in violation of this rule and asked if I could step out of line to correct it without impeding other passengers; paraphrasing myself here but I believe “Hey, I didn’t realize this new rule, I’ve got a big thing of toothpaste in my carry on, I don’t want to hold up other passengers, is it ok if I step out of line and get rid of it, I don’t want to cause any issues” is pretty close to my exact words. Once again I’ll restate, regardless of your/my issues with TSA as an organization the moment when you find yourself representing a security threat by failing to follow rules is not the right moment to be indignant or suddenly stand up for your libertarian ideals out of annoyance.

    Now of course the obligatory horror story.

    In 2008 I was set to fly out of ATL on leave, wearing my military uniform with my black (at the time) fleece I made the mistake of walking through the metal detector with my hands in my pockets. The detector of course did not go off, as there was nothing in my pockets save for a few loose one dollar bills and a pack of cigarettes, I was instructed to step backward through the detector and walk through again, the agent who gave this command did so with his hand on the butt of his weapon (the taser.) This agent neglected to tell me that I was being asked to repeat my performance because my hands had been in my pockets. Following my philosophy of “whatever dude” compliance without complaint I stepped backwards until the agent motioned my forward once again with his hand; at which point I did so, once again with my hands in my pockets. This is where the s**t hit the fan so to speak as he drew and pointed the taser at me while (thankfully) instructing my to take my hands out of my pockets and place them behind my head. Of course at this point I was taken aside, patted down and then taken a bit farther aside to the security holding area and strip searched. Needless to say I this bit of stupidity passed my thresh-hold for tolerance. Still I wasn’t cuffed or any nonsense like that, I simply complied and then refused to leave without speaking with a supervisor. I talked with the supervisor while the agent who had f**ked me was present and made it clear that I wanted my say to the man otherwise I would make a formal complaint, ATL gets a lot of military business as it were and being that I was in uniform and had been incredibly cooperative given the situation the supervisor agreed (another plus in the TSA line IMO.) I spent a few minutes in full SERGEANT mode, which the military readers will understand, and educated the offending agent (who was easily my own age) on his judgement and decision making skills as well as his apparent inability to communicate effectively.
    That represents the sum of the difficulties I’ve had in 15 solid years with TSA, and even that encounter was just as positive as negative.

    Just to balance the ridiculousness of that encounter out, another one that stands out in my mind happened in November of last year while I was flying out of BWI to return from leave. I had done a lot of shooting that morning and those “sniffers” or whatever they are that swab your hand and then test for explosive or GSR had been installed. I was on line and was swabbed, the agent took it to the sniffer and, as I had shot two boxes of ammunition through my Webley MK IV just a few hours earlier the swab came up positive for GSR. This agent returned to me on line, he did not over-react or try to hide the fact that I had “popped hot” from me, he simply waved me a few feet away from other passengers and told me that I had GSR on my swab. At this point he asked if I happened to be law-enforcement or military, I told him I was military and showed him my CAC card. He laughed the whole thing off and told me that I didn’t even have to travel through the regular security lines anymore and asked me why I had. I replied truthfully that I had heard of the policy but been under the impression that it applied only to soldiers traveling in uniform (whereas I was in civilian clothes.) I was told that it didn’t and asked if I wanted to skip the security line; some of you will call me idiotic, but I had plenty of time left before my flight and the line wasn’t particularly bad and hadn’t been moving slowly, so I told him I thought that would be inappropriate vis a vis my civilian attire and off-duty nature of my travel. The man thanked me for my service and sent me on my way.

    My point is whether you agree with TSA as an organization or with their policies (which I myself feel are fascist and ineffective) if you are polite and make some good faith effort to be compliant they will rarely f**k with you. Whether you agree with their motivations and methods or not TSA agents are serving this country in their own misguided way every bit as much as I am over here in the Army, so cut the actual people that implement these moronic policies some slack, if you want to see naked body scanners and bomb sniffers and all that s**t go away go after the politicians with your votes, or just don’t fly.

    • Joseph’s last paragraph encapsulates my point completely. Can we just replace my post with his? He did it better than me.

    • Fifteen solid years of experience with the TSA? Wow.

      I was under the impression the TSA came into being with passage and W’s signature of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act in November of 2001.

    • I’m not sure who pointed a taser at you, but it wasn’t a TSA screener. They have no LEO powers and (thankfully) do not carry weapons of any kind.

  13. I was a frequent flyer on 3 airlines for 20 years. Free first class upgrades. I was standing in line one day waiting to go thru security when a TSA (Theater of Security Arts) screener began talking to CUSTOMERS as if he was a Drill Sergeant and they were boot recruits. Believe me after 12 years in the USMC I recognize the tone, inflection and cadence. I decided then and their that I was not going to pay hundreds of dollars in tranportation fees to stand in line and be spoken to in that manner by anyone, let alone someone I could beat the hell out of if I so choose to act on impulse. I have not flown since 2005. From Houston, I can drive anywhere in the US in under 48 hours. I have not missed flying a bit.

    • Law enforcement organizations have utterly failed to learn what the private sector has learned (often the hard way) in the last 10 years:

      The Internet can ruin your reputation and “customer brand” in a couple of days. All it takes is for one bozo in your organization to do something really stupid and you have a major customer/PR issue on your hands. But that can be handled – bad events, mistakes, blow-ups occur everywhere. They’re part of human existence.

      What matters more is how management handles the response to these issues. And there, law enforcement never misses an opportunity to blow it with the public, time after time.

      One of the ways the private sector handles the worst offenses of employees mis-treating the public or their customers is to FIRE THE OFFENDING EMPLOYEE.

      I put that in caps because the public sector is really, really, really retarded on this point. They refuse to fire people who clearly should not be in law enforcement, and while they’re “investigating” complaints, the nominal course of action is that the offending employee is suspended WITH PAY.

      Yea, that’s going to cause them to want to change. They jack someone up, get put on paid leave. If someone is really devious, I’m sure they could manage to get a whole lot of enforced, paid vacation.

      The other thing that law enforcement officers do that doesn’t help their cause is that they close ranks. They always believe a fellow LEO’s version of events until and unless they’re *forced* to do so by outside evidence. Well, if that’s how the “good folks” in law enforcement want to have it, there’s repercussions to that attitude and you’re seeing with rapidly increasing frequency: public distrust of all LEO’s. The smarter move would be to uphold a consistent policy of conduct and not back up those who violate same. But no, for LEO’s, their attitude is “them (the public) vs. us.”

      Trust and respect are reciprocal issues. Law enforcement seems to have completely forgotten that. They also seem to have forgotten that the public pays their wages and benefits, and these have gotten completely out of line as well. He who signs the paycheck makes the rules, and cops everywhere seem to have forgotten that too.

      Now, WRT TSA: Their results are non-existent. There are models of security for air travel (eg, El Al) which have a long, proven track record that they refuse to employ. TSA has earned the abuse they receive in how they handle the flying public and how they deceive the taxpayer about the benefits they’re supposedly providing.

  14. ” remember that where the rubber meets the road are the regular guys, who are just trying to do the job and get through the day, even if they don’t always agree with the policies they are tasked to enforce.”

    Except that they willingly choose to undertake a job that requires them to violate people’s rights and enforce utterly idiotic rules. That makes them completely unworthy of any compassion in my book. As the old saying good “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”, evil is aided when good men perform evil acts in the name of “just doing their job” or “just following orders”.

    • William Pitt the Younger had an excellent summary of your point centuries ago:

      “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” (1783)

  15. Anyone who would willingly take a paycheck for consciously infringing on the human rights of their fellow citizens is immediately suspect, no matter how nice they were when going about their distasteful job.

  16. Coming back from the NRA meeting in Phoenix, 2009, and did the usual tourist thing and purchased a erzatz native american arrow as a gift. Sadly it was too big for checked baggage and I had to carry it through security, so you can imagine my trepidation. They had to call a supervisor over to inspect it who promptly ruled that because it had a stone tip, not metal, it was OK. Newark processed it without batting an eyelid.

  17. I’ve traveled thru foreign airports with Israeli type security, where you DON’T get into the airport building with out having your documents examined by heavily armed guards, bags x-rayed, and walk thru a metal detector. Once inside you will be screened again in identical fashoin after checking in, screened again at the gateway and screened a 4th time prior to being allowed to board. And this was pre 9/11. The first time I did this it cost me a nice Swiss Army pocket knife. I noticed that popular items confiscated were bottles of perfume, liquor, and other items of value on the black market. I quickly learned what to not pack on such trips. I have not flown since 9/11, but have taken family members to the airport many times and I go thru their luggage in advance with the latest printout from TSA and the airline they are using to try to avoid any problems. So far, I have been doing ok. In my recent experience, JFK in New York is about the toughest airport in my region. They still have military patrolling the facility, whereas Newark relies on regular police. My brother has stopped flying after they did the “inhanced” pat down on him, his wife and their 2 1/2 year old grand daughter at Newark. He had no problems present themselves, but very much disliked having his family groped and fondled.

  18. “I’m a good traveler; I have my stuff ready, I know how the system works, and I know the rules…”

    Finally!!! Someone who gets it! Don’t get me wrong – there’s always one bad TSA-apple out there, but most are just doing (or trying anyways) their job! I fly a lot, and in dealing with these guys, I find that there’s a very simple formula for enduring the process – ACCEPT IT! Send everything save pants/shirt/underwear into the machine (and while you’re at it, mind what you pack), put the liquids in the baggie, completely empty your pockets, and try to give them some courtesy if not outright appreciation.

    Your other option is to buy a G5.

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