Browsing Tag: TSA

I love how the TSA advertises their blog on the sign to give feedback. I only wish they would talk back.

I love how the TSA advertises their blog on the sign to give feedback. I only wish they would talk back.

It has been a long time since someone checked my ID at the gate before boarding my flight. Sure I am used to showing my ID at the ticket counter, then again when going through security. However, it has not been standard practice showing my ID once more before boarding the plane for a while.

Recently I flew from Seattle down to Tuscon and back. For both flights, we were told that TSA personnel would be checking our IDs before boarding and to have them out. Okay, sure, I guess.

On my first flight the TSA agents started to check IDs from the front of the line and worked their way back. Big problem with this. Quite a few people (including myself) entered in the middle of the line and our IDs were never checked. I wasn’t purposefully avoiding the ID check, but it wasn’t hard to avoid it. What’s the point of doing an ID check when not everyone has their ID actually checked?

I thought this might be a fluke, but the same thing happened when coming back home from Tucson. It is odd since I flew on two different airlines and no other flights around mine were checked. I checked in with people that I know travel a lot and the fine folks on my Twitter and Facebook and found that many others are also being ID checked at the door.

Although my return flight had an ID check, it happened very differently. Just like before, there was an announcement that the TSA would be checking IDs at the gate before boarding. Four agents (yes four) showed up. I guess the ones in Seattle are better trained, since it only took two of them. One just stood by the gate door and looked bored, two were at the front of the line and talked about their work hours and were flirting (really professional). The last was just walking around, but not checking IDs. As the pre-boarding people got on, the two talking agents just welcomed people aboard but didn’t check any IDs. The guy by the door still looked bored and the fourth was just standing by the middle of the line that was forming. Hmm… okay.

Now, it was time for standard boarding and I had my ID out and ready to go. I was one of the first people to board, but they did not check mine or the IDs of those in front of me. What the heck? Was this just a random check of IDs? If so, why did they need to have four people to do it? This just didn’t seem like a good use of resources since my ID had already been checked twice since I got there.

I wasn’t sure, but I sure as heck wanted to find out how these gate ID checks was making anyone safer. I tried to contact multiple TSA spokes people via email and the phone, but after two days, no one has gotten back to me — not even with a “no comment.” Very frustrating since the TSA tries to pretend they want to hear your opinion with their “Talk to the TSA” campaign. Maybe you can just talk to them, but don’t get an answer back?

To play devil’s advocate, I understand there might be information out there I do not know. Maybe they got word that someone was going to get through security and then change tickets with someone else. Not really sure how that would do anything. First off, faking an ID to be looked at quickly by a TSA worker at the gate wouldn’t be that hard to do (just ask kids under 21). Secondly, what good does it do if they do not actually check the IDs?

Talking to others it sounds like my experience of the gate ID check is not unique. Many flights are getting these ID checks and most are being done poorly. Maybe the TSA is trying to be like Columbo and the “bad guys” will keep their guard down. If you are going to do something and spend money on doing it, can I at least ask for them to do it right? Or minimally look like they are doing it right so all those passengers can feel a bit safer?

Image: Michael Gray

JetBlue ERJ-190 (N238JB) "Blue CLipper"

JetBlue ERJ-190 (N238JB) "Blue Clipper"

Although millions of dollars are spent on airline security each year in the United States, it only took $100.00 for a JetBlue ticket agent to allow a unknown package to go onto a flight, coming from an unknown person.

On November 19, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was at Charlotte Douglas Airport testing out JetBlue’s security. Their goal was to try and get an unaccompanied package onto a flight headed to Boston and unfortunately, they succeeded. An undercover TSA agent told a JetBlue ticket agent that he needed to get a package to Boston that day and would pay the agent $100.00 for helping. The agent took the $100, put it in his pocket and proceeded to follow the unknown person’s instructions. The ticket agent chose a passenger’s name at random, which just happened to be an unaccompanied minor, and the package went through the screening process with no problems. Although the package was harmless, the TSA pulled the package just before being loaded onto the aircraft.

“That’s really alarming,” Anthony Amore, a former high-ranking TSA official at Logan Airport told a local Boston CBS station. “When you have multiple layers in place you hope that they all stand in the way of a terrorist or someone who wishes us harm. In this instance, many of the layers were cast aside and we were left with this one layer of checked baggage screening.”

When the local station asked the TSA for a comment, they were told, “While we cannot comment on the specifics of an open investigation, TSA can assure travelers that, like checked baggage, every package tendered at the airline counter is screened for explosives.” JetBlue confirmed that they are “fully cooperating with the TSA’s investigation” and “the involved crew member is no longer employed at JetBlue.”

I do not share this story to cause additional security-related fear, nor do I want to “teach the terrorists” how to commit crimes against passengers. I share it, since I think it shows how spending so much money on the front door of airline security and so little attention on the back is a big mistake. Although JetBlue is partly to blame for training issues, this could have happened with almost any airline. They just happened to have a bad-seed-employee in the wrong place at the wrong time. Currently, the TSA is not talking about how often they conduct these sorts of tests and how often they get a package through.

Sadly, this story is just one of many that place many questions on back-door airport security. At the same exact airport, just a few days earlier, a teenager was able to sneak onto the airport secured area, illegally board a US Airways aircraft without being caught (unfortunately, he died en-route). There is also the story of the pilot who pointed out that airport security workers could by-pass security and caused him a lot of grief. Similar stories keep popping up and I have a feeling more will continue to do so. As passengers continue to give up their freedoms and are willing to put up with many annoyances to fly, while at the same time seeing how porous the security is behind the scenes, people will take note and demand for change.

Image: kenjet

A backscatter X-ray body scanner recently installed at Sea-Tac Airport. Photo by Aubrey Cohen/seattlepi.com

A backscatter X-ray body scanner recently installed at Sea-Tac Airport. Photo by Aubrey Cohen/seattlepi.com

There has been a call to boycott all TSA body scanners tomorrow November 24th to protest the TSA’s handling of airport security. I do not want to see people missing their flights from this protest, but I feel it is important to let the TSA know that their actions have gone too far. No matter if you agree or disagree with the TSA’s body scanners or enhanced pat downs, please remember to BE NICE.

If you are traveling over Thanksgiving, make sure to arrive at the airport early (like super early) and smile. People are normally on edge on the busiest travel day as it is and if people are boycotting the body scanners it will make things worse. Be polite to the passengers around you and also the TSA agents. Remember those people who are requiring you to go through the body scanners or conducting pat downs are just doing their job; they are not the policy makers. If you are asked to go through a body scanner, be polite and let tell them, “with all due respect, I am opting out of the body scanner.” It is alright to let them know you do not agree with the pat-downs, but how many of those TSA agents really want to be feeling your privates on Thanksgiving anyhow?

It will be easy to become frustrated and angry, but just  do not take it out on the TSA agents. Take a moment to write to the TSA directly and let them know how you feel. You can leave a comment on their blog, send a message through their TalktoTSA program or email your local congressional representatives.

Good luck and have a great Thanksgiving.

Image by Aubrey Cohen/SeattlePI

Why should you feel like a victim to just visit grandma? [©2010 M.Trombly / M.Prophet Photography]

Why should you feel like a victim to just visit grandma? ©2010 M.Trombly / M.Prophet Photography

I normally don’t like to write about super popular things that you can see all over the news, but hating on the TSA didn’t used to be so popular. I have been very critical of the TSA and their “security theater” for quite sometime and it looks like they are finally getting some of the attention they deserve.  Passengers, pilots and even TSA employees are standing up and saying no to aggressive body scanners and pat downs. This makes me happy.

Since I don’t like being angry and writing on the TSA always makes me angry, I am not going to spend a heck of a lot of time talking about what has been going on, but link to other sites that provide much more detail. There has been a lot going on with the TSA since their ban on printer cartridges a while back. Here are some of the highlights:

* Airports can opt-out of TSA: If an airport is fed up with what the TSA is doing, they can kick them to the curb and get private security. But not so fast cowboy, guess what? If you go with a private company, they have to follow all the same rules and are regulated by the TSA. Really, other than politically telling the TSA you are not happy, it won’t help passengers any.

* Pilots don’t need to be scanned or groped: After lots of protest from pilots and their unions, they no longer need to get body scans or enhanced pat downs. This just makes sense. Why should someone who has total access to the cockpit need to be scanned? If a pilot wants to do harm (hopefully that will never happen) they do not need any special devices to do so. I only ask that flight attendants and maybe someday passengers can get that same level of treatment.

* Do not hate on the screeners: Steven Frischling on his blog Flying with Fish takes a look at these enhanced patdowns from the screener’s perspective. He spoke with 17 of them and they had some pretty powerful things to say. Many are not happy about having to violate a person’s personal space nor the hurtful comments they receive daily. One of the quotes that stuck out to me: “I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.”

* Photography of TSA security area IS LEGAL at most airports: Again from Frischling’s blog (he does a lot with the TSA), he talks about how he was recently detained at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (BDL) by the TSA and a state trooper for committing a federal offense. Luckily Frischling had some TSA folks on speed dial and he was released, but what about those that do not have those sort of connections to the TSA? If you take photographs of the TSA security process, make sure you know your local rules and be polite and professional if you are questioned. However,  definitely stand up for your rights, I wish I would have during my TSA encounter.

* The TSA is listening, but not caring: I have talked before about the “TalktoTSA” program, where they seem to take feedback, but not really care to reply. Now the TSA Administrator John S. Pistol has posted a video via YouTube to assure all of us that the TSA is ONLY caring about our safety and will continue their privacy invading body scans and “enhanced” pat downs. Mr. Pistol, you need to listen to the people you are supposedly put in charge to protect.

* We do not have the same parts: Many people argue we all have the same parts and why should it matter that we get scanned or groped? We we do not. I recently talked about a transgendered person having issues and more recently a man ended up urinating on himself, being humiliated by the TSA.

Argh. See, now I am angry. Did I miss anything? I just feel lucky I am not planning to travel at all during the holidays, but good luck to the rest of you that will be flying. If you need a little humor to add to this situation, check out this great TSA video from Saturday Night Live.

Photo from FlyWithDignity.com
Is this plane going to the US? No printer cartridges allowed -- gotta protect America.

Is this plane going to the US? TSA says no printer cartridges allowed -- gotta protect America.

I am angry and frustrated at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) right now. In classic form they have once again over-reacted in an idiotic fashion. I am not saying the recent mailing of bombs in printer cartridges across the world is not serious, but it demands real solutions, not knee-jerk reactions.

In a statement released by the DHS, they state that they are banning all cargo from Yeman. Okay, this makes sense. It is not like we have a lot of imported goods coming from Yemen. However, they are also banning cargo from Somalia. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have some intelligence that we do not know about. The release also states, “No high risk cargo will be allowed on passenger aircraft.” Okay, so far I am actually with the TSA here. Banning dangerous cargo from certain places in the world until we can figure out the risk actually kind of makes sense.

When reading, I assumed we must be talking about dangerous things like explosives, flammable items and bombs right? Think again. In the next sentence they continue with, “Toner and ink cartridges over 16 ounces will be prohibited on passenger aircraft in both carry-on bags and checked bags on domestic and international flights in-bound to the United States.” Say what?

This is stupid. I hate to call anyone names, but there is just no other way to say it. This no-thought reaction actually makes me feel less safe. This is telling me that the TSA cannot detect a bomb no matter what form it takes. Do they think that terrorist will give up since they can’t figure out anything else to put bombs in? Please. Not that I think there are a heck of a lot of people carrying around large printer cartridges in their baggage, but what’s next?

Since the ban is sort of a shock, you might have missed the part where this is only for flights within and inbound to the United States. So, it is totally fine to fly with a printer cartridge on an airline departing the US, you just can’t bring any back. What sense does that make?

It is easy to ban printer cartridges since they are not common, but what if terrorists start using items that would be difficult to ban? Would the TSA start banning laptops or stuffed animals if terrorists start using them? I wish the TSA would stop wasting time and money with pointless security measures like this. They need to be honest with the public that there is no 100% solution and be smarter about bomb detection. The airline business has seen many good and horrid changes since 9/11. However, in the last nine years 0 Americans have died from terrorism on airlines. Compare that to the about 315,000 Americans who have died in automobile accidents over the same period of time. Some might say that scanning shoes and your toothpaste is related to those 0 deaths, but I say it has more to do with this not being the huge threat the TSA and the media like to play it up to be.

When I got word of this story a few days ago, I tried to contact two different TSA sources, but no one would contact me back (and I was not this snarky). The TSA is proud of their “Talk to the TSA” campaign, but I guess you can only talk to them about stuff they want to talk about. I have tried to get the TSA’s side to things, but they just don’t seem to want to talk, which is greatly disappointing to me. If you are not happy with the body scanners and their crazy knee-jerk reactions, I highly suggest you trying to talk to the TSA. If you get a reply, let me know.