Category Archives: TSA

TSA Lines: Is Feature Not Bug

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans in Congress cut an agency’s budget, then point to the resulting chaos they’ve created and cry, “See! Government doesn’t work! We must privatize!”

Lather, rinse, repeat. Amiright?

The T.S.A.’s work force and budgets have in fact been shrinking. The agency’s rolls have declined to about 44,900 screeners today from 47,000 in 2013, even as passenger travel has increased by 15 percent. But it is also true that it has been plagued by mismanagement and other problems of its own making. An unloved stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security, the T.S.A. has suffered through continual turnover in leadership, repeated misconduct by senior managers, low staff morale and high rates of attrition among screeners.


Not all the T.S.A.’s troubles can be blamed on missteps by the agency. The dysfunction has been compounded by an earlier 2013 bipartisan budget deal negotiated between Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, the current House speaker, to avert a government shutdown.

The deal set the security fee assessed on each segment of a plane trip to $5.60, but called for 60 cents of that fee to be diverted from the T.S.A. to pay down the national debt. This year, $1.25 billion in fees is going into the Treasury instead of paying for screeners and new equipment.

Seriously, we’re diverting funds from TSA to pay down the national debt? That just screams Republican fiscal idiocy, doesn’t it? Republicans keep telling us that “debt is like slavery,” after all. Quit whining America and enjoy your three-hour TSA line. It’s just more freedom!

And gee, I can’t imagine why morale is low, what with folks like TN Rep. Marsha Blackburn constantly attacking TSA employees on everything from their uniforms and badges to alleging “pedophiles and child pornographers” are doing pat-downs.

I try to be nice to the TSA when I travel. They have a thankless job. And honestly, the last few times we’ve traveled, TSA has not been the problem. Our last three trips were to Seattle, New York City and San Francisco — all major international airports — and we changed in O’Hare, D.C., and Dallas. Again: TSA was not the problem. The problem was our airline. The last two times we traveled, there was a “mechanical malfunction” preventing our plane from even getting to the airport. The result was hours and hours and hours of waiting, eventual rebooking of flights, lots of angst and frustration, and a big chunk of our vacation time gone like a fart in the breeze.

TSA was not to blame. American Airlines was to blame. We were kept uninformed about the nature of the delays, instead given new departure updates every hour — only to see that departure time whoosh by just as it approached. Again. And again. Finally we were told our plane is still in Raleigh or wherever because of a mechanical failure (something they’d known from the get-go but hadn’t told us). And even though you’re at a fucking airport filled with planes, they can’t just pull a new one over to the gate. No, that would be too easy. They have to bring one in from somewhere else and that will happen in about three and a half hours and, oh, you’ve already been here for three hours? Sorry and thanks for flying American Airlines.

Seriously, fuck you people. The last time that happened (last month, actually, so yes, the anger is still very fresh) we were at LaGuardia airport, which is like a third world airport. There are literally no services in the American Airlines terminal once you get past TSA. You can’t score a beer or glass of wine, you can’t grab a sandwich. There’s an Au Bon Pain kiosk with cellophane-wrapped sandwiches and soft drinks and people that is it. You know, if you’re going to trap people in a gray linoleum hell for an entire day, at least give us some dang alcohol to soften the blow.

We were actually stuck there for five hours, when we could have been enjoying all that New York City has to offer, if only American Airlines had informed us that our flight was basically cancelled. But noooo. I eventually lost my cool, rebooked us on another flight that went through Washington D.C., whereupon we were ushered onto buses that took us to a different terminal. And helloooo paradise! This terminal was new, had bars, restaurants, air conditioning, there was even blue carpeting, people! I felt like a lost soul who had wandered into an oasis. I had no idea this wonderful place existed at LaGuardia airport. All my life, LaGuardia has been sterile gray linoleum, bags of Doritos, and not enough chairs.

Incidentally, a woman on our flight told us that the exact same “mechanical failure” thing had happened on her last four flights. Either the American Airlines fleet is in serious disrepair, or they’re just trotting out that excuse because they know passengers will accept a delay over a mechanical failure more easily than some other excuse.

Anyway, I’m done with air travel for now. The airlines need to get their shit together. We pay waaaay too much money for airline tickets to be dicked around because you can’t get the actual plane to the airport. I mean, I did my part: I showed up on time. I left enough time for security. I held up my end of the bargain. American Airlines, not so much.

Our next vacation is in August. We’re driving.


Filed under air travel, American Airlines, travel, TSA

Today In Security Theater

Donald Rumsfeld got groped by TSA agents at Chicago O’Hare, which is pretty funny. On the one hand … y’know, it’s Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, not once but twice. It’s not like he’s gonna take down an airplane, y’know?

On the other hand … it’s Donald Rumsfeld, on whose watch we had Saddam’s non-existent WMD’s and fearmongering about mushroom clouds and Abu Ghraib and “stuff happens” and everything else. He deserves a lot worse than a little groping by TSA agents, like maybe jail? Hello?


Filed under Donald Rumsfeld, TSA

I Love The Smell Of Bullshit In The Morning

I’m a couple days late on this but I can’t let a good piece of security theater go by unaddressed. So here we go.

I guess one good thing about the Casey Anthony verdict is that it was the shiny-sparkly thing our clueless media drones needed to pull them away from this ridiculous bit of fearporn.

I mean, really? “Body bombs”? Surgically implanted into terrorists to blow up planes? In Yemen? Does this make sense to anyone? This is just the kind of irresponsible nonsense our media does that makes me nuts.

As soon as I saw this story crop up on my Twitter feed I knew it was bullshit. The source is yet another one of those unnamed “U.S. officials” who “spoke on condition of anonymity” and of course we’re all reminded that there’s nothing to worry about — don’t cancel those summer vacation plans! — because there’s “no indication of an immediate plot,” but hey some Muslim-y guy might be carting a load of C4 around in his aorta!

God I hate this shit. For one thing, doesn’t it occur to anyone that there might be a hundred easier ways to do this than surgically implanting a bomb? You know, the ol’ up-the-butt thing or down-the-stomach thing? Isn’t that how they transport drugs? Haven’t we already heard a thousand times that airport body scanners can’t detect explosives in certain body cavities? Doesn’t this very story tell us that

Security experts said sewing a working bomb inside a passenger’s body would be possible though far-fetched. Such a device could be detonated wirelessly by a cellphone or radio-controlled trigger.

Rather than resorting to surgery, it would be easier to insert a bomb into a body cavity, as drug smugglers have done with their stashes for years, said Douglas Laird, a consultant and former head of security for Northwest Airlines.

Oh really? Well then why the fuck are you doing this story? What is the point of this?

I swear to God our media is so fucking irresponsible, I don’t even know where to begin. Because as soon as the story appeared it began to ricochet around the mediasphere, every mainstream outlet picked it up, and still if you Google “al qaeda surgically implanted bombs” it’s just everywhere (one outlet even suggested that explosives would be inserted in breast implants, which I like to call the Katy Perry Technique). This whole story is so thin to begin with, I have to think no one has any common sense.

And I also have to wonder why this obvious piece of fear propaganda was ginned up to begin with. Fear isn’t the motivator it once was, but still I can’t see a story like this and not suspect ulterior motives.

What’s really going on? Anyone want to take a guess?


Filed under media, rants, TSA

>TSA Security Perverts

>A pilot refused a full body scan at the Memphis airport and now may lose his job:

A pilot for ExpressJet Airlines refused to submit to a full-body scan in Memphis on Saturday, saying the technology amounts to “virtual strip searching.” Detained by airport security, he now may lose his job. Here’s his heroic first-hand account.

I have to say: good for him. I’ve written plenty about this ridiculous security theater, that it’s designed to give the appearance of making us safer while doing absolutely nothing at all.

No fucking way I am submitting to one of these things. Ever. Not that I need to worry about it, being white, female, nearing 50, and well past my hotness expiration.

When Mr. Beale and I traveled to Canada this summer I got to see one of these thingamajigs in action. A young couple in front of us at SEA-TAC were pulled out of the TSA line and put into these cylinder-thingies that I realized were full body scanners. She: young, blonde, cute, in a spaghetti-strap top and mini skirt. He: young, blonde, cute in those super-tight jeans you kids wear these days and a T-shirt. They looked like rock stars or models.

And I thought: of course. Of course the people pulled out of the security line for a full-body scan are the people you just wish would pose nude for Playboy. But they don’t have to — you can have your own private viewing, whenever you want, if you’re in the TSA!

I don’t know Michael Roberts, ExpressJet pilot. Hey, he may be a fat schlub like me. But I’m guessing there’s more to this story. I’m guessing he was targeted for some reason.

Maybe being the spokesperson for a group railing against “TSA tyranny” has something to do with it.

Ya think?

I have one message to the — how many of you guys are left now, is it, three? Four? — commercial airliners. The more unpleasant you allow air travel to become, the less likely we are to use your service. I will take my last airplane trip when I get pulled out of the TSA line to put on a peep show for some sick, bored airport employees. Consider this fair warning.


Filed under air travel, Tennessee, TSA

>Stupid Security Theater


That didn’t take long:

DALLAS – Airline officials say in-flight security rules have been eased after a two-day clampdown.
At the captain’s discretion, passengers can once again have blankets and other items on their laps or move about the cabin during the tail end of flight, two industry officials briefed on the situation said Monday.

It was a stupid rule to begin with.

Airline travel has just gotten substantially suckier thanks to our ridiculous Transportation Security Administration:

“Among other things, during the final hour of flights, customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage or have personal belongings or other items on their laps,” the airline said.

Look, in the interest of safer air travel, I will accept pat-downs and more scrutiny of my carry-on bags. But this “remain seated for the last hour of flight with nothing in your lap” bullshit is the last straw.

What does the “last” hour of flight have to do with anything? Just because the foiled Detroit attack took place in the “last” hour of flight, do you think they all have to be that way? Why not the first hour of flight? The second? How arbitrary and ridiculous. Al Qaeda is laughing their asses off at us.

Second of all, anyone who has ever traveled with children knows you simply cannot keep them locked in their seat for a full hour, no trips to the bathroom, no access to personal belongings, no toys, no games, hell not even a blanket. Good luck with that. Oh, and I’m sure the flight crews will have a grand ol’ time wiping urine off the seats.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that our safety screening is based on foiled terrorist plots? Richard Reed failed to light his shoes on fire so now we all take our shoes off at security. Some other terrorists failed to mix liquids into an explosive, so now you can’t take liquids through security. And now we have to stay out of the bathroom and twiddle our thumbs for an hour.

As I wrote last year when an eager TSA employee in Dallas stole took labeled my niece’s Christmas gift contraband:

Thank God the Maxwell Smart of terrorists didn’t have an exploding pen, or we’d all have our writing implements confiscated at security.

It seems to me there’s a better way to do this. Telling me I can’t read a freaking magazine for the last hour of flight or take a pee after you’ve plied me with ginger ale for two hours doesn’t seem to be the right approach. I’d rather we figured out how someone on the terror watch list was able to board an aircraft with a bomb strapped to his balls, when I can’t even get a damn bottle of Dasani past security.

Y’all ever think of that?

No, Janet Napolitano, our system did not work.

How about a little extra pat-down to the guy on our terror watch list who was denied an entry visa to the United Kingdom last spring? I realize hindsight is 20/20 and I don’t know all of the ins and outs of airline security but it seems like treating every single person like a potential terrorist accomplishes nothing, when there are actual, concrete things we should be doing to make air travel safer.

In my post last year I linked to this “Ask The Pilot” column, in which a pilot had this to say about airport security:

What we need is a TSA willing to concede that the real nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes take place well out of view. We need to immediately rescind most of the rules restricting sharp objects and liquids, with a return to basic screening for firearms and bombs. With respect to the latter, the emphasis should be put squarely on improved anti-explosives screening of all luggage and cargo.

And although the attacks of 2001 took place on U.S. soil, the greater threats are at airports abroad. American carriers now operate throughout Asia, South America, Africa and beyond, where they remain potentially high-profile targets for extremist groups or rogue terrorists. Here we are confiscating scissors from somebody’s grandmother in Indianapolis when most of our security in foreign countries is outsourced to local authorities. How about relocating some of our domestic manpower overseas to help prevent a bombing or shoot-down?

All of those things would be nice. How about those new liquid-explosive screening devices soon to be available in the EU? Can we get some of those in the U.S., please?

I’m tired of these ridiculous security rules designed to give the appearance that we are doing something when in fact we are doing nothing at all. If we’re going to have terror watch lists, for crying out loud, use them.


Filed under air travel, terrorism, TSA

Doing The Safety Dance

Yesterday, Pam Spaulding over at Pandagon wondered if there are any 2008 travel war stories out there.

I’m sure she’ll get an earful from folks returning from Thanksgiving. I already blogged about the sucky treatment we got from American Airlines on our recent vacation to Costa Rica. The airline changed our flight out of Miami without notifying us, forcing us to miss a connector in country. So instead of taking a 20 minute flight from San Jose to Quepos, we had to hire a driver to take us over land, which with Costa Rica’s notoriously bad roads meant a four-hour-plus ordeal. American said because we didn’t book the San Jose-Quepos flight through them, they had fulfilled their obligation to us. Well guess what, assholes: you don’t fly to Quepos! Only two airlines do that, both Costa Rican.

I still get mad thinking about it.

But the worst part about traveling has to be the ridiculous exercise known as the Transportation Security Administration’s Security Check. Yes, I remember 9/11 and no, those ubiquitous “Threat Level: ORANGE” signs don’t make me tolerate it any better.

And it’s so much worse at American airports than those in Europe. Look, nobody makes you take your shoes off.


Thank God the Maxwell Smart of terrorists didn’t have an exploding pen, or we’d all have our writing implements confiscated at security. How stupid.

Returning from Costa Rica last week, we went through customs at Dallas-Ft. Worth. We had two carry-on bags full of souvenirs, hand-crafted items like clay masks and wooden bowls. When we’d purchased the items, the store clerk had carefully wrapped every item in paper to prevent breakage, and we’d just thrown the whole mess into a backpack. But we’d forgotten about two items: a small bottle of Lizano salsa, a wonderful spicy-sweet concoction that is a staple condiment of virtually every Costa Rican meal, and a Volcano snow globe we’d bought for my six-year-old niece.

After making it through customs, we’d sent our checked bags back on through, and then had to go through the whole TSA security check again to get to our gate. And that’s where we got into trouble.

I got stuck with a sour-faced TSA woman who had to unwrap every single item in the carry-on. When she got to the Lizano sauce she put it aside and snarled, “that’s not going anywhere.”

Then she unwrapped my niece’s volcano snow globe. She picked it up, admired it, turned it upside down.

“Cute,” she said.

She watched the little red sparklies meant to be lava float around inside the globe, then looked at me and said:

“This has water in it. It’s not going anywhere.”

I swear to God if she could have slipped it in her pocket she would have.

Our only choice was to “throw them away” or go back to ticket counter, check another piece of luggage, and go through the whole TSA nonsense again. For a bottle of Costa Rican salsa and a cheap plastic snow globe which cost $4, it wasn’t worth it.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have reminded her that the liquid in this snow globe was less than 4 oz. I thought of it too late, trying to make sure that our two laptop computers made it back into our possession. I did wonder why she allowed my toiletries to go through–shampoo, lotions, etc.–but had a problem with my souvenirs. She didn’t even check that bag.

I am absolutely convinced that a child of a TSA worker in Texas is getting a volcano snow globe in his or her Christmas stocking this year.

Let’s face it, the whole point of the TSA safety dance is to inconvenience people as much as possible, thereby giving the appearance that something is being done to Keep Us Safe. I’m not buying it, though, and I suspect no one else is, either.

In Salon’s “Ask The Pilot” column a real, live airline pilot pleads with President-elect Obama:

Please, Mr. President, for the love of country, do something, anything, about the Transportation Security Administration.

The fundamental problem, discussed in this column many times, is the agency’s relentless fixation with the in-flight takeover scheme last perpetrated on Sept. 11, 2001; that is, the fallacy that physical weapons, rather than the element of surprise, were ultimately responsible for the hijackers’ successes on that day. In truth, the hijackers’ possession of box cutters was irrelevant — a deadly weapon can be fashioned from virtually anything, including many objects and materials found on planes — and for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the confiscation of pointy objects at the concourse checkpoint, the 9/11 blueprint is all but off the table to a would-be saboteur.

Let’s face reality, folks. The ban on liquids and sharp objects is ridiculous at best, and potentially dangerous. People should be allowed to bring their own food and water on aircraft, especially as airlines are cutting back on such services and charging for such things.

The airlines and TSA are really sucking all of the fun out of travel. I’m still pissed that a TSA agent took my niece’s volcano snow globe, for no earthly reason.

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Filed under air travel, American Airlines, TSA

>Are We Safer Yet?

>I’m traveling this week. One thing I have always thought is a gigantic scam is the whole airport security thing. The rigamarole where you take off your shoes and dump your liquids strikes me as the kind of useless exercise designed to make travelers think something is being done for their safety while still reminding them to “be very afraid” because we have to go through this huge inconvenience.

It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that “terriss wanna kill us!!” because the two major procedures affecting passengers are the ones related to specific terror plots: Richard Reed and the shoe bomb, and those crazies with the liquids.

I’m not so sure either plot would have succeeded anyway, but I’m glad we’re still protecting ourselves from the “Get Smart” crew. Let’s hope no one invents the exploding pen, or we’ll all have to dump our writing implements before boarding.

This is what happens after six years of endless fearmongering: A woman flying from San Diego to Chicago Tuesday night demanded to be let off a plane because fellow passengers were speaking Arabic:

The woman first complained to the flight crew that four to seven men were possibly speaking Arabic in the boarding area. The woman added that they “had odd behavior.” The crew decided to return to the boarding area because the woman indicated she wanted off the plane.

As a result of this woman’s panic, the entire flight was cancelled and 126 people weren’t able to get where they needed to go.

Now it turns out the men were Iraqis helping America in our GWOT. They were in San Diego to train U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton.

But this is the result of endless fearmongering and four years of war. We’re all wound a tad too tight these days, I think. I guess this woman in San Diego didn’t feel safer after taking off her shoes at airport security and our troop surge in Iraq, our Guantanamo Bay, our warrantless wiretaps. No one feels safer, apparently. They don’t want us to.

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Filed under TSA

>Dry Runs All Wet?

>Last night, Keith Olbermann addressed the spate of phony terror scares we’ve been hearing about lately, the so-called “dry runs” the TSA has claimed are harbingers of a new 9/11, like, for sure.


Conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin have dutifully jumped on this fear porn, repeating tales of suspicious “ice packs” and wired cheese to an audience so addicted to fear that if they don’t get their regular fix they start sniping at President Bush for insufficient national security mentions in the SOTU.

Olbermann had Will Bunch of the blog Attytood on to spill the beans about these TSA jokes swallowed whole by CNN. (Speaking of jokes, am I the only one amused that CNN’s security analyst is a guy named Clark Kent Ervin?) Velveeta cheese packed next to a DVD charger, not substitute bomb parts. Freezer packs leaking the usual blue gel in luggage owned by an American woman in her 60’s — not, as it happens, “ice bags, wrapped or configured to mimic bomb components,” as CNN reported. As Bunch wrote, the problem is not that the TSA investigated this stuff–that’s their job, after all–but that they needlessly frightened Americans about it afterwards:

In the end, TSA inspectors did the right thing in thoroughly checking the suspicious baggage, but the aftermath raises a lot of questions. Why did TSA officials put such blatantly incorrect information into their memo and send it out across America. And more importantly, who decided to leak this memo to NBC News, knowing that it would become such a big national story.

Frankly I’m surprised the American people keep buying this bullshit. Time will come when they stop, to our detriment. Crying wolf isn’t good for anyone’s security.

The Administration isn’t stupid, they know this. I can only think that they either don’t care, or care more about keeping the Republican Party in power than protecting the country.

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Filed under fear porn, terror alerts, TSA