Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TSA: Hassling The Handicapped, Taking My Pop And Fighting Terrorism

I, like many people, traveled by airplane during my spring break this year.

I took two flights: one from Chicago-O'Hare to Pittsburgh and then the return flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago.

Overall, the travel part of my trip (taken with my dad) was uneventful. No delays or lost luggage or faulty rental cars or messed-up hotel reservations. No, all of the service providers that my dad and I dealt with were generally quick, professional and gave great value for money. This included two airlines, a rental car company, a hotel and a mobility equipment rental company.

There was one entity, though, that colored each travel experience, making it unpleasant, tense and nerve-wracking.

This entity was, as you might have guessed, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You can choose your airline, rental car provider and hotel. You cannot pick to NOT deal with the TSA. If you want to fly inside or from the USA, you have to go through a TSA checkpoint at the airport.

I have had bad experiences before with the TSA and this trip was no different. The web is resplendent with TSA horror stories; just Google-search "TSA sucks" and see what you come up with.

At O'Hare, I had no trouble apart from having to remove my shoes and jacket (as I suspected I would have to). My dad was a different story.

He went through the checkpoint in a wheelchair. Apparently, this marks the person as an immediate threat and subject to additional search. They made my dad remove his shoes and belt, two things that are not easy for him (or anyone) to do while seated. He then was made to walk through the metal detector, trying to keep his pants up.

I guess they didn't realize that he was in a wheelchair for a reason. It was embarassing, demeaning and (seeing as they have hand-held metal detectors) seemingly unnecessary.

On our return trip, it was I who had problems with the TSA. My dad was taken into a side examination room where he didn't have to walk, holding his pants and trying to walk. That was the good part.

The confusing part came when I removed my shoes (not my jacket: apparently jackets are only dangerous when one departs from O'Hare, not when one arrives there), put my bag on the conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector.

I went to retrieve my bag and, well, reassemble myself, when a TSA screener picked up my bag, looked at me like Dirty Harry and turned the contents out on the table in front of him.

Now, just for the sake of completeness, I will recount the exact contents of the bag: A book, some crossword puzzles from the newspaper, a file folder containing documents pertaining to our trip, a package of Juicy Fruit gum and three sealed, bottled beverages (Diet Dr. Pepper and two bottles of spring water). Pretty dull stuff, right?


The TSA Charles Bronson wannabe gathered the bottles up, shook his head at me like one would at a dog who pissed on the carpet, put them behind his counter and shoved the contents of the bag back toward me. I gathered up my legal carry-on items and left the area before I said something stupid (which can be almost anything around TSA screeners).

Apparently, my non-alcoholic, non-combustible liquids were off limits. I was interested in why this was, so I went to the TSA website to their list entitled, "Prohibited Items." No, nothing even close there. Thankfully, I packed my nunchucks, cattleprods, starter pistols and cricket bats in my checked baggage.

I then checked the list entitled, "Food and Beverages." There, I found a stock photo of a burger and fries and nothing more than a vague statement about items purchased inside the airport terminal.

I came to the conclusion that my items were taken unfairly or at least without adequate explanation. Well, I am not sure what I expected. Power-tripping, government-backed, uniformed thugs are never good at putting things into words.

So, to conclude, I have something to say to the TSA agents who made our trip and then to the TSA more generally.

To the handicapped-hassling, beverage-confiscating, jackbooted, pushy, unhelpful, inhumane government stooges in Chicago and Pittsburgh, I hope your day was made by embarassing a handicapped man in public and taking items that may not have been illegal. I also hope you fucking rot in the lowest level of hell.

To the TSA generally, I say you are no more than security theater. You are not there to protect people. You are there to make people think that they are protected. The real failure of airport security on 9/11 (where all of this TSA shit started) was that it worked too well and the hijackers just gamed the system.

The TSA serves the purpose of eye-wash, the visible portion of a security apparatus whose scope and remit we cannot begin to understand. The TSA is a bloated, inefficent, unwieldly government bureaucracy that serves its own interests first and the interests of the people a distant second. The only thing that they protect are their positions and salaries, each person from the airport screeners to the Secretary of Homeland Security engaging not in security but bureaucratic empire-building.

So, TSA, you do not make me feel safer. You do not convince me that you could stop the ever-evolving terrorist threat to our transport system. You do nothing but use your power to inconvienece and hassle people.

In other words, you are no different from any other branch of the government.

I want my dad's dignity back. I want my fucking pop back. I want my privacy back.

Don't bother trying, though. I know you are capable of no such things.


the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

While I certainly have no love for the TSA...I think that, after that thing in the UK a couple of years ago, it's been pretty widely reported that liquids in bottles--whether they look legal or not--are pretty much no nos. Not that making WPS3 get up and move around or even swiping your shit without an explanation is justified, but it isn't surprising.

Will Shannon said...

I guess you are right, Jenks.

It doesn't make it less frustrating, though.

It also does not change my criticisms of the TSA generally.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Oh, totally. On a trip from Atlanta to South Bend, I learned that, if I wanted to be a terrorist, all I had to do was be second in line, and the screeners would let me go while they were making the first guy jump through flaming hoops.

Also, saying "You know, I voted for Bush" while they're waving the portable metal detector over your body doesn't help matters as much as you'd think...

Andrew Keilman said...

yeah will i hate to say it as well. liquids are a HUGE nono. went to ireland without my shampoo to wash me mullet.

Andrew Keilman said...

however, that being said, the hassling of your father REALLY pisses me off to NO end. While i do realize there are certain precautions (and trust me...customs checked EVERYTHING and THEN so did international security once we were aboard) they do need to take. what grinds my gears is that AFTERWARDS there is a certain way you treat a man after having to rape him of his dignity. what i mean by this (and hear me out)is that...ok..yeah my mom is handicapped too, so much of the same things happened, which she totally agreed to do cuz she knows terrorists and air planes creep me the fuck out (another story). they took her aside and did the dirty deed. but AFTERWARDS air lingus treated her like fucking royalty because they knew she went through alot just to get on board. even customs apologized and thanked her ever so much. it's a job. it needed to be done...but once you point out the obvious that your father has no relations to ANY middle eastern family with an abundance of wealth and ammo, you let him know he is a human being again and thank him for being a cooperative citizen. you DON"T make him jump through fucking hoops when he sure as hell can't (well, im sure he would figure a way out if he had to. he is pretty fucking resourceful)

WPSIII said...

Thank you to Will for writing this and to all of you commenters for your words of support. it seems to me that what might make this security process more palatable for somebody like me is some kind of standardization, on a nationwide basis, of procedures for screening travelers with disabilities. it could easily be done with an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The security procedures in Chicago were 180° different than those in Pittsburgh. Chicago did not have either the equipment or the training that was exhibited in Pittsburgh. The Chiago TSA personnel were abrupt and demeaning while the Pittsburgh personnel were professional and pleasant. I do understand that a terrorist could easily impersonate a disabled person. So, I do not advocate eliminating or shortcutting the procedures. Just standardization so we know what to expect. Couple that with a professional and accommodating attitude and I'd be happy.

Rachel said...

My experiences with the TSA haven't been as terrible as most people's, though I've met my fair share of those whose petty little powers have gone to their heads.

I still think the stupidest thing the TSA does is the shoe thing. One guy, one time, tried to put a bomb in his shoes and it didn't even work. It's patently ridiculous that that means everybody has to take off their shoes every time they go through security.

Andrew Keilman said...

I agree with your father 1 million percent. but where do we start? any suggestions?

Carolyn said...

Yeah so the liquids get taken because of that whole 3 oz rule. Okay, fine. But really, that just speaks to your point about the TSA not really making us any safer. So, 3 oz won't blow up a building but 4 oz will? So, how about I take on 3 oz, you take on 3 oz, and there you have it - instaterrorists. Or, how about basic chemistry? Buy a bottle of "legal" water past the TSA checkpoint (in an amount larger than 3 oz) and bring a small block of calcium (not hard to come by). That makes a big ol' KABOOM and would take down a plane if done right. Don't get me wrong - not trying to be creepy, I'm simply saying that this is hardly a stretch of the imagination seeing as I'm able to think of this and 1) not only am I not a lab rat but 2) I've never even done something so 'bad' as sneak into a movie. I'm simply pointing out that taking your soda didn't make anyone any safer, nor does confiscating shampoo, water, perfume, etc. I think the worst part about the TSA is that they know they serve no real, helpful purpose but they keep it up anyway.

doglovr69 said...

I am 63 years old with cancer that caused 8 compression fractures so I can't walk very far. I travel with either one of the airport's wheelchairs or my own motorized scooter. At first things were nice. They treated me well. Now we have moved to total indignities. That handicapped are picked out of EVERY lineup and made to be humiliated by a patdown. I have to wear adult diapers which don't fit tightly. Imagine being asked in a very loud voice so everyone can hear what I have between my legs. The last time, while hundreds went unmolested, I again, was taken out. I also have to have water with me at all times because I literally don't have any saliva from medical procedures. We even got a letter from my doctor. So after patting me down in front of everyone, we had to argue about the water. Then I got an extra pat down because of the scooter. Then they had a little machine that randomly chooses someone instead of someone actually using their brain. Well I was chosen for that also. There is one airport that we refuse to use because of the terrible TSA agents. And they have the nerve to tell us we can't use a camera on them. They threw away my homemade jam I just bought (actually it was put on a table, and I suspect someone took it home) they constantly choose us to go through our carry on while letting younger men and women whisk through. I hate flying because of them. I know everytime I fly I will lose my dignity to some power-hungry jerk who doesn't listen and throws his weight around in front of the audience. I agree, and have told them so. They give the handicapped a terrible time and should be ashamed, but these kind of people are not.