More Proof the TSA are Morons…

December 28, 2009  |  Featured, No Sidebar, Personal, Travel

So, I’m back in Arlington.  I had an uneventful flight (not even any turbulence), and Marc’s sister picked me up at the airport (Marc had to work until 11pm).  The woman next to be on the plane worked for NASA developing avionics, so she was pretty nifty to chat with.  I think it was the first flight in many, many years where I never took out my book or iPod, though we did look through some of my Korea photos on my laptop.  The kitties seem happy to see me, and it’s nice to be back in my own space again.

I’m glad that I was not on an international flight, though.  In a knee-jerk reaction to the Nigerian nut job bomber-wanna-be in Detroit, the TSA has released a new set of rules for international flights even more idiotic than their usual fare.

Passengers on international flights arriving in the US will until further notice be restricted to their seats for the final hour of their flights.  For this duration, they are also not allowed to have anything on their laps – no computers, no blankets, not even books.  As if the thought of kids screaming about having to put their GameBoys away wasn’t bad enough, flights will also be disabling their on-board entertainment systems if they contain one of those animated maps that shows how long you have until you reach your destination.  I don’t know about you, but having no movies on my 14 hour flights from Korea would have been a form of torture.  In addition to all the new on-board regulations, there’s some terminal-side changes being made as well.  Passengers will be given a pat-down at the gate (note: by airline staff, not trained security professionals), and they will only be able to bring “one small carry on” onto the plane.

I really have to wonder what on earth is going through the heads of the folks at the TSA other than “Holy crap, we need to put out some new rules to make passengers feel safe!”.  Why only the final hour?  A bomb could be detonated at any time and cause just as much death and destruction as if it were detonated in the final hour.  Also – while I could understand restricting computer (or even “electronic device”) usage, what harm is a book or magazine going to do?  In fact, if the Nigerian bomber had been holding a magazine, both his hands would have been too occupied to fiddle with the explosive in his pants!  As for turning off the little animated maps – all that goes to show is that the TSA clearly thinks that all would-be terrorists are uneducated and illiterate and are incapable of doing a little planning and math.  This is a dangerous assumption to make, as it has been proven time and time again that the folks who arrange terrorist attacks are generally anything but dumb.

However, the most offensive new regulation, to me, is the gate-side pat-down.  Airline staff are not trained in how to give a proper pat-down check, and it’s unlikely they would find anything even if it were there.  Even beyond the point that flight attendants are probably woefully unequipped to deal with a pat-down (much less the consequences of them act – can you imagine your average stewardess’ reaction to finding a bomb on someone?) is the fact that they really should not be performing them at all.  You have to go through a licensing procedure to work for TSA security for a reason – to make sure you know how to do your job properly, and that you’re not just some perv who wants an excuse to feel up women – and having airline attendants perform security duties is not only outside their job description, but also an irresponsible delegation of duties (not to mention an incredible example of “mission creep”).  The TSA is responsible for security in the airport, and if they want there to be more security checks, they need to hire and train more staff.  If Marc needed a license just to sit and watch the TV monitors in downtown DC buildings, the TSA sure as hell better amend that rule so that a check as potentially invasive as a pat-down is only performed by an experienced, licensed professional.

The real area that needs improvement is the initial security checks.  They are currently laughable, especially in the United States.  I am bad about checking through my camera bag to make sure there’s nothing offensive in it before I fly, and I made it through the airports in Boston, Zurich, Houston, Chicago, and Incheon (Seoul) before I realized that there was a large Swiss Army knife and a stray, leftover round of ammunition (from one of our visits to the rifle range) in the bottom of my bag.  Not only were they never picked up on the scanners, but on a few occasions I was selected for extra screening, and my bag was put into one of those explosive-sniffing machines.  It never detected the round (which contained gunpowder), and my bag, which surely has GSR (gunpowder residue) all over it from me taking it to reenactments/the range never set off the machine at all.  The round of ammunition was finally noticed on my final flight from Incheon (though I made it *into* the country with it in there), and I was detained for a couple minutes at security while they looked at me suspiciously (and rightfully so – it was a 7.62×39 Soviet round, commonly used in AK-47s) before letting me continue on my journey.  Frankly, I’m glad they found it (though still didn’t notice the Swiss Army knife), but successfully carrying both it and the knife around unknowingly through so many different airports was an eye-opener to me as to the ineffectiveness of the security at most airports.

If anything, these new regulations further prove many folks’ suspicions: that the TSA implements rules not because they will actually be effective at all, but because they think it will help people feel safer.  Dear TSA:  these new regulations accomplish neither.  The best way to make passengers feel safer is to actually make them be safer.


14 Comments


  1. Oh, don’t even get me started. I’ve managed to get through security with bottles of liquids on my person (unknowingly, forgot I had them in my deep pockets), while the security staff was busy confiscating jam-filled cookies from my carry-on luggage.

    And as a woman, I can think of several places on a female body where explosives could be concealed that no pat-down would ever find. And frankly, I’m very surprised that the bad guys haven’t thought of them yet. Just goes to show you they’re all males. LOL!

  2. I flew from Lisbon yesterday and can confirm/disprove some things:

    - You are allowed a book during the last hour, as long as it doesn’t cover your lap. Magazine? No. Small paperback? Yes. I don’t know why, but this was my experience as Nuno had to put his laptop away, but I had a book and there was a guy to our left with a Kindle (that someone apparently didn’t realize is an electronic device).

    - The inflight entertainment still works, just not the GPS. You can continue to watch movies on the inflight thingum through the last hour of the flight.

    However, the most offensive new regulation, to me, is the gate-side pat-down. Airline staff are not trained in how to give a proper pat-down check, and it’s unlikely they would find anything even if it were there.

    In Paris, this was done by the French police, not the airline staff. Oh believe me, they were trained. And they had guns.

    having airline attendants perform security duties is not only outside their job description, but also an irresponsible delegation of duties

    Yep, agree, but it was done by the police, not airline staff. Also, should be mentioned, this was gender segregated. No pervs feeling up ladies unless they were pervy ladies feeling up other ladies.

  3. Why did I say laptop? I meant magazine. GEEZUS I AM JETLAGGED.

    Most recent blog post of mine details what the security was like, btw.

  4. @Anna: Usually they’re too busy looking at my camera and lenses to notice the other stuff in my bag. IT’S A CAMERA, PEOPLE. I know it’s big, but have you never seen a professional before?

    @Sonja: It’s good to hear that at least paperback books are allowed – that had me worried, as sitting quietly for an hour with nothing to entertain myself would be difficult if the passenger next to me didn’t speak English (likely on an international flight). I’m glad to hear that at Charles de Gaulle they are professional enough to have the police come in to do the checks. However, the rules actually state that airline staff are to perform them if other staff are not provided, and I suspect that in many, many airports, that is what will occur. Also, regarding the GPS thing – on most planes you’ll still be able to watch movies, but on planes with systems that are not able to disable the GPS section of the in-flight entertainment system, the regulations call for the entire system to be turned off. You’re lucky that Air France is AWESOME.

  5. oh yes, cameras… I’m not a professional, but I do carry a bunch of big ones, but the security people normally seem very intimidated by all the equipment and just confiscate my snacks instead. LOL!

  6. Yes, I am lucky that Air France is amazing! And I do wonder what kind of a cock-up would occur at…oh… Rome. Oh man, I just scared the bejesus out of myself, they were so incompetent under NORMAL circumstances.

  7. I agree. Somehow flying has turned into something similar to being taken into custody. I have to fly to Phoenix in a couple of weeks. While it’s not international, I’m still not looking forward to it.

  8. Oh no! Sorry to hear about the hassles. I dread getting on a plane this week back to San Francisco then. I may have to pack lighter and give a lot of things away! Don’t want to have to check in bags and get a body cavity ;)

  9. @Anna: Yeah, I’ve had a range of reactions to my cameras before, from intimidation to suspicion. They show up funny on x-rays.

    @Sonja: Yeah, see, the good airlines like Air France, KLM, etc, don’t worry me. The ones that worry me in regards to these sort of regulations are airlines like Aeroflot, Air Italia, South African Airlines, etc. (By the way, I am NOT looking forward to having to fly Aeroflot to Mongolia. Really. Really really.)

    @Irondad: The hilarious thing about this whole increase in security is that part of the objective of terrorism is to harass your target and cause disruptions. Well, I think they’ve successfully accomplished that, indirectly!

    @Financial Samurai: I hate checking bags, but with new carry-on regulations, it has been getting harder and harder. One of the things that concerns me is that if they truly reduce the carry-on to one bag, I’m going to have to figure out a new laptop/camera bag. Right now my camera bag and laptop bag are separate, and I refuse to check either one for obvious reasons.

  10. The people that work for TSA are not morons. The people at the airport are following rules made by management; while it may seem that the rules are “idiotic,” they are in response to unprecedented acts of terrorism and attempted terrorism, so give them a chance to get it right. Finding dangerous items is not a science – I would rather have them be overly cautious and take an extra few minutes to screen everyone on the place than get blown to smithereens by a terrorist’s bomb.

  11. “The people at the airport are following rules made by management”

    That management is the TSA. Do you even know what the TSA is? It seems you don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have made the statement you did.

    “unprecedented acts of terrorism and attempted terrorism”

    Unprecedented? No. Even before 9-11, there were TWENTY-THREE attempted hijackings. We’ve been dealing with this for a long, long time.

    “Finding dangerous items is not a science – I would rather have them be overly cautious and take an extra few minutes to screen everyone on the place than get blown to smithereens by a terrorist’s bomb.”

    Except…these new regulations do nothing to make it more difficult to set off a bomb in a plane, if you read my response to them (and believe me, I do know what I’m talking about, as Marc works in security and did his master’s thesis on domestic terrorists). These new regulations are what is called “Security Theatre“, which is a lot of invasive and elaborate practices that give the appearance of security, but are of very questionable practicality. Any terrorist capable of making a bomb is capable of doing the math to know where they are without an animated cartoon map. The pants bomber would not have been stopped by the nothing-in-lap rule, as the item was hidden in his pants. It *might* have been detected by the pat-down, but as I said in the post, the pat-downs are largely performed by untrained airline staff that aren’t likely to really find anything. I have no problem with pat-downs, but they need to be performed by trained professionals, as I said.

    Next time you want to make claims, do some research first.

  12. TSA has moved with commendable speed. For the new airport security rules, look here:

    http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/flying-home/

  13. Yeah, but as I see it people are just missing the bigger picture. We wouldn’t need these authorities to “keep us safe” or “protect our freedom”—we’re clearly not free looking at all the bullshit we put up with—if our government didn’t interfere in foreign affairs. If you want to make the world a safer place, quit meddling in foreign countries and killing foreign people. If you want to promote liberty and democracy, lead by example and encourage your citizens to do the same. If you want to nation-build, start with our own.

    Unfortunately I don’t see anybody hitting the issue from that point of view. I cry for my country when I hear people talking about promoting freedom by attacking Afghanistan, or when people talk about war on terror with a straight face. Instead of being a great country promoting freedom and developing itself, we’re beholden to people half a world away.

    And one consequence of this is . . . yep, asshole airport employees and ridiculous regulations to “keep us safe.” Strange how many other countries in the world are keeping safe just fine, all without having to invade and occupy sovereign nations.

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