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Airports and TSA Screenings

T.S.A. Screening May Be Taking a Toll on Travel

Yeah, you can file this one under “duh”.  I’d generally argue that the T.S.A. screening is taking a toll on travel, not “may be”.  It’s really gotten to the point that if I can drive somewhere in under 18 or so hours I would rather do that than fly, and a decent part of that is because of the T.S.A. screenings (the other parts are usually because of cost and possible transportation needs at the destination).

Why?  It’s not actually that much about how much time it takes; having to get to the airport a couple hours early just because you don’t know whether or not it will be 20 minutes or 60 minutes to get through the line is annoying, but it doesn’t bother me all that much.  Nor is it about the body scanners for me; since I don’t travel all that often I’m not really worried about the possible low-level radiation, and they’re probably more concerned about protecting my privacy than I am.

No, it’s about all the freaking rules governing what you can take with you on the plane, and what you have to remove from your person to get through the checkpoint.  Also, it was about being singled out for what I was wearing.  When I went to Ireland, I prepared in advance for the T.S.A. checkpoints.  I was a diligent traveler, reading up on all the regulations about what I could bring and what I couldn’t, specifically leaving at home every last possible thing I could think of.  When I went up to the checkpoint I literally had just a single small bag (containing a spare change of clothes, my iPad, medications, camera, chargers, and my paperwork), my jacket, wallet, phone, and passport.  I left at home all keys and metallic objects, I carried no liquid items, and when I got close to the checkpoint I stored my wallet and phone in my jacket and carried in my hand my passport and tickets so there literally wasn’t a thing in my pockets.

At every U.S. T.S.A. checkpoint I had a problem.  But let’s start with the basic annoyances first.  With all the preparations I had done, I still had to remove my jacket and shoes and put them in one bin, and put my bag in another, all while being surrounded by people generally annoyed that they had to go through this.  I then had to stand away from my stuff which went through its own scanner at a different rate than the line, so all of my personal effects were on the other side of the checkpoint where nobody was really paying attention to them before I was; it didn’t seem like anybody was really concerned or watching that X person didn’t pick up Y person’s stuff.  You just have to trust that someone isn’t going to steal something, say a laptop that had to be left out (this has become a problem in some areas; minor so far, yes, but still a problem).

If everything goes smoothly it shouldn’t take but a couple moments for a person to get through the checkpoint.  If.  For me, in Indy I got pulled aside after walking through the metal detector and had to go through the body scanner….because the metal detector didn’t go off but I had cargo pants on.  Even after I said I had nothing in my pockets the guy didn’t believe me; I guess it’s inconceivable to him that someone might just like wearing cargo pants but would have prepared for the checkpoint by not having anything in them.  In Chicago, I pulled aside the first time because they had to pull my bag off the line:  the guy running the scanner pulled out my iPad and had to run it through by itself, giving me a look for not having pulled it out before even though T.S.A. regulations say you can leave your iPad in your bag.  Coming back through Chicago on the way home I got pulled aside again, this time for having my hat on.  I had passed through 3 checkpoints by this time, and at each one I was wearing my hat.  This agent, however, insisted that I had to send my hat through the scanner.

In Ireland?  No problems.  U.S. Customs, notorious for being tricky to get through?  No problem.  It was only at the T.S.A. checkpoints in the U.S. that I had problems even though I had diligently prepared beforehand (I had even bought new shoes because your shoes can’t have a gel insert).  The rules are just getting to be too much, and even within the same airport the rules aren’t constant.

::sigh::  It doesn’t help, of course, that the regular consumer has very little power in the airport.  The agents can confiscate anything they think is a risk, and they can pull aside anybody; you can argue all you want, and that may help, but if you want to get on the plane you have to follow their rules.  By the time I got on the plane, I felt lucky to be there.  Out of 4 flights, 3 were late, I had trouble at each of the T.S.A. checkpoints, and I had paid well over $1,200 for the “pleasure”, yet I was the one feeling lucky to even get on the plane.

Something seems a bit wrong with that.