Thursday, May 14, 2009

fun with TSA


"Do you have anything in your pockets, ma'am? Keys, maybe?"

Crap, my keys! I pulled them out of my pocket, put them in a bowl and sent them through the xray. The TSA man told me to back up and step through the metal detector again.


"Are you wearing a belt, ma'am?"

I lifted my shirt, showing that I had already removed my belt. No, no belt.

"Anything else in your pockets?"

I showed him my Dr. Pepper lipsmacker. That was all I had on me.

"Back up, walk through again."


The TSA man sighed and motioned for me to go through again. He looked weary and I was beginning to feel bad for him. I walked through the arch.


He looked at me incredulously. "Are you sure you don't have anything else on you?"

Oh, damn. I'm going to have to confess.

"I, umm...I wear a prosthetic leg." I admitted, smiling sheepishly, hoping he'd take pity on me.

But no - he sent me to a little glass booth for inspection. The woman inside instructed me to sit in a chair. I sat. She said some words to me as she adjusted her rubber gloves. I blinked at her.

"Have you ever been through this before?" she asked.

I shook my head - I hadn't flown since before 9/11.

She picked up her wand. "Please hold up your legs, one at a time." She scanned my legs (to see which was which, I guess) and then told me to stand on a mat with my legs spread and my arms out, palms up. I assumed the position...

...and promptly welled up with tears. I cry whenever I have any intense emotion and at that precise moment I was feeling quite pissed and more than slightly humiliated. The TSA woman ran her wand up and down each limb and across the front and back of my torso, identifying each beep as they occurred. Beep. "That's the rivets on your jeans." Beep. "That's the hooks of your bra." Beep. "That's the underwire of your bra." Beep. "That's..."

I stared straight ahead and tried to think happy thoughts.

The woman set her wand down and informed that she was going to pat me down. "Palms up," she reminded me.

A few moments later, after she made entirely sure that I had nothing else hidden anywhere (and I mean anywhere) on my person, she told me to take a seat. I must have had an ominous look on my face because her voice took on a gentle tone as she told me that she was going to swab me.

I pulled up the leg of my pants and she stroked what looked like a small coffee filter over my prosthesis. She set that aside and told me to hold out my hands so she could test them too. She then went off somewhere with her swabs. For testing, I suppose. I sighed audibly and suddenly remembered that I had just been handling my pistol before I came to the airport. "I'm doomed, " I thought. "I'm never getting on that plane."

But just then TSA lady returned and declared me fit for travel. I had passed inspection.

I got to my gate just in time for boarding and watched out the window as the plane thrust itself into the sky. The green disappeared beneath me and I was on my way - the desert only a few hours away.


InFerroVeritas said...

"I sighed audibly and suddenly remembered that I had just been handling my pistol before I came to the airport. "I'm doomed, " I thought. "I'm never getting on that plane."

When I dropped my wife off at the Amtrack Station I made sure to get as much gun powder residue on my hands and clothing as I could. Imagine to my disappointment that they didn't even have any security at all, much less a sniffer dog.

I could have brought a Panzerfaust and they would have never noticed. Oh well, I aimed to misbehave and I did so.

Sorry you had to go thru all that kubuki theater that is "homeland security. Have I good time, I wish I was there.

tanksoldier said...

Personally I have no problem with inspections before travel on aircraft. There is no Constitutionally protected right to air travel, and the aircraft are private property and airlines a commercial business with the right to restrict access or deny service.

HOWEVER, agents of the airline should be doing the inspections as representatives of the private property owner and business... NOT agents of the government. Agents of the government have no business inspecting or detaining anyone for anything without probable cause.

Joe Huffman said...

You have my sympathy.

I've deliberately "salted" my carry-on bags with explosive components, had them swab and test the bags and passed. I once went straight to the airport from an indoor range. They did the explosive test thing and I passed. I gave them an empty shell casing that had been fired just an hour or so earlier, they swabbed it and it passed. I had them pat me down when I was wearing an empty holster--they missed it. You should have seen his eyes when I pulled up my sweat shirt to reveal the IWB holster on my right hip and told him that he missed it.

It's all about making people feel safer.

You know they have the acronym TSA just backward, right? It should be AST.

Do you feel safer now?

Jenny said...

Personally, I find the "no Constitutional right to air travel" right up there with "driving is a privilege" and "the 2A protects swords and muskets." The right (albeit one of precedent and tradition rather than specifically mentioned*) is the right to travel - quibbling over the means as technology progresses to circumvent that meaning is ... not a good idea, I think. And a poor precedent.

That said, some of the Founders themselves were trying to end run parts of the Constitution before the ink had a chance to dry, so... it's not a perfect world, and never was. For the most part I've found TSA to be at best generally nice people trying to do a stupid, mostly pointless job adequately and politely. At worst... well, people are people. A few don't take to petty power well.

I'll agree the airlines have a right to deny service, at least and especially over security concerns. But unless an airline can say "yeah, I trust ya. Sure you can bring your piece in carry-on**" it's hardly private property rights in play.


* Which goes right back to why some folks didn't want the BOR in the first place. You write rights down, some people start to think it's an exhaustive list, 9th A or not.

** "gonna have to leave the Hazmat at home though, friend."

Paul said...

This post choked me up, too, but probably for different reasons.

I recently traveled internationally. Never again will I fly unless it's life or death. Nobody should have to be subjected to such invasive searches unless he or she is a prisoner.

Oh, wait.

Lissa said...

I recognize that the TSA lady is only doing her job. But the mental picture you paint made me tense up with vicarious indignation and pride.

Stephen Wrighton said...

I find the "no Constitutional right to air travel" thing to be a big fat lie. The Constitution I read in high school civics clearly states that just because certain rights are enumerated, doesn't mean that I give up any others (9th Amendment). Additionally, the Constitution I read in high school civics states that any power not expressly given the United States by the Constitution are reserved for the States or the people (10th Amendment).

Anonymous said...

I am sorry your experience was such a drag. Paul Simer got it right about the prisoner part. I won't fly commercially without a good reason and no alternative.


Assrot said...

I'm sorry you were treated in such a manner. I hope you have a safe trip and enjoy your time at the convention.

I know TSA security is a joke but what is the alternative? Should we do nothing after 9/11?

I just had a brainfart. Why don't we pass laws that require everyone that travels on a plane in the USA to have a CCW permit and require them to be armed while on the plane.

Seriously. I'm not snarking you. CCW holders have all been through a background check and passed. An armed society is a polite society. Ergo no more problems with idiots on planes and no more need for TSA.

What do you think?


david-stl said...

Sorry this happened to you. I have your same situation but to a much lesser degree. I have 14" of steel in my back and a card for use at metal detectors. I did not feel the humiliation but I was getting upset.

When I first started air travel I informed security of the implant with the card. They got confused when they could not find it. It was not a big deal being 1981. To avoid the minor hassle I quit informing them. I traveled on business a couple-three times a year.

10+ years go by and now the MD goes off for the first time. I show the card and now this one guy is accusing me of concealing God knows what for not informing them up front. I am pulled aside, assume the position . . . and he can't find the implant. Hand wand, pat down, special/repeated attention to the spine. He is getting loud, asking questions, and is even more pissed when he does not understand my answers of Harrington Rod and scoliosis. I am just trying stay calm and not say anything wrong. He calls his superviser over to go to the next level. The supervisor hears the story and let me go.

Buy a ticket a couple hours before the flight takes off. It is garaunteed to trigger a residue wipe. *fun*

Sherm said...

I apparently tested positive for explosive residue the last time I flew. I'd just buried my father and through a screw up by Expedia had an eleven hour layover in Denver. Swabs, pat downs, etc. It is amazing how much effort and money is spent straightening deck chairs.

Solo Survivalist said...

The irony will be lost on many TSA drones, but never the less:

Joe Huffman said...

Assrot, I explored that idea several years ago. I think it should work well, but testing should be done to make sure.

TSA has been one of my hot buttons for years now.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it was such a humilating experienc. However a prosthetic limb is a nice vehicle for implantimg explosives.

My brother has a pacemaker and he just tells them up front so they wand the area and let him go through.

I can not see anyway that could have been made easier. At least your attendant was nice about it.

If you were rich you could fly on your own plane. Wish I was rich.

Tam said...

Jesus. Wept.

Bunch of low-rent gestapo. I wouldn't piss in their mouths if their teeth were on fire...


The Freeholder said...

Breda, I'm sorry you had to go through this. It's all theater, meant to make us think the government is "doing something". I'll refrain from saying what it is I think they're doing since you've asked that we be polite.

And tanksoldier, congratulations. "You're all that we've come to expect from years of government training."

Anonymous said...

I have two knee replacements, so I go through this every time I fly. Now I wear shorts if possible. When I set off the beeper I just point to my knees and they send me to the pat down area (no having to walk through the detector multiple times or explain why I'm setting off the machine).

It's a pain, but that's life.

Looking forward to your reports, Breda!


Anonymous said...

How absolutely humiliating. Curse TSA and their intrusive regulations.

Anonymous said...

TSA = Thugs Strangling Aviation

Christina RN LMT said...

I'm so sorry you had such a harrowing experience, Breda. I hope the fun you're having now alleviates some of the sting.

Army of Dad said...

Sorry that happened to you.

I was worried a few years back when I got pulled aside and my bag swabbed. That bag would be of course my large hunting bakcpack. After we get done hunting we start to burn up large amounts of ammo. I very carefully emptied the backpack of everything and checked it twice to make sure nothing "bad" could still be inside. I was so worried when they swabbed it thinking that I would have a long day in a small room.

I wish I had seen a comment like that from Joe before that trip so I wouldn't have had to worry as much.

Chris M said...

Your story is indeed a sad commentary on the state of travel and freedoms in our nation today. But, humiliating as your experience was I cannot help but think that it still does not equal that of the late NRA President, Joe Foss. Does anyone remember how when he went to the airport to return to South Dakota from an NRA convention, the TSA insisted that he first dispose of his Congressional Medal of Honor, the one pinned on him personally by FDR? Luckily for him, other NRA members had escorted him to the airport and offered to take his MoH and mail it to him so he could board the flight.

Joe Huffman said...

"However a prosthetic limb is a nice vehicle for implantimg explosives."

Look, I could blow up a plane with a couple cups of flour, a balloon, and a match (watch the video). And I wouldn't even have to be on the plane when it went off. Do you think you can keep that off a plane without getting false positives for anyone that spent some time in the kitchen in the last few hours?

You can punch through two inches of steel with a half ounce of explosives. I can hide that much explosives in my mouth if I didn't didn't want to use some other body cavity.

You cannot search people to a sufficient extent that they cannot find a way to bring the plane down while in flight. The only way you can make the plane safe is to strip the passengers completely naked and render them unconscious for the flight. And I'm thinking I could still bring the plane down if I really wanted to.

The entire purpose of TSA is to make some people feel safer. And the higher up in the organization know that. You can tell from the cagey answers they give when asked questions. That they may be reducing safety, at a tremendous cost (~$2B/year), is irrelevant. People don't want to be safe, they want to feel safe. And they are willing to pay that price in both dollars and in loss of freedom.

Countertop said...

Not surprised. I travel with a guy who has some steel screws in his leg and he always tells security ahead of time.

I suspect, as the one commenter noted, it would have been a less intrusive experience if you gave them a heads up beforehand.

As to the others, I often time just fly with a simple duffle bag carryon - my hunting/range bag.

Its been covered in range residue, but has never set anything off (and I travel a hell of a lot - it seems like once a week at least).

Joanna said...

I always wondered why we didn't just adopt the Israeli model, which (from what I've heard/read of it) uses focused questions, behavior analysis and, yes, profiling to screen out potential attackers. Of course, it would require that the people doing the screening actually have more than a 10th-grade education.

FWIW, I flew cross-country and back a couple months ago and didn't have any problems. Then again, when my parents were on their honeymoon (1982) they specifically told the screener about my dad's leg brace and he had to walk through anyway.

Michael W. said...

Santa Maria!

T.S.A. wonks,

What a bunch of Richard Craniums!!!!!!

(Hope that is polite enough, it was the best I could do)

Old NFO said...

Welcome to my world... sigh... At least enjoy Phoenix!

Borepatch said...

Don't feel bad. They wanded #2 Son down. 4 years old.

Security kabuki.

tjbbpgobIII said...

Well, breda, I am sorry you had to go through that experience. I for one will never fly and if more people would just quit flying then maybe this s.h.i.t. could be stopped. Old Tanksoldier one of these days your children will turn you in and that should be ok with you since the .gov will mandate it.

The Duck said...

I was surprised, I flew in 2002 & it was no fun at all.
Left Dayton Thursday,via Denver to Phoenix, left Phoenix on Friday via Denver to SLC, left SLC via Denver to Dayton on Saturday, nary a problem, I did expect a hassle, but there were none. I didn't take a firearm with so many plane rides in such a short period of time, but did have my blades, Kuboton etc in my checked luggage.
Sorry to hear you had the hassles

Anonymous said...

Breda, is sounds like the only thing that they actually did wrong was not offering you a private screening, as soon as you said "prosthetic."

It is preferred if you say things like that before entering the walk-through, but we can't make you, and understand that some folks are reluctant to mention things like that. Which is why they're supposed to say "Would you like a private screening?"

And Joe Foss was not traveling to the NRA Convention with his CMH, he was traveling to WEST POINT--that was the incident that made me decide to take this sorry, thankless job, to keep things like this from happening, after retiring from the military I had no interest at all working for the government anymore.

Otherwise, I agree that federalizing security down tot the checkpoint level was a mistake, although moving oversight responsibility for security from the FAA, which was also required to "encourage commercial aviation" was a good idea.

You might be interested to know that the TSA has tried to make screening even less invasive, but the airline industry has a cow every time, especially the stewardesses union. And the airlines in this country are not interested in being responsible for screening; after all, they were responsible for screening pre-9/11, and look where that got us...

The US government will never go "whole hog" Israeli, since it is based on ethnicity, religion, and national origin. (Well, President Unicorn could probably get Con-gress to make the necessary changes to the relevant laws to allow profiling if anyone, but I don't see that happening.)

And as I tell my friend Dave Workman whenever he harasses me over my job and says "We should be able to carry on board!", well, that doesn't prevent bombs in baggage, which is trivial compared to the way that Chicago and New York, among other places, would react to the idea of all those subjects walking around armed. (Yes, I know it would reduce crime. Don't tell me, tell Con-gress.)

Gun Nut in the TSA

Nate said...

Remember, the terr-ists hate us because we're free, so give up more of your freedoms.

Anonymous said...

When they were done - did you at least remove the prothesis and then pound them to the ground with it ? - Bunch of Jackasses.

Anonymous said...

Brenda I was just wondering if after all this time reading your blog I missed the fact that you have a prosthesis? cuz i was just wondering if has ever been bought up before?

Anonymous said...

Folks... the swabs test for EXPLOSIVES... and smokeless powder is NOT an explosive. Now, if you'd been out shooting black powder, I suspect that you'd get a positive, since BP is considered an explosive.

Joe Huffman said...

I know several years ago the explosives sniffers weren't picking up explosives that I had made. And I wasn't even trying to clean up my bags before the TSA got their hands on them. In some cases I deliberately "salted" the bags that were later tested. No hits.

Fahnzie said...

I think a few people misunderstood tanksoldier's comment about constitutional right to air travel. I would say it a bit differently, each of us have a right to go get a pilot's license (assuming we can pass a reasonable test of course) and fly ourselves somewhere.

I feel we should not have the right to demand that someone else (a commercial airline for example) fly us somewhere. If they choose to not have us as a passenger, I feel that is their right. If you can't fit in one seat, they should be able to make you pay for as many seats as you fill.

Demanding that someone else must do something for you rubs me the wrong way. Of course, I also think taxi drivers have the right to refuse customers when they feel threatened as well.

Chris H. in Phx. said...

I hate flying because of the "screening" process. I've actually had TSA folks ask me to take my leg OFF and WALK thru the thing again. I was like, uh, what? My wife just about got arreseted after she heard that, she went off on them for a bit. Had to be escorted out of the area by the police and wait for me on the other side. A fiesty one, I married her!

Hope you had a great time here in the desert.

Bonnie said...

So you waited until AFTER you'd set off the monitor several times before pointing out your prosthesis? And you're surprised that they treated you like you were up to something?

I can't begin to imagine how embarrassing having a prosthetic leg is in certain circumstances, and I'm not going to pretend to try. However, it does make you different, and that means that there are things you're just going to have to do in order to be like everyone else in some situations. Things like declaring that you have a body part made partially of metal before going through a metal detector can only make things easier on you.

Anonymous said...

It's not about a "right" to travel, it's about the fact that we're supposed to have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in this country that has been mostly whittled away. There should never be that kind of inspection of a free citizen without clear an convincing evidence that they pose a threat.

stossa said...

I am an amputee and have metal in femurs, spine, shoulders, and remaining ankle foot. My thought is maybe the body scanner will make the patdown unnescessary? That would be nice. THe two handed patdown from the past two weeks is much more intrusive and does "touch one's junk". I already have to endure a cast scanner that is a small scope that takes 14 shots of my prosthesis each time I fly. It is so weak it cannot seen through the carbon-fiber of the socket. Maybe it will be a little better for those of us enduring the patdown each time.