08 October 2012
TSA, are you missing something? (oops!)
UPDATE (12/23/2013): It happened again.
Now that I am safely home from DerbyCon (btw, well worth putting on your calendar for next year) and not planning to travel by air anytime in the immediate future, I thought it was timely to make this post about a perceived flaw in the TSA's screening procedures.
Over about a half dozen times during the last year or so (across multiple airports, including BWI, LAS, SDF and others), my TSA checkpoint procedure has been the same: opt-out and pat down. I also noticed something else that happened (or, perhaps more accurately, didn't happen) over the course of those trips. Of course, this finding is tempered by the fact that we're working with a small sample here.
When I am pointed to the naked scanner, I always politely say, "opt-out."* Nothing more--no loud objections or comments. I am always told to stand there while they retrieve an agent for the freedom frisk, err, pat down. Passport and boarding pass in hand, I am then escorted through a gate between the metal detector and the naked scanner to a floor mat where I obediently place my feet on the outlined footprints. There, I am patted down** and go on my way.
In one of those pat downs, no one has ever checked, or even questioned, the items in my hand. Notice above that I was sent through a gate, so the items in my hand were never seen by any machine, metal detector or naked scanner. It seems entirely plausible to me that I could have any number of small items in my hand, concealed by my passport, that would never have been screened. A few people that I have already talked to confirmed that they had the same experience.
Now, I don't suggest that I have uncovered some dangerous flaw that could doom the airlines! I simply point out something that seems entirely obvious to me, as a suggestion that the whole procedure reeks of theater and not actual security (as if you didn't already know that). Additionally, if it is TSA procedure to have passengers empty their hands, they're simply not following this policy regularly.
Have you had similar experiences?
*On one occasion, the TSA agent pulled out a card and read it to me, which more or less said "you're going to get patted down, are you really sure you want to opt-out or opt-in." Why yes, I still do want to opt-out!
**On more than one occasion, the TSA agent patting me down has tried to engage me in conversation. Typical question: "Where are you headed?" Me: "Home." :-) Also: "You've done this [opt-out] before, haven't you?" Me: "Yep." Lastly, I appreciate the agents who acknowledge my stuff on the x-ray belt.