Kudos to the TSA

I'm a pretty seasoned traveler and have been through many security checkpoints. I am also deathly afraid of the TSA. I have a recurring nightmare the TSA agents will find a 3.5 oz container of liquid in my bags and send me to Guantanamo Bay Prison. Every time I pack, I empty all items out of my backpack and make sure all pointy objects are left at home where they belong.

This last trip was no different. Before I left, I checked all nooks and crannies in my backpack. Finding nothing, I headed to the airport with bags in tow. After removing my belt, shoes, keys, 2 laptops and other assorted bits, I walk through the metal detector. No Problem.

As I wait for my baggage to clear the X-Ray, my nightmares become real. "Sir, you can not carry this Knife on board!" said the TSA agent...

He held my Gerber Multi-Tool in his hand, which apart from a bottle opener and needle nosed pliers, also has a 2" knife blade. I must have hooked the sheath to the outside of my backpack at some point and didn't even notice. "Oooohhhhhhffffff", I said, having nothing more intelligent to say before the imminent firing squad. I looked at the TSA agent knowing I was in big trouble.

Fortunately, this must have happened before. The friendly TSA agent calmly gave me my options and we chose to walk to the unsecured area of the airport to the cleverly located mailing facility used to mail prohibited items back home. $9.99 later, I was Gerber tool free and back in the security line. I was at my gate with plenty of time to spare.

This blog post is dedicated to those men and women who keep us safe in the friendly skies, and who also are patient with the (occasionally forgetful) flying public.

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4/8/08 3:00 AM # Posted By Sean Corfield

The whole TSA "no sharp objects" thing is a complete sham. I used to wear a 1.5" pointed metal spike in my ear. TSA at SFO insisted it was a "weapon" and couldn't be taken on board. I argued, and called a supervisor who also said it was a "weapon". I appealed to the National Guard (yes, it was back when security was very high, just after 9/11) and they said to let me on the aircraft because the "earring" was clearly not a threat. Idiots.

On the way back (from Boston), I took the "deadly weapon" out of my ear and tucked it into my pants. It passed the metal detector (of course - it was fairly small). I boarded the plane with my sharp metal "weapon" without a problem.

Security is a joke. It's purely intended to make scared people feel safer and the administration simply plays on your fears to perpetrate this ridiculous inconvenience.

Remember, I grew up in the UK where we had constant terrorism threats for 40 years and serious security at airports. We x-rayed everything and did a lot of random baggage and personal searches.

4/8/08 4:45 AM # Posted By Christoph Schmitz

@Sean: Amen to that! I'm not saying that security controls are a complete (!) nonsense, but, for the most part they are not more than you say.

Plus, with the ever lasting "threat" of terrorism, constant surveillance has become a reality. Being from the UK you possibly know best what I mean. I don't think there is a city that has more surveillance cameras than London. ;-)

Privacy and data protection have become irrelevant. Our world is closer to Bentham's panopticon than to anything else. :-(

4/8/08 8:12 AM # Posted By Jeff

I agree with everyone. Dan is correct in that the folks in the TSA do a thankless job and should be thanked. Sean is right in that the TSA can't "really" secure our skies. Chris is right in that a surveillance state won't really make anything better.

The biggest problem as I see it that most of these security systems have far reaching uses beyond protection from terrorism. :(

4/8/08 11:11 AM # Posted By Rob Wilkerson

As with anything else, there's a simple "common sense test" that should be applied. Everyone's so busy worrying about the letter of the law that the spirit of the law gets lost. That said, the stakes are potentially mortal in this case so a slight lean towards the letter rather than the spirit isn't _entirely_ out of line.

A bit of a better balance (pardon the alliteration) would certainly be appreciated, though.

4/8/08 9:45 PM # Posted By Sean Corfield

@Jeff, yes, I don't mean to denigrate the TSA security staff. They are definitely doing a thankless job and they are just trying to follow the rules. The rules are idiotic, as are the people who made them. The TSA is idiotic as a whole, as is "Homeland Security", but the folks actually manning the security lines are just doing their jobs and I try really hard to be pleasant, polite and co-operative. That incident with the earring was just extremely silly (and the Natl Guard guys were laughing about it).

4/23/08 7:48 AM # Posted By Dan O'Keefe


The pliars would have come in handy for the woman who was reguired to remove her nipple rings before being allowed to pass. Did you hear about that one? @Sean - did you send Dan the Fly Clear invite?


5/6/08 2:06 AM # Posted By Sean Corfield

Body jewelry does not trigger the metal detector so that's an apocryphal story (and is incorrect). I speak as someone who has had 17 body piercings, some with very large pieces of metal in them - and NEVER had a problem at airports.

As for the Fly Clear invites, I send them to anyone who wants them.

5/6/08 12:08 PM # Posted By Dan O'Keefe

@Sean, As someone who is a piercing virgin, I would yield to your expertise. I believe the hand held scanners are more sensitive and she was randomly selected for further screening. The article is here: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/03/28/nipple.ring/

5/10/08 1:57 AM # Posted By Sean Corfield

Yes, the hand scanners sometimes go "ping" over body jewelry - and I've had a lot of fun with security folks who've used hand scanners on me :)

But the point is that the main metal detector arches do *not* "ping" on body jewelry. It's a common misconception and one I feel compelled to educate people on :)

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