Our Stupid State Transportation Security
by Drew Hjelm
On my way back from Mises University last Sunday, I had the opportunity to encounter the Transportation Security Administration. A week prior, I flew from Cedar Rapids. The security there is reasonable because it is a small regional airport. However, on my return trip I had to start out in Atlanta.
From the start this experience was fraught with inconvenience. My flight didn’t leave until 2 in the afternoon, but I had an opportunity for a free ride from Auburn early in the morning and arrived in Atlanta around 8:30 AM. When I checked in at the airline terminal, they informed me that the TSA could not hold bags in their secured area for more than four hours before a flight. In other words, the government organization entrusted to secure the nation’s transportation isn’t able to keep track of bags in a storage area for more than four hours.
After finally checking my bags, I waited in the airport to go through security. I ran into several people from Mises University and discussed the past week, until one noticed that the line for airport security was extremely long. So we walked into the line. Despite the fact that the line moved quite fast, the arrangement was extremely confusing; four entrance lines fed into two lines that wound around in a serpentine fashion until they reached eight identification check points which then allowed people to select one of twenty metal detector lines.
When I finally reached the baggage security, there were no bins in my line, so I grabbed some from the next line. This caused great consternation from the TSA official who eventually trucked in more bins (I suppose government employees do not enjoy getting shown how slow they are). After waiting for the officials to publicly frisk a wheelchair-bound elderly woman, I was finally allowed to pass through a metal detector.
As far as I could see, Atlanta still had not adopted any of the x-ray body scanners (henceforth known as “porn boxes”). But Chicago did. I arrived in Chicago with time to spare between flights, so I did what any reasonable person would do in my situation: go outside, smoke, and make phone calls.
The B Concourse of O’Hare International Airport had the smallest line of all, so that’s where I exited and entered. I went outside and the line was short, and upon returning the line was much longer. As I watched the line continue to trudge on, I noticed several things. One, at this particular checkpoint with one (and only one) porn box operating, at any given moment there were four TSA officers standing around idle. Two, since the porn box is extremely slow the TSA officials are sending people through the adjacent metal detector to speed up the process. And three, since the porn box was so slow, the line was getting much longer as time went on.
I wanted to find out more about this system. During various points while I was in line, the TSA shut down the porn box and strictly used the metal detector. But as I finally got to the checkpoint, the box was operating again. I took my shoes off and placed them in the baggage bin, like any good American, and walked forward toward a very large and bald TSA officer.
He told me to step into the box, at which point I requested to go through the metal detector like I’d seen so many do before me. He informed me that it was TSA policy to only allow people to go through the metal detector when there were two people waiting to go through the box. If I didn’t want to go through the box, he said I’d be subject to a pat down which could take at least fifteen minutes. After discussing this for a while and being accused of trying to “hide something,” I requested to see his supervisor. His supervisor parroted the same “two people” line and went back to supervising.
So I’m left with the surly officer and he gave me the ultimatum: either go through the box, or get arrested. Needless to say, I went through the box. Here’s the thing: even though I went through the box, which was my A or B choice, I was still patted down after going through! I was furious!
I walked on for a second, looking for somewhere to complain about this. I finally went back to the checkpoint and discussed this with the supervisor, who was much more interested in talking now that I was vetted for security.
My first question was regarding the idle security officers. I noted that since a taxpayer, it seemed wrong that there were so many officers standing around idly. In the same breath where he said there weren’t idle workers, he ordered some of the idle workers to start a second baggage scanning line, thus proving my point without saying I was correct.
He openly discussed this whole “two person” waiting policy, which seemed extremely inflexible. I asked him why this security system which was supposed to make things faster and more secure didn’t seem to do either, to which he adamantly denied its ability to make things faster.
Continuing on, he openly discussed the fact that he had also voiced his concerns about the system to his supervisors, and he’d been ignored. He had brought his daughters through the checkpoint, and opted out as well. I asked him how he could support such a silly policy that he didn’t even follow, and he said that if he didn’t follow the policy he’d get fired.
One thing I forgot to mention was the fact that he constantly mentioned that he didn’t know if I was a concerned citizen or if I was a federal agent trying to test the system. In other words, he was more concerned if I was another state security official trying to test him rather than someone with legitimate complaints about the slow service or inefficiency or even the rudeness in his group.
The government used the pretense of 9/11 to federalize airline security. Since 9/11, there have been more foreign terrorist attacks on American soil than any time in the history of the United States. The TSA has failed in their mission to keep Americans safe, and they exist in a vacuum of government bureaucracy where performance doesn’t matter for their job security. In the end, I suppose the best solution is to continue to protest their inflexible and inefficient policies whenever possible.
August 9, 2010