Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Keep it Smart Stupid

In the years since 9/11, I’ve traveled a fair amount. And while I haven’t been happy about some of their practices, I’ve been rather tolerant regarding the TSA. I haven’t been wont to howl in outrage that my civil liberties are being violated because I have to go through a body scan to board a plane. Something needed to be done to prevent further terrorist attacks in the air and while the effectiveness of some TSA measures to do so seemed rather dubious, I was for the part willing to go along for the greater good. My bigger problems with the TSA was the inefficiency of many their processes and the seemingly capricious nature of some of the rule changes which only created confusion and frustration for travelers.

However, a recent travel experience tested my patience and tolerance for the organization. My mother-in-law accompanied us on a trip to Colorado for a family gathering/vacation. Since I am part of TSA’s PreCheck program and they were traveling with me, my wife and three boys also received expedited screening privileges. And to their credit, the TSA decided that an eighty-two-year old grandmother (soon to be great) from a small town in Minnesota would also not have to go through the usual security rigmarole and so she too was PreCheck.

Okay, so far we have an eighty-two-year-old woman with PreCheck status who needs to go through security. Should be simple, right?

And it might have been if my mother-in-law hadn’t had both her knees replaced. She relayed that critical tidbit of information to the TSA screeners both when we left Minneapolis and on our return flight from Denver.

The experience in Minneapolis wasn’t bad. After she set up alarms going through the metal detector, they diverted her to the body scan machine. Once she passed that, she was good to go. It resulted in a few moments of confusion when we couldn’t figure out what happened to her and a slight delay for us in clearing security, but it was at most a minor inconvenience.

In Denver however things were a bit more complicated. After my mother-in-law rang the wrong sort of bells with the metal detector she was instructed to step aside and wait for a female agent who to perform enhanced security techniques. The agent who arrived was apparently not having a great day and it showed in her attitude. I’m not going to say bitchy because that would describe her perfectly (nod to Jim Gaffigan). Her lack of civility combined with her lack of common sense made for a perfect storm of the kind of mindless TSA behavior that drives people insane.

Which was exactly the impact it had on my wife. After we waited and watched the proceedings for a while, she finally got fed up and went over to see what was going on. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my travels it’s that the TSA doesn’t really appreciate such interventions even when done with the best of intentions. Knowing that and that my wife was frustrated that her mother was being treated rudely without reason I had visions of an incident brewing which would not only delay our return home, but also get the whole family placed on the permanent terrorist watch list.

Thankfully she resisted the urge to express her real emotions at that moment and managed to keep things under control. She soon rejoined us with her mother who apparently wasn’t such a threat after all.

I’m all for the assurances of security which the TSA is supposed to provide. As long as it’s done smartly.