Will TSA’s new senior exemption make air travel safer?

Nothing makes you forget bad news faster than a little manufactured good news, a PR secret the TSA seems to have stumbled upon last week.

The agency charged with protecting us from airborne terrorists revealed it would allow wedding dresses to be carried on the plane as luggage. Seriously, the TSA says yes to the dress!

Never mind that there’s no evidence jihadists ever have or ever will try to blow up a plane with a bridal gown.

In a second, more significant announcement, the TSA said it would begin testing “modified” screening procedures for passengers 75 and older next Monday. Senior citizens will now be allowed to leave their shoes and light outerwear on, and will be allowed an extra pass through the full-body scanners before having to undergo a pat-down.

Both these changes were timed to offset the unfortunate news earlier this month that those scanners are easily foiled, a fact the government desperately wants you to forget.

We are not so easily fooled, and it probably isn’t a matter of if, but when, all that “advanced” imaging technology will go the way of the failed puffer machines. Remember them? Carving out two new screening exemptions is hardly enough to sway public opinion or the votes of their elected representatives, who will likely soon end funding for the controversial machines.

But it’s worth asking if the TSA, in its haste to make air travelers forget about its technological shortcomings, just made flying a little more dangerous.

Reaction to the over-75 rule was predictable. Most travelers said it made perfect sense. Grandma is about as likely to blow up a plane as a 12-year-old, who incidentally is also subjected to a new “modified” screening procedure. Stephen Colbert mocked it. And Joy Behar worried about 90-year-old terrorists on The View.

I’m not joking. Here’s the clip.

Even though Behar is obviously paranoid, her question points to a valid concern: Has TSA — in a misguided effort to create a more “risk-based” screening system or to placate an increasingly angry flying public — just added one exemption too many?

In the recent past, TSA agents have done a thorough job (perhaps too thorough) of giving older passengers a once-over.

But most successful terrorist are young and male. The oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, was 33 and the rest were in their 20s.

But not all of them fit the profile. Consider Lalihan Akbay, who at the age of 102 holds the distinction of being the world’s oldest terrorist.

Akbay is reportedly being investigated for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” Speaking in her defense, her son Tevfik says she can’t understand, speak or hear properly, and can’t remember what she has just said.

And yet Akbay would qualify for the TSA’s new “modified” screening procedures. I feel much safer now.

It goes the other way, too. This 11-year-old holy warrior, believed to be the world’s youngest terrorist, would also get to keep his explosive shoes on when he goes through airport security in the United States. If he ever made it here.

There has to be better way.

Maybe the TSA is going about this all wrong. Maybe instead of a foolish process of elimination, which still leaves a small but not insignificant risk, the government should reverse its approach.

Instead of thinking of air travelers as guilty of terrorism until proven innocent, why not think of us as innocent until proven guilty? (There’s something so American about that, isn’t there?)

The TSA is busy creating special groups that it believes don’t present a threat, including high-level government officials, members of the armed services and their families, airport workers, children, senior citizens and frequent fliers with their special little FastPasses.

But why not spent all that money trying to identify the bad guys before they board? You know, like the law enforcement officers they like to think of themselves as.

Flashing an AARP card shouldn’t exempt anyone from being carefully screened, or probably more to the point, pre-screened. (OK, technically you qualify for an AARP card at 50, but you get the point.) Offering all senior citizens a waiver makes about as much sense as giving wedding dresses and the women carrying them a pass.

After all, what kind of threat could a bride present? She has her whole life ahead of her, and so much to lose. She couldn’t possibly be carrying a bomb — could she?

(To those of you who have pointed out that the poll question is absurd as the TSA’s actions — thank you. Exactly my point.)

(Photo: calvinistguy/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thank you, I needed that.

  • bodega3

    Don’t need no stinkin’ glasses.  It is sad to be so angry in each post she writes.

  • Daisiemae

    Fantastic! It is so great to see this validation that other Americans are seeing the outrage and ridiculousness of this atrocity known as TSA. This should be required screening at every session of Congress and at both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions!

    Somebody should figure out a way to post a link to this on TSAs website. Any hackers out there?

    (No, TSA and DHS, I’m not proposing that anyone breach your website. This is a little social convention known as a joke. Look that word up in the dictionary. It will help you understand that I am not a terrorist.)

  • Annapolis2

    Hi Raven_Altosk, 
    My understanding is that they direct children away from scanners because young children may have difficulty standing still enough, which leads to patdowns of tiny children, which leads to John Pistole being called “clueless” by congressmen on national TV.  Pistole’s embarassment led to a policy of reducing checkpoint child abuse, hence the policy of not sending children through the scanner.

    I guess they think pregnant women can hold still better than kids, and further that sexually abusing pregnant women isn’t so drastically unpopular as sexually abusing children is.

  • Meebo

     You are a ranting idiot.  To compare a real threat to aliens just shows how whacko you are.

  • Meebo

    So because it hasn’t happened yet is a reason to dismiss it?  Tell that to the folks in Manhattan.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    It’s all smoke and mirrors for the sheeple — oops, I mean fine upstanding citizens. Like the entire security theater, it’s yet another sham meant to placate a credulous population. And, of course, it’s to take away some of the heat the TSA has been getting for stripping and groping Granny and Gramps. But apparently stripping and groping everybody else is still okay.

    By the way, the new regs say the blue-shirted wonders will “visually assess” the age of passengers. To say this is laughable is being too kind.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Too late, you just did politicize the discussion. The U.S. government is the biggest terrorist in the world today.  But I suppose bombing civilians is okay Because We’re The Good Guys.

    And I’m pro-choice, not that that or abortion has anything to do with the TSA and its assaults.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Bravo, KevKev12. Couldn’t agree more.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Translation of bodega3’s comment:

    “Nothing bad has ever happened to me. Therefore, nothing bad ever happens!”

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Meebo, how charming. When your logic (or lack thereof) fails, resort to “ranting idiot” and “whacko.” There’s an impressive argument.

  • Joel Wechsler

    By what twisted logic do you arrive at this conlusion? My guess is that they are exactly opposite groups.

  • Meebo

    You assume she reads books. Probably not so much.

  • Meebo

     When a nutcase like you comments to the contrary I know I am correct.  My logic fails?  Yeah, I guess there’s every connection with a class of people being given a pass and aliens.  Logic like that will get you say, fired from a job?

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Ha ha!  Love it!  

    And always interesting who has the guts to sign their real name and who doesn’t.

  • MarkieA

    Do you honestly believe that, if they respond, the TSA will respond with anything other than that described by LeeAnne? Really? That they will provide an honest, well-thought-out explanation to each of Raven’s questions? Or even anything approaching a true explanation?

  • MarkieA

    Seems that you have enough time to be snarky in this forum. And really, how much time SHOULD one allot to questioning a Government Agency whom you believe to be overstepping its boundaries? Question them now while you can, I believe.

  • MarkieA

    But because it COULD happen, we should spend billions to prevent it? I betcha that I could could come up with dozens of very plausible terrorist plots – from movies, books, and my own imagination – that we have ZERO protection against. Should we spend money on these?

  • MikeInCtown

    Meebo, you sound like the typical person who believes that the government needs to protect its citizens from every possible bad thing that may happen in their lives. Wendy, Lisa, and LeeAnne are correct in their comments. If terrorists reallyt wanted to harm us they could do so in many more ways right now. The TSA has not stopped a single incident at either a checkpoint, or on a plane that we know of. yet, last week when the flight attendant went whacko, the PASSENGERS took it upon themselves to control the situation.

    Oddly enough, do airport and flight personnel require the same screenings? If not, why not? And what makes then any safer than anyone of us? In fact, based upon the fact that someone in the armed forces just allegedly killed 16people on a shooting spree, why do members of the armed forces get a break. PTSD does a lot of damage, and you never know when someone may snap.

  • Annapolis2

     Count me among the “angry”.  Angry doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to be raped by government agents who tell me they intend to keep doing the same thing to other women and innocent young girls.  You haven’t even seen angry until you’ve seen my rage. 

  • bodega3

    Get a new translation book. 

  • bodega3

    So you can say you learned something today, a lot of companies do not allow their workers to use their names on work related sites.   

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319688 Erich Schmidt

     are you employed by the federal government? More citizens should be so bitter

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone
  • bodega3

    What abuse?  What did the parents do before heading to the airport to prepare their children for the screening process?  I am sorry, but your type of headline is uncalled for.  I thought the TSA showed care and while you scream abuse, keep in mind that terrorists do use children to carry out horrible things on others. 

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m a published author, “Meebo”. And what do YOU do for a living?

  • LeeAnneClark

    “Meebo”, if you believe that Tom Clancy’s novels involve “real threats”, then I think you need to take a look in the mirror the next time you toss out insults such as “ranting idiot” and “whack”.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Unnecessary.  We read you loud and clear.

  • LeeAnneClark

    The fact that you can’t see the abuse here is horrifying.  If a government thug told ME not to “touch my child” while they pawed his injured little body, I would tell them exactly what they can do with their disgusting blue gloves, and I would go to my child and comfort him.  How DARE that brute tell the parents not to touch their own toddler?

    And what kind of sicko would support that?

    And meanwhile, can you please share with us a single incident in which a terrorist used a child to blow up an American plane?

    Oh right…you can’t. Never happened.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Yeah, let’s groom our children to be easily abused. That’s the ticket!

    “Here, Jimmy, we’re going to Disneyland. But before we get there, at the airport, a man is going to put his hands all over you and touch in those places where Mommy and Daddy told you never to let anyone touch you, remember? But it’s okay for this man to touch you. He’s keeping you safe!”

  • bodega3

    I watched it a second time and still have the same view.  Do I like anyone going through that?  No.  But we live in a different time that anyone of us ever thought we would.  Parents do need to talk with their children and that parent came across as a jerk.  I thought the TSA agent did a decent job and yes, he had a job to do. 

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    “Just doing my job” was discredited at Nuremberg. Or perhaps you missed that bit of history?

  • DavidYoung2

    Questioning a government agency whom you… oh, whatever. How much time? None!  Get on with life (and have extra time to be snarky — I like the word!)

  • bodega3

    Don’t fly.

  • bodega3


  • cjr001

    Aliens ARE a real threat. You just don’t know it yet!

    (Note: please read the above with a suitable level of snark.)

  • cjr001

    I have never experienced or seen anything like what LeeAnne has at an airport with TSA.

    But I’m not going live in denial that it will never happen to me, or I will never witness it myself.

    I will not wait for ‘my turn’ from TSA before trying to effect change within the worst agency our government has to offer.

  • cjr001

    “Politicians do not have our sense or degree of morality and would exploit any perceived weakness.”

    Fixed that for you.

  • cjr001

    “But we live in a different time that anyone of us ever thought we would.”

    Apparently it’s a time when pissing on the Constitution is the only Constitutionally guaranteed freedom left.

  • Annapolis2

    And just who the heck are you to boss Lisa around?   Gosh, when you start barking tyrannical orders at people who are superior to you in every way, you start to sound like … a checkpoint screener.  Do they pay you blue-shirts to post this pro-TSA drivel?

  • Annapolis2

    That video clearly shows child abuse.  Unknown adults should not be putting their hands inside a little boy’s clothing!  That’s filthy and even the father who took the video says he deeply regrets allowing the screener to touch his child.  

    Here, little boy, it’s a screening game, now just take down your pants… didn’t your parents tell you that I have a blue shirt so I’m allowed to touch those parts?

  • jennj99738

    You really need to stop with the personal attacks.  You can disagree without questioning an individual’s intelligence, calling them an idiot, nutcase, whacko, etc., etc.

  • AgentSteve

    Duh?????  TSA logic strikes again!!! 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6R3ZCNPWN6IRZSLVYVYZRKVZJ4 Pamajama, Pammers, PJ

    Yep terrorists could never be senior citizens or disguise themselves as senior citizens! And disguises can be very authentic.  Fake IDs aren’t difficult. I’ve never felt safe with the TSA, just violated.  A HUGE waste of taxpayer dollars.

  • Melanie Pini

    then why couldn’t TSA simply explain that?
    Wouldn’t providing a non-medical reason to why the children were sent to use an alternate screening process, have sped this whole thing up?  Although, I’m not sure that I would have believed the agent wasn’t simply trying to pacify me to move me along.
    And, I would have clarified this question with my physician before I was due for my travel departure.