7 things you’ll love about the TSA

Carolina K. Smith MD/Shutterstock.com

It’s been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.

The Department of Homeland Security order — which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a “secret” TSA security directive — was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I’d see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA’s most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.

So you’d think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn’t have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.

Actually, I can think of seven things about airport security that I love — and that I think you will, too. As one of the busiest travel weeks of the year begins today, let’s review them.

TSA Pre-Check. Wow, I wish we could all use those lines. It’s common-sense screening. No invasive scans and you can keep your shoes on. Too bad you have to either be an elite-level flier or a member of the Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS programs to qualify. But maybe they’ll let everyone into that line soon. After all, the government collects enough pre-flight information about us to “pre-check” everyone on the plane, don’t they?

Families get a pass on scanners. Although it probably won’t admit it, the TSA generally doesn’t force young kids through its controversial full-body scanners, and — bonus! — it also won’t make their parents or guardians go through. In my last eight flights, we’ve never come close to one of those dreaded machines. I like that.

Almost no wait to be screened. The TSA is so overstaffed that it’s unlikely you’ll wait longer than 10 minutes to get screened. Even during the busy holidays. Yeah, that’s what $8 billion the TSA cost us this year will buy you. Here are the TSA’s self-reported wait numbers, if you’re a trusting kind of air traveler. And you know what? This is one of the rare times when I do believe them. At least, most of the time.

You can leave your shoes on. If you’re under 12 or over 75, that is. But I’ll take it. I have three kids under 12, and do you know how hard retrieving three pair of shoes at the end of the conveyor belt is — plus remembering your own? Thanks, TSA.

A little more common sense. Good news: they’re allowing snowglobes on the plane this year. Just small ones. But it’s progress. Hey TSA, how ’bout those liquids and gels?

Private enterprise is alive and well. Think the TSA isn’t entrepreneurial enough? Think again. It sells all those items it confiscates, replenishing the government trough from which it slurps, even if it’s done somewhat indirectly. That’s gotta count for something, even if technically, those items weren’t theirs to sell in the first place.

This is just the beginning. Agency critics are getting their act together and pressuring Congress to rein in the TSA. Already, some of the most dangerous full-body scanners have been quietly removed, and some are now collecting dust in a warehouse. Next to go are the rest of the scanners, which will either be decommissioned or reach the end of their intended life-cycle in a few years. It can’t happen soon enough.

Don’t get too excited, because there are plenty of exceptions to the rules. Too many kids and grandmas still get hassled during screening. And if you want to experience a long delay at the screening area, just opt out of the full-body scanners. You could be left waiting, and might even miss your flight, a little trick agents call a retaliatory wait time.

But overall, even though there’s more than enough for which to criticize the TSA, there’s a little to like. And in the future — if we can keep the pressure on the agency — there will be even more to love.

And what if you don’t? Don’t worry. I’ll be here to write about that.

What do you think will happen with airport security in 2013?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • johnb78

    Short poll response, and the one I voted, is “it’s going to get better”.

    My full response would be “it’s going to get better unless there’s another ridiculously overhyped terror scare” (like the British jokers in 2006 who, despite the fact that their plot was physically impossible to pull off, nonetheless triggered the liquid ban we all now need to suffer; or the Nigerian fellow a couple of Christmases ago who only managed to set fire to his own johnson). If a few bearded lunatics have another go at a high-profile target, no matter how pathetically failed the attempt, then all the welcome progress above is likely to be junked immediately by paranoid politicians and bureaucrats.

  • MilesFromBlighty

    I am afraid until one of the TSA’s initiatives actually benefit me – a non-US national – I’ll continue to see it as ‘security theatre’ managed by simply the rudest people I have to deal with on any given trip.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    In October, my husband and I were delayed in getting to JFK for a flight to London. (Long story, not germane to my point.) We had 20 minutes to clear what was at least an hour’s wait to get through screening. After waiting 15 minutes, I spoke to one of the TSOs who was patrolling the line; she moved us to the front of the line. My husband went right through, no problem. I had tucked my boarding pass away in a safe place in one of my pockets and once at the front of the line, couldn’t find it. The lady waiting for my boarding pass told me to take a deep breath, clear my mind and I immediately found it. She walked me to the screeners, I went through, joined my husband and we made it to our gate just in time. It was an extraordinary act of kindness on the initial TSO’s part and every screener I encountered at that checkpoint. I am profoundly grateful for that kindness.

    I thought I would be remiss in not recounting that act of kindness publicly. There are plenty of horror stories, but this gives me hope that things will be better in 2013.

  • EdB

    I guess I don’t see any of those 7 things as anything to love about the TSA. All of those things was in place before the TSA. I guess it could be viewed as 7 common sense things the TSA is finally doing?

  • Extramail

    Just flew ATL to DC with my non-showing pregnant daughter. Very Invasive pat down in Atlanta, waved through without a single touch in Washington. Go figure!

  • mytimetotravel

    Since I’m not a child or over 75, don’t travel with a child, and have zero intention of signing up for an investigation for a chance of pre-check working, that list leaves me cold. The TSA is still nothing but expensive theater, and that’s at its best.

  • Daisiemae

    I can’t believe you are including the fact that TSA sells items it has stolen from innocent passengers as something to love about TSA. It boggles my mind that we should love the fact that TSA is profiting from stealing our belongings.

    Any other entity stealing private property and then selling it for a profit would be arrested and prosecuted. The fact that government security personnel paid by our tax dollars to “protect” us is stealing our private property and then selling it for their own profit is heinous. Sorry, I don’t love it.

  • Durant Imboden

    One quibble: The TSA isn’t “quietly removing” the most dangerous body scanners. It’s just moving them from major airports to smaller airports, presumably on the theory that yokels in the hinterlands are worth less (and therefore can be subjected to irradiation) than city slickers.

  • Daisiemae

    I was disappointed to read this post. There are enough feel good propaganda pieces flooding the media with glowing reports of TSA’s peace on earth and good will toward man. I didn’t expect to read one coming from Chris. Especially when most of the points listed are definitely NOT something to love but are mostly ploys to distract the attention of the courts, the politicians, and the public away from both the heinous criminal acts that TSA performs on a daily basis and the complete incompetence and stupidity of the agency as a whole.

  • ClareClare

    Daisiemae, I think you missed the sarcasm of Chris’s piece? Either that, or I wishfully read too much sarcasm into it…

  • EdB

    If there was any sarcasm in that article, I missed it too.

  • cjr001

    It’ll likely get worse.

    Why? Because all it took was one idiot trying to light his shoes on fire and as a result (nearly) everybody still has to take their shoes off.

    Sooner or later, some other idiot will try something else that would cause an incredible overreaction on TSA’s part.

  • Fishplate

    I’ve received several Federal background investigations because of the nature of my work, and even as I type the FBI is conducting another round of interviews with friends and family that have known me for years. But do you think that would be good enough to get me a pass at the airport? Apparently the TSA can’t even trust the FBI.

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

    cjr001, indeed. As I’ve been saying for years, wait’ll somebody tries to light his hair on fire. Then the TSA will decree that we all have to get our heads shaved before we board. Millions of Americans would gladly go along.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Actually, the TSA admitted that at least 91 of the worst scanners, the ones that emit cancer-causing radiation and still display nude images of passengers, will sit in a warehouse. All indications are that these scanners will never be redeployed, because the manufacturer can’t make automatic target recognition work on them, and the TSA isn’t allowed to use the naked images after June 1 of next year. See http://www.propublica.org/article/tsa-x-ray-body-scanners-sit-idle-in-warehouse

  • RonBonner

    Sadly Christopher has it completely wrong.

    Pre Check: Only applies to less than 1% of travelers.

    Families get a pass on scanners: So if you are not part of a family traveling together get ready for an electronic strip search or invasive sexual assault pat down. No Thanks TSA!

    Almost no wait to be screened: There shouldn’t be any wait to be screened yet we all know there is at many airports. TSA’s inefficient procedures back people up waiting for the Travel Document Checker, a complete waste of time that adds nothing to security.

    You can leave your shoes on: Again what part of the flying public does the under 12 or over 75 group represent? This act was a feeble attempt by TSA to counter the strip search and sexual assault feel downs of several elderly or young travelers. Another failed effort by TSA.

    A little more common sense: Snow globes. Little snow globes that must fit into the one quart bag with any other liquid items you may have. The correct answer is that TSA has the ability to test liquids, yet has failed to do so. Instead TSA tosses confiscated items into common trash at the checkpoint proving beyond a doubt that TSA does not consider the items to be of any danger.

    Private enterprise is alive and well: Where I come from people who sell stolen items are called thieves and fences. That description pretty much fits TSA to a T!

    This is just the beginning: Christopher tells us about the x ray scanners being removed from certain airports when in reality those scanners are being moved to smaller backwater airports so they won’t receive as much attention from the public.

    Anyone who thinks TSA is doing anything to make the public’s screening less onerous is only fooling themselves. Let’s see a statement from TSA acknowledging that some procedures put in place were simply wrong for a free country and have removed those procedures. Let us see TSA hold its employees accountable for their acts of thievery or abuse of the public. I don’t suggest anyone hold their breath waiting on TSA to own up to the misguided so-called leadership of TSA under the stewardship of John S. Pistole.

    I am clearly not as optimistic as Christopher. TSA is a total train wreck.

    TSA employees don’t like working for the agency and the public in general hates TSA yet SES level (Senior Executive Service) TSA employees don’t think TSA has any problems. I think those SES employees need to get out of their offices and talk to the people that TSA is abusing daily.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Honestly? I do love the fact that TSA has switched some scanners to automatic target recognition. It’s a tiny victory, very hard won, but I think fewer passengers exposed to the sexual degradation of having to pose nude for lowlife clerks who will ridicule and exploit those images is a win. So there, there’s one thing the TSA has done that I can be happy about. Yes, yes, we’d all be far better off if the TSA had never been created, and we’d all be far better off if it were disbanded immediately.

    Over at this insightful blog https://takingsenseaway.wordpress.com/ of a former screener, I found that all my worries about the nude body scanners with the pornography rooms were justified:

    ” In the image analysis room, no one is permitted to leave or enter without ample warning (part of TSA’s promise to the public that officers “would never see the passenger whose nude image they just viewed,” although I did occasionally witness this being violated, see Confession #1) and, like the private screening room, recording devices of any kind are prohibited. So in summation: what you have are one to two to three TSA officers locked in a room, viewing nude passenger images, with a guarantee that no one can barge in on them, and that no surveillance cameras can legally be present.

    Just use your imagination on the stories among TSA officers of what has gone on in the I.O. room.

    Personally, in the I.O. room, I witnessed light sexual play among officers, a lot of e-cigarette vaping, and a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images, dear passengers. Things like this are what happens (at the very least) when you put people who are often fresh out of high school or a GED program (although there are actually a few TSA screeners with PhDs, which I guess is sad on so, so many levels) with minimal training and even less professionalism, into the position of being in charge of analyzing nude images of people in a hermetically sealed room.”

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

    Going through a millimeter-wave scanner with ATR still doesn’t obviate the gropes. There’s no guarantee you won’t still be groped. In fact, as we’ve often pointed out, those scanners have a 54% false positive rate, so your chance of being pawed is actually increased.

  • Carrie Charney

    I didn’t.

  • y_p_w

    I’d personally be happy if the Feds renamed the Dept of Homeland Security. There’s something about the name that just sounds so fascist. I guess “Interior” (what most countries name their internal security ministries) was already taken.

  • judyserienagy

    ah, now I know why you’re such a bear on the TSA. A subpoena at your front door? Yah, that’ll do it.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Chris is referring to the items that the TSA legally confiscates from travelers-like pocket knives, guns and other forbidden items (which up until recently included snow globes apparently). They also sell items left behind at security checkpoints by travelers who don’t go back to claim their items. (And how many times have you heard an announcement “Would passenger X please return to security to claim their left behind items”? People who bring items that are forbidden are given the option to mail them home to themselves so if they don’t then I for one don’t see why the TSA shouldn’t sell them. If they are dumb enough to forget in the first place and then don’t want to go to the expense of mailing them home? Tough noogies.

    Edited to add-some of the items they forbid I think are ridiculous-like snow globes. OTOH, knives and guns should always be forbidden, (Guns if you are a law enforcement official with a good reason to carry)

  • Cybrsk8r

    I can understand that. Most FBI agents have never worked as cart-pushers at Wal-Mart, so in the eyes of the TSA, they’re untrustworthy.

  • Cybrsk8r

    No, some guy in a turban will try to light a stick of dynamite he shoved up his butt. The TSA will install automated body-cavity search machines. The “Probe-Master 3000”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llandyw Andrew Wells

    Actually, the TSA doesn’t sell anything that would be considered a weapon. That stuff is destroyed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llandyw Andrew Wells

    The TSA doesn’t even care if someone has a DoD security clearance. If they find ANYTHING they can use to deny entry into the trusted traveler program, they will.

  • MarkieA

    I think that if there was a sarcasm font, Chris would have had it “ON” for this article.

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

    Baloney. It’s not destroyed Plenty of that stuff also ends up at the state surplus stores. Knives, brass knuckles, corkscrews (god help us, since the idiots think a corkscrew is a weapon), you name it:


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

    Yeah, “tough noogies.” Dumb people — how dare they try to bring on their own property, their knitting needles and expensive knuckle-duster purses (which TSA thieves covet) and bottle openers and plastic toy hammers and 3-inch gun-shaped belt buckles and cupcakes and yogurt and lurex-threaded sweaters and other big scary dangerous terroristy items.

  • Daisiemae

    Cops are already doing cavity searches on the side of the road in full view of passing motorists for the crime of littering. I’m sure TSA, wannabe cops that they are, will soon follow suit.

  • Daisiemae

    “Legally confiscated” is double speak for theft. As in a full bottle of sun screen that passed security in Maui and Honolulu but suddenly became a bomb in San Francisco. And no, I did NOT “voluntarily surrender” it!

    And I suppose Terii Ivestor’s pearls were “legally confiscated” as well, right?

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

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t sarcastic.

  • jim6555

    Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was trying to set off plastic explosive hidden in his shoes with a match. That material can only be detonated by an electronic device that produces intense heat. Most Americans do not understand that concept. Reid pleaded guilty in federal court and is serving a life term. We sheep are still taking off our shoes at TSA security and putting them on the conveyor belt despite the fact that x-rays cannot detect this type of explosive.

  • wiseword

    So TSA is selling stolen goods? I thought there were laws against that. Oh, excuse me. It’s TSA. They’re above the law.

  • Daisiemae

    Imboden? Any relation to General John D? Just curious. I’m a buff.

  • $727739

    Thank your filthy puke congressmen for funding this tyranny. Also, Dictator Obama could stop the pat downs and x-rays with an executive order as TSA is under the executive branch. Of course,Obama is a cap and trade guy who is doing what he can to kill the airlines.

  • $727739

    And I have had a number of the filthy TSA pukes sexually assault me. America is dead. The sooner people figure that out, the sooner we can revive a once great country.

  • jenmelkearney

    Agree 100%. I was actually going to post solely about the “removal” of scanners, as I just flew (first time in 23 months) and there was a scanner at my teeny-tiny local airport. I opted out, was strongly encouraged to go through, continued to refuse, was asked if I had a cell phone (?!). Said that I did, and was told it’s the same radiation level as my phone, so I shouldn’t have a problem with it. *cue sarcasm* Oh! Well, in that case … still no. So I was told that in order to have the same level of security, I would need to go through the full patdown. I said fine. As the TSO was putting the back of her hand between and under my breasts for the second time … they opened up the metal detector line because a whole bunch of additional passengers had just come in.

    They, of course, by dint of arriving 7 minutes after I had, did not require the same level of “security” clearance. Plus, it would’ve just taken too long.

  • sja

    10 minutes or less to get through security? Clearly you don’t come to PHL very often!