Random, unpredictable airport security that’s not always awful? Only in America

1-photo (1)The TSA screening area at Reno-Tahoe International Airport’s B gates isn’t much to look at. It’s a dark, cavernous processing area with well-worn linoleum floors that almost makes you feel like you’re visiting a relative in prison.

But looks can be deceiving. I just had the best TSA screening experience in Reno, and I’m not alone. On a recent Monday morning, my entire family transited through Terminal B, and they could scarcely believe they’d been checked by federal screeners.

The TSA checkpoint at Denver International Airport looks like it’s something straight out of a science fiction movie. It’s a gleaming hall with the newest technology, including an array of shiny new body scanners. It’s the kind of place where you’d expect to find a modern, friendly, and efficient screening.

Yet here, too, all is not as it seems: A few days ago, I had the single worst screening experience of my life. I still can’t believe what happened.

The two TSAs

In America, there are two TSAs: one that understands its real mission and seems to respect the dignity of its passengers, and another that’s operating under the mistaken belief that it’s the last line of defense against terrorism and that it can break a few laws, and trample on the US Constitution, to get the job done.

You can experience both today, with the apparent blessing of the Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because the government encourages “random and unpredictable” airport security, which means that it’s in the TSA’s best interests to have one airport that passengers actually like and another that’s universally hated.

No one ever said this would make sense.

Best little checkpoint in Reno

When we arrived at the Terminal B screening area in Reno, we were prepared for the worst. But the line moved quickly, and within less than a minute, we were standing in front of a TSO who greeted everyone with a friendly and genuine smile.

“Looks like you guys have been in the mountains,” he said. Our sunburned faces had given us away.

Another screener checked our boarding passes and waved us through quickly. There are no full-body scanners at Terminal B, which doesn’t seem to bother anyone. (And surprisingly, no terrorists have exploited that little loophole — makes you wonder about the deterrent power of those scanners, doesn’t it?)

After getting our bags scanned, a screener asked my 10-year-old son, Aren, what was inside his bag.

Oops. Turns out he’d left his laptop in his luggage by mistake. But the agent examining his bag didn’t scold him; in fact, he cracked a joke about what else he might have packed.

“Got any Tasmanian Devils in there?” he kidded.

“Uh, no,” Aren replied.

Within less than three minutes, the backpack had been rescreened and we were on our way.

“Wow,” said Aren. “They were really friendly.”

Indeed. The Reno TSAers won the airport of the year award back in 2010, which suggests we aren’t the only ones who like their work.

Missed it by a mile in Denver

Our experience in Denver couldn’t have been any different. The pre-screening area is a confusing maze of ropes and missed cues. The agent asking for our ID tried to joke around with the kids, but his humor fell flat.

“And who are you?” he said to my six-year-old daughter, studying her ticket.

My daughter, who gets a little shy around strangers, said nothing. Mom and I answered for her, which only seemed to ratchet up the tension.

Then we were ushered into the screening area: a baggage X-ray, a metal detector, and a body scanner. The TSA has a state policy of not separating families and isn’t supposed to ask young children to go through the body scanners, so it typically allows the whole family to walk through the metal detector at the same time.

But not this time. I was the last one through, and an angry-looking female TSA agent with a military-style haircut gestured me toward the full-body scanners.

“I’d prefer not,” I said.

“MALE ASSIST!” she screamed, refusing to turn to me.

“You are separating me from my family,” I said, politely.

She refused to look at me, instead staring straight ahead, like a schoolgirl giving you the silent treatment.

My “male assist” screener was not gentle. On several occasions, he nearly pulled down my pants. He also forcefully grabbed my ankles, where I had an injury. I winced. That didn’t seem to bother him.

For some reason, a second TSA screener began hovering around us. I have no idea why. Maybe they recognized me? Maybe they just enjoyed watching a colleague perform an “enhanced” pat-down?

I asked my son to take pictures of the event (see photo, above).

Do I look like I’m about to blow up a plane? I don’t know…with that shirt and ski pants, I look like I’m ready for a day on the slopes, not someone about to embark on a glorious jihad.

The experience left me a little traumatized. I mean, I don’t really care if the entire Denver airport screening area sees my tighty whities, but I really felt as if the screeners were just harassing me instead of protecting America’s transportation systems.

There’s a word for that: security circus. It’s an eye-pleasing spectacle that doesn’t make any sense.

(And please spare me your inevitable comments about pressure-cooker bombers at marathons, which has absolutely nothing to do with airport security. Even if it did, would you really want mobile TSA teams scanning and frisking people at the next public race?)

It might be hyperbole to suggest that the TSA is at war with itself, that a small number of good screeners are fighting the incompetence and arrogance of a larger group of bad screeners.

But if nothing else, my own experience suggests this agency could benefit from a little more transparency. And consistency.

We know, for example, that some of the New York-area airports are cesspools of TSA troubles, with corruption, thievery, and botched pat-downs in the news regularly. We also know that the government rates its own airports and compares their scores to other airports.

Don’t we deserve to know which airports have the best TSA agents?

One thing seems clear: If every TSA screening were like the one we recently had in Denver, I would be writing about the TSA every day instead of just once a week.

And if it were like the one we experienced in Reno, I would probably never have to write about the agency again. Except, maybe, to commend them on a job well done.

Is the TSA too inconsistent?

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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.

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  • y_p_w

    I haven’t been one to talk of any unusually bad experiences until recently. I flew out of an unnamed airport to meet my family staying at an unnamed place. On the way out the line was near forever although there were three screening stations but only one open. I managed to get through with little incident although I did consent to the body scan. Then I see some older TSA employee coming out of nowhere yelling that all the equipment had to be shut down. I guess I made it through before they took five to ten minutes to restart all the equipment at another station while trying to also move the people in line without some cutting.

    On the way home I made the mistake of dressing our kid in Oshkosh overalls with the metal clips and buttons. Set off the metal detector. After two tries along with confusing instructions that I though meant I had to go through with my kid, they’re talking about patting down my kid. I asked if maybe we could take off the overalls, have them X-rayed, and let my kid through in diapers. In the end my hands were swabbed, which didnt give me much assurance that they were actually intent on finding anything like maybe a hidden weapon. It seemed more like they were doing something to justify why they stopped without actually checking to see if it was really just simple clothing hardware that was setting off the metal detector.

    In the meantime, I did see someone stopped with a box of razor blades and a traditional safety razor. They confiscated the razor blades including the one in the razor. That strangely enough made sense.

  • IWonder39

    Chris – It was probably your red, white, and blue shirt – you patriots are dangerous, you know (tongue firmly held in cheek). Having “Heavenly” printed probably didn’t help either (at least that how I read your shirt).

  • bodega3

    Do you look like you like you are going to blow up a plane? Gee, we don’t know. What do terrorists who blow things up, like a pressure cooker at a marathon look like?

  • Cybrsk8r

    I can tell you, there is a BIG difference between getting screened at an airport in a big city and an airport in a smaller town. Case in point: Dulles, where the screeners always seem really grouchy, and Omaha, where the screener was freindly and told me I actually didn’t need to remove my laptop from the bag, just lay the bag open (like a book) so the laptop was unobstructed. I also had a good experience in Pensacola, FL

    I think it’s the fundamental difference between a major city and a smaller city. The people in the smaller city want you to come back, especially in a vacation destination like Pensacola, so they try to make your experience a good one. The people in the larger city figure that you’ll have no choice but to return, so they can treat you like pond scum, and it doesn’t matter.

  • PsyGuy

    Yeah Chris, what do terrorists look like? Maybe if you just told the TSA everything would be solved. Maybe terrorists sound like people who always complain about their “rights” over safety and security, which I imagine is much easier too do when it’s not your family or friends who get blown up, such as a marathon as a completely random example.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    You may get your wish, unfortunately. I can only imagine what it will be like to see a TSA VIPR team do random checks at the next marathon. Papers, please?

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

    “(And please spare me your inevitable comments about pressure-cooker bombers at marathons, which has absolutely nothing to do with airport security. Even if it did, would you really want mobile TSA teams scanning and frisking people at the next public race?)”

    Unfortunately, Chris, that’s exactly what they want. And sooner or later, they’ll probably get it.

  • frostysnowman

    After the initial shock sadness and horror of the situation hit me, one of the next thoughts I had was, well now the TSA has their excuse to push for having more of those disgusting VIPR units at even more public events. And I hate myself a little bit because of it, but I couldn’t help it.

  • SoBeSparky

    The nature of effective security screening involves being unpredictable. Inconsistency is good. Same old, same old is bad. One thing should be consistent: Human dignity should always be respected.

  • frostysnowman

    Maybe terrorists sound like people who agree with “safety at any cost”, even if it means allowing Constitutional rights to be trampled on just because you might want to fly somewhere (or attend a sporting event or ride a train, etc). I knew a couple of people who died on 9/11, including the guy who was stabbed to death when flight 93 was taken over, and I have a very hard time accepting that treatment at the airport regardless. The more we accept it, the more the terrorists win. That’s what is terrifying.

  • frostysnowman

    The “male/female assist” could be the nicest, most pleasant and professional person in the world, but they still should not be patting anyone down the way they do.

  • EdB

    That has been my experience too. The smaller airports have much friendlier agents than the larger ones. I flew out of a small airport in north-eastern Michigan and had the best experience. I arrived two hours before my flight and there were only three agents working there. One took my boarding pass and ID and the other assisted me getting things on the x-ray belt. All the time we were having a pleasant chat. They commented on me getting there so early and I told them about the experience I had going through LAX on the way out. At that time of day, the airport was very slow and they didn’t have much to do. I ended up spending most of my time there chatting with them. I think part of the problem is with the larger ones, the agents are just so busy that they have to deal with a lot more problems. Doesn’t excuse rudeness though, but could explain them not always in the best of moods.

  • cjr001

    I’ll be passing through DIA on my way to Reno this weekend. I’ve been through Reno’s airport a couple of times, but I can’t really remember how TSA was set up there.

    But with DIA, on the main floor are two security checkpoints leading to the underground trains to the concourses, one at each end of the terminal. Because you can look upon the area from above, you can really see how much of a cattle pen it really is, if you think cattle pens can be science fiction. The third checkpoint is reached via walkway, since you can walk from the terminal to Concourse A.

    IMO, there’s nothing sci-fi-ish about the DIA. The terminal is well lit, unlike so many other airports in this country, so maybe that’s the difference? Either way, I find your description of the security checkpoints at DIA a little exaggerated. ;)

    As for your description of your dealings with TSA employees… Well, my expectations for them are so low that I prepare for what you dealt with at DIA any time I fly, which says a lot about how TSA is a complete cluster.

  • Nancy Nally

    Is “rude” an effective security screening technique to guard against terrorism? Because it’s the attitude of screeners that Chris is complaining isn’t consistent, not their techniques.

  • cjr001

    Except, TSA employees don’t even know the agency’s own rules that ARE consistent across the board. Yet somebody expects them to be able to then correctly enforce the unpredictable stuff?

    Instead, what we’ve ended up with is an agency who’s employees make up whatever rules they want, whenever they want, and the agency defends it all under the guise of ‘unpredictable’ to cover for what is actually incompetence and civil rights violations, if not outright criminal behavior.

  • Susan Richart

    I don’t think that has anything to do with it because the majority of people employed by the TSA don’t seem to be able to think with that kind of logic.

  • Alan Gore

    All I can say is that from this week on, you’re going to want to watch all your sports on TV.

  • MarkKelling

    Even at the same airport in a big city the TSA experience can be very different. I fly through IAH a lot and which terminal you choose to go through security in makes a big difference in your experience (all the terminals are connected inside security so you can go through security at anyone and reach your gate at another). Terminal C, where UA is, is always very busy. The screeners there are always grouchy. But if you go through terminal A, the screeners are relaxed and almost friendly. Also, if you are flying UA and have bags, it is usually quicker to check your bag at C, take the outside of security train to A, go through security there and then take the inside security train back to C than to go through security in C simply because of the number of people in line.

  • Stereoknob

    Who is “they”?

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

    The people Chris is addressing in that sentence.

  • cjr001

    And there you have it, folks: people who support and defend the Constitution and their rights are now the enemy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    TSA people behave however they’re trained and supervised, just like retail clerks. The Reno airport would naturally give a good experience – the area relies on tourism and gambling, they want you to be happy. The majority of airports in the US couldn’t care less about the passenger.

  • BobbyC

    “Tried to joke around with the kids, but fell flat”…,”seemed to ratchet up the tension”…these are YOUR reactions, Chris. You may have had some preconceptions, after all. There is, of course, no excuse for any of the rest of it, and I 100% agree with you.

  • EdB

    Based on the postings here about TSA interactions, not even the techniques are consistent.

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    And that line of thinking, unfortunately, is exactly why I predict the
    TSA will soon infiltrate practically every corner of our daily lives
    that involves being part of a “crowd”. Prepare for the choice between
    the nude-o-scope or a public humiliation via grope if you want to run a
    5k, take the train to get to work, or get inside the stadium to watch a
    baseball game. All in the name of “your safety and security”.

    bad enough to face this choice between evils at the airport. I’ve
    reluctantly accepted this fate, since the courts have basically declared
    airports Constitution-free zones. But I’m drawing the line there. The
    TSA will NOT be be putting its dirty little paws on me or inside my bag
    the next time I enter a run or try to enjoy an evening watching
    baseball. And you can be guaranteed that I’ll be telling the race
    organizers and local sports teams that they won’t be getting another
    penny of my money until they tell the TSA to buzz off. If that makes me
    a “terrorist”, so be it, I guess.

  • Linda C. Snyder

    No, they are consistently aggressive!!

  • Isildain

    It seems like the politeness and efficiency of the TSA is inversely proportional to the size of the airport. Our local airport is a small operation with only 2 small wings, yet we’ve never had a problem with the TSA inspectors there. However, the larger the airport, the more confrontational and rude the inspectors get. the inspectors in Charleston, WV have never asked to look at my bag containing my SCUBA regulators (although they may ask if that’s what they’re looking at under x-ray), while screeners in Miami (who should be used to SCUBA divers) have asked for me to take that bag apart many times.

    When you talk about joking with passengers, it gets back to the old adage of capturing flies with honey instead of vinegar.

    In our travels, we have found that the friendliest screening personnel were the Capital security in Washington, DC. I was going into a senate office building, and had my back-pack with my camera in it. I passed it through the x-ray scanner, and the officer spent a long time looking at one part of the bag. Finally, she looked at me and asked in a non-confrontational attitude and purely curious tone “What is that?” I had no clue what the object was that she was looking at, so I said “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” I opened my bag and found out it was the leaded glass of my binoculars. We both had our Ah-hah moment, laughed, and I moved on. I did not feel threatened, ridiculed, or accused. She did her job very efficiently and my blood pressure didn’t rise one point. I wish the TSA would learn from the Capital security service.

  • emanon256

    I found MSN to have some of the friendliest most professional TSA personnel ever. Sounded a bit like Reno. Very nice, personal, professional, and even when they had to do random pat downs, they were kind and professional about it, making sure to ask if there were injuries, and telling me to hold my belt loops just in case. And they didn’t touch inappropriately at all like they do in BOS and DEN.

    ETA: DEN routinely separates me from my family. They also forced my wife through the body scanner a few years ago when she was pregnant at the time and opted out. While not as bad as BOS, they are pretty bad.

  • emanon256

    Were the safety razor blades, or flat razor blades? Because safety razor blades are in the TSA approved list that I carry with me at all times. Nail clippers are also on that list, yet they seem to get confiscated a lot too.

  • emanon256

    I agree with you except for MHT, its a small town airport, and the #1 worst TSA I have ever experienced. They treat everyone like they have already been found guilty, including pilots and flight attendants. They all seem to be on a power trip and love to grope people in painful ways including squeezing individual testicles. I now avoid that hellish place at all costs.

  • emanon256

    If I had a $1 for every time a TSA agent told me some strange arbitrary made-up-on-the-spot rule was an official rule which I need to be aware of for next time because its done by all agents at all airports, and then never saw that rule enforced again, I could go out an by a nice dinner.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    Ah, but TSA is the gold standard of security.

    The Capital security service apparently isn’t.


  • emanon256

    They just turned the two pillars on each side of the TSA checkpoints into giant cylindrical TVs. They do look pretty sci-fi ish to me. They were just showing Nissan ads when I was there last, but soon I expect to see giant images of Pistole with some creepy phrase like Safety Through Compliance.

    Oh and don’t forget the creepy wall mural, image attached. (Actual Mural at DIA, not me joking).

  • stevestrCO

    DIA/DEN works much the same way. The best screening is after the bridge to Terminal A, not in the main hall. I have found Terminal A security to be much better than the main hall. Just use the bridge, get screened, take an elevator down to the train and go to your Concourse. I’ve also had mixed results at Reno – sometimes quick and pleasant and sometimes the newby on the machine that moves so slowly.

  • cjr001

    I hadn’t seen that mural yet, but DIA has a history of creepy art installations.

    The giant blue horse with red eyes – part of which fell on the artist and killed him as it was being created – is still there as the ‘greeting’ to Denver. There was also the 20′ or whatever tall statue of Anubis that was there for awhile outside the south end of the terminal.

    I’m not really sure what image of the area the folks in charge of DIA are trying to present.

  • stevestrCO

    Best kept secret at DIA/DEN – use Terminal A security hidden across the bridge. Don’t mess with the cattle call down below. Then take an elevator down 1 level to the train with access to all terminals.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I can’t stop coming back to your post to look at this wall mural photo! Who thought this was a good idea for an airport? Or anywhere else, for that matter? It scares the crap out of me!

  • ExplorationTravMag

    @elliottc:disqus I have to say, you DO look a little shell-shocked in the photo. And I’m more than a little surprised they didn’t give your son a hard time for taking the photo, since children intimidate so much more easily than adults.

    I agree with you, TSA is completely inconsistent with regard to their customer service skills and that should be job 1. I can’t help but wonder how people would feel about them were they not so lacking personality, friendliness and actual character, across the board. We, the traveling public, shouldn’t be able to say one TSA screening location’s personnel is better than another.

  • bodega3

    Looks like you’ll just be staying home.

  • emanon256

    I HATE the blue mustang of death!! And don’t look at it too closely from behind, they say its anatomically correct, but I think the bulging veins are exaggerated.

    ETA: The status of Anubis was actually part of an ad for an exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

  • emanon256

    Don’t worry, scary death dude dies in a later mural (Attached). My favorite (as in most amusing to me) is the mural of Coolio panning for gold. I can’t find a picture of it on-line, but its next to the security line I am usually waiting in. Ill try and snap a picture next week.

  • Daisiemae

    What a brutal, horrifying piece of art work! I guess that tells us everything we need to know about the attitude the government and the airlines have toward us.

  • DavidYoung2

    Just FYI, one reason they ask little kids their names is to make sure nobody’s boarding with a child they’re not supposed to. Because children generally won’t have photo ID, there’s no way to know if that child is supposed to be boarding a plane with these adults unless you ask their name or something else. Having the accompanying adult answer instead of the child kind of defeats the purpose.

    In Brazil, you can’t leave the country with a minor unless (1) both parents are present or (2) it’s so noted IN THE PASSPORT. It took my wife three hours at the airport office of the federal police to get her and my daughter home. And on a trip home through Schiphol two weeks ago the passport control officer asked her if we were her parents. And we had passports!

  • cjr001

    Or, you know, you could stay home instead if you’re so afraid of something bad happening at any time.

  • cjr001

    Parents are supposed to teach their children not to give their name to strangers. Of course, they’re supposed to be taught not to let strangers touch them, as well, and it’s so good to see that TSA has been 2 for 2 in that regard.

  • emanon256

    Actually the art work has nothing to do with the way the government or the airlines feel about people. Denver has a law that any building project that receives public financing must spend 2% of its budget on art displays done by local artists. When the new airport commission was designing the airport they did a call for local artist to do proposals and ended up going with several local Native American and Chicano artists. The series of murals tells a story about the cycle of life from various Native American and Mayan perspectives as they are prevalent in local history. They were shared publicly prior to the installation and were installed with public support. This was back in 1995, well before 9/11 and well before the TSA. Since 9/11 conspiracy theorists have come out of the wood work with so many stories about the Denver airport, I personally don’t buy into any of them. While some of the murals may be creepy, they actually tell a story and have deep historical meaning. As far as the Blue Mustang of Death, that was installed only 6 or so years back as part of a rotating art exhibit around Denver.

  • bodega3

    Not an option for me!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I didn’t see this before. Very troubling.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I was shell shocked. I’m glad Aren held the camera steady enough to get that shot. The others are blurry. To tell the truth, I think he was afraid he’d be next to get frisked.

  • DotWonder

    yes yes yes! i agree w/ this completely.

  • trskms

    Keeping in mind that I hate the whole idea of the TSA, I’m the first to say that I have run across some of the nicest TSA agents — with some of the most reasonable behaviors — in some of my flights. I always appreciate them. There is the TSA lady who *let me leave the line* without any sort of distress, when I received a phone call from the taxi driver who’d brought me and who was having trouble with my card number (a whole other issue that shouldn’t have happened, but I digress). I already had my shoes off, but she didn’t make a huge issue of it and just let me come back later.

    I’ve had helpful agents remind me when I almost left my computer(!), and others who actually helped me get re-packed up. In fact, in my travels, I’ve actually had more helpful and kind agents than the other type.

    But, I’ve also been in lines where the male TSA agent (yes a MAN) is looking at my full scan right in front of me. (Grrr … I thought they weren’t supposed to see the person directly who they were seeing the “naked” scan of??) And, agents who were rude and very full of their own importance.

    Interestingly, I have also had some strange experiences with safety. TWICE (there and back) two different teams missed my pepper spray that I had forgotten was in my purse. Now how does that happen?

  • bodega3

    You don’t think it hasn’t already been going on? I am sure it will increase and ask the family who lost their 8 year old son and their daughter who lost her leg and their mother who is still in critical condition what they might think about this for future events. I wish to heck we didn’t have to do things like this.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    The TSA’s job is not to interdict child transportation.

    Are you saying that children traveling with 1 parent are more likely to explode?

  • frostysnowman

    Haha, this made me chuckle.

  • frostysnowman

    Where’s MHT? I need to know so I can also avoid this airport.

  • frostysnowman

    That is extremely creepy.

  • bodega3

    TSA in Brazil and Amsterdam? I guess you missed that. This is about child abduction.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    By golly you’re right, bodega3! Safety! safety and humanity at all costs!

    Won’t you think of the children? We should be cavity searching people at random for Freedom! and safety!


  • TSAisTerrorism

    TYVM. It’s the least I could do. This audacity of people to rationalize this nonsense never ceases to amaze me.

  • Carchar

    I expected bedlam today at EWR security, in the wake of Boston’s bombing. TSA was on its best behavior and making the experience painless for everyone on my line, when I was on it. I didn’t opt out of the scanner, but they opened up the magnetometer doorway, without being asked, so that a family with small children could go through.

  • Faoi Run

    I generally experience grouchy TSA agents but surprisingly had a pleasant experience at JFK last weekend. Terminal 5, Jetblue. They were smiling and saying please AND thank you! I think it’s a crap shoot & depends on who’s working at the time you’re traveling. There are good agents & bad.

  • Chasmosaur

    It’s not the size of the town that creates grouchiness. It’s the individuals in the TSA uniform.

    For example, I don’t deny IAD TSA are pretty damn grouchy. But DCA TSA staff are much more pleasant (at least at Delta’s Pier B). I mean, it’s still not hugs and chocolate and kisses, but I have found them to be less cranky over all. (Though hit the checkpoint at the wrong time, and you are looking at a looooooooooong wait. Efficiency isn’t always the best there.)

    I’m willing to wager, though, it’s because DCA staff probably have to deal with passengers who actually could call someone and get them fired. And I also think the fact that AA77 took off from IAD made them (and has kept them) more aggressive.

    Also I regularly fly in and out of MSP. I can’t think of a time where any member of TSA staff has been rude to me. When I was on crutches or cane last year, they were actually very helpful and patient. Maybe that’s just the fabled Minnesota Nice.

    But at my tiny, single gate, you can count the total daily flights on one hand regional airport in the Upper Midwest? They are aggressive and frequently unpleasant – they are one of the reasons I rarely use the airport. Until I switched to a Kindle Paperwhite, the small (and common – you can buy them at any book store in the country) battery-powered book light I used to read in bed triggered a bag search. EVERY time.

    Several years ago, the only bathroom in the entire facility was outside of the secured area. (A fact remedied three years ago – they remodeled and have them in the tiny secured area now.) My mother – middle aged, polite, neatly dressed – went through security, and a few minutes realized she had to go to the bathroom. Looking around and observing the lack of bathroom behind security, she headed back out into the tiny terminal to use them.

    TSA – still screening ~10 passengers, 40 minutes before the scheduled takeoff and 20 before boarding – barked at her, asking her where she was going. She told them her purpose. They told her that if she took too long, they were going to shut down the security line and she’d miss her flight. She would be smart just to hold it until her plane was in the air. She just looked at them, told them she understood, accomplished her task, and was at the end of the screening line with five passengers still needing screening.

    The TSA staff then patted her down before she even went through the WTMD again. (And remember, this is years before the 2010 policy went into effect.) If she hadn’t left her purse with my father, I’m sure they would have dumped the contents all over their table. And then they glared at her until she got up to board the tiny commuter jet. (She just glared back – she was a New Yorker ;) ) And that was the last time my parents used that regional airport – they instead drove to and from MSP, which was less hassle and considering the connection times, actually faster.

    I think you just never know where you’re going to get through TSA with the minimum of pain and annoyance. The odds are in your favor at a small airport, perhaps, but it’s not going to be 100% positive.

  • g

    You were lucky. I was in a wheelchair and had the longest check in history. Even my bag with all my medications was searched and they had an intrusive pat-down.

  • John Keahey

    Well said, SoBeSparky. Inconsistency is good when it comes down to how thoroughly they go through bags, things they ask about, the way people answer the friendly questions they ask, as in Reno. That’s the Israeli style: the questions and watching for reactions. The human dignity part is what should be consistent. My one frustrating experience out of scores of trips over the years, was in Denver. So I’m with Chris on that one. But frankly, I doubt if they recognized you, Chris. :)

  • y_p_w

    Their list is that disposable razors are OK, but the standard replaceable double-sided safety razors are not. These were blades that could be removed. Their specific language is “safety razor blades”. These are those thin, flat blades with two edges and a specific pattern in the center that locks them in the razor assembly.


    “Razor-Type Blades – such as box cutters, utility knives, and safety
    razor blades (disposable razors and their cartridges are permitted) Carry-on? NO – Checked? YES

    This is the TSA’s photo:


  • DavidYoung2

    I would hope any chance to impede pedophiles from abducting children would be welcome. I also would hope that nobody would let their blind hatred of the TSA outweigh protecting children from offenders, but that seems not to always be the case.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    I see you missed the conversation. Not surprising.

    Heavens! Child abduction! My goodness, stick a finger up my internal organs! I have nothing to hide.

    Good grief. DavidYoung2 responded with an anecdote about his wife’s experience in Brazil to instruct Chris why he should enjoy TSA asking children their names. And so you want to talk about Brazil. I’m glad to see you continue to insist on missing the point.

  • cjr001

    Sure it is. If you can tell everybody else to stay home, then you’re perfectly capable of setting the example for the rest us. After all, you’re no more special than anybody else that you can’t remove your head from the ground in which you’ve buried it.

  • cjr001

    Feel free to provide numbers of how many attempted abductions have occurred at US airports in recent years. Then compare that with how many TSA employees have been arrested for such crimes.

    Hint: TSA is not protecting children.

  • scapel@suddenlink.net

    Again it is not what is getting on the airplane that is important, it is who is getting on the airplane. Why doesn’t the TSA spend a little more time interacting with the passengers and try to pick up an inconsistency in responses. People do give off vibes sometimes.

  • cjr001

    “When we arrived at the Terminal B screening area in Reno,”

    Question: Was this during your recent trip to Heavenly?

    I brought this up to my wife (she keeps far better track of these things than I do), and she said that Reno just finished up a renovation to their airport and it sounds like they’ve combined all the security areas, and that this one area does have body scanners.

    “Starting March 21, 2013, all departing passengers now go through one central security checkpoint located on the first floor.”

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    This thread is taking a turn in a bad direction. Please stay on topic. Thank you.

  • Vindwyn

    It’s Manchester / Boston regional airport

  • emanon256

    Oh, my mistake then. I was equating safety razors to disposable razors in my head this morning.

  • bodega3

    Sadly, you took the wrong turn, but no surprise.

  • MarkKelling

    I’ve had mixed success with the bridge at DEN. Sometimes it’s a breeze going through, other times it takes forever. I actually heard a supervisor in the A Bridge area tell the ID checker to slow down because they were checking IDs quicker than people were going through the scanners causing the screening area to overflow.

  • MarkKelling

    I general, I have found that airports/terminals where Southwest is the primary airline (in terms of total passengers), TSA people seem to be in a worse mood (HOU, DAL, and LAS & FLL WN terminals, are just some examples). Not sure what the connection is. Never been through MHT but I recall that WN has/had a large presence there.

  • Annapolis2

    Agreed – Manchester is one of the very worst small-town TSA experiences. Their tiny checkpoint in their tiny airport is almost never busy, so the clerks stretch out their duties by taking as long as they can in finding new ways to harass passengers. They’re petty and rude.

  • Susan Richart

    Chris, I’m going to stray off topic. The current TSA comment period is supposed to be about rule making for use of WBI and gropes.

    The Court instructed the TSA to make and publish rules for transiting checkpoints so that the public may know what to expect when doing so. Of course, the document that the TSA came up with has nothing to do with rules. Rather it is an attempt to justify its current procedures.

    Please go to https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/03/26/2013-07023/passenger-screening-using-advanced-imaging-technology and comment on the use of WBI and gropes, as well as demand actual rules for transiting a checkpoint.

    You might want to read this before you comment:


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

    scapel, do you trust the TSA brain trust to “pick up an inconsistency in responses”?? Meanwhile, the TSA already deploys such voodoo practitioners — they’re called Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) — and they’re universally regarded as a joke.

  • Lindabator

    They probably get more stressed passengers on the whole as well, so neither side can end up happy.

  • Daisiemae

    They thought it was a laser pointer.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Good point about DCA. They never know when a congessman might see them acting like a tool.

  • Daisiemae

    I agree. We need to protect our nation’s children from pedophiles. Considering the number of TSA screeners arrested for child sex crimes in the last two years, it might be a good idea to prohibit TSA screeners from asking children their names…or even talking to them at all. At the very least, TSA screeners should be prohibited from touching children’s genitals.

    Like you, I sincerely do hope that blind hatred does not outweigh protecting children from offenders. Especially when those offenders are wearing an official uniform with a badge and receiving a government pay check.

  • MarkieA

    We don’t have to do things like this. Our government CHOOSES to do things like this.

  • MarkieA

    You’ve made his point, I think. Get your Constitutional rights trampled or or give up living life as you want.

  • MarkieA

    It’s a shame, isn’t it? Those damn flag-waving, Constitution-loving rebel rousers just make so much trouble for us law-abiding, Yes Sir, whatever you say sir, How far would you like me to bend over, sir? True Amerikan Citizens.

  • Cornhusker

    I fly from OMA (Omaha) often, and never have had a problem with TSA there. LNK (Lincoln) is even better. I had a flight cancelled out of OMA and flew instead from here at LNK and had my carry-on bag filled over half full with fresh Nebraska sweet corn bagged and ready for friends in Alabama. No body scanners at LNK, and when my bag went through the x-ray, the screener said “who is so lucky to get all of that sweet corn!”. No hassle, just good Nebraska people. The screener attitude is all in where you are…ATL…DEN…ORD…? Yuck!

  • bodega3

    Life as most of us want does’t exist. Sadly we are going to be faced with more restrictions thanks to creeps who wish to due us harm but will it keep you from living your life? It won’t me.

  • bodega3

    No creeps who wish us harm causes these things. Just like the limits you have on your driving. Idiots have made it more restrictive thanks to their selfish ways.

  • MarkieA

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. You can’t control what other people do – although I believe that the Government is trying – you can only control your reaction to what they do. These creeps aren’t forcing more regulation down our throats; the Government is. There are other ways to handle things besides increased regulation at the cost of decreased personal freedom.

  • MarkieA

    As I stated above; it’s the Government that forces us to live with increased restrictions, not the creeps who do this. Obviously, the increased restrictions are a result of the creeps, but they are only one avenue of dealing with this. And it’s the Government who very may well greatly affect the way you live your life.

  • Alaskans Freedom to Travel USA

    @Christopher Elliott – Thank you for another excellent article about why the TSA’s operations are unacceptable. If you have not already submitted your comments in response to TSA’s proposed rule on full body scanners (which TSA was finally forced to open to public comment per court order), it would be great if you would submit this article, and/or any others you’ve written, so clearly describing the nature of the problems with the full body scanners and the resulting groping that is linked to them. To you and all your readers, if you haven’t commented yet, please do. Even if people do nothing more than submit “NO”, it will help create an official record of the opposition to these scanners. If we are silent, nothing will change, and the TSA will continue to insist that people don’t mind the scanners.

    The regulations/comment system is not run by TSA, so it is easy to use and non-invasive. You can even comment anonymously. Follow these EASY steps:

    1. Go to http://www.regulations.gov
    2. Enter in the search field: TSA-2013-0004
    3. Believe it or not, your name, address, etc. are all OPTIONAL. Just leave everything on the left side of the screen blank if you don’t want that info known or published.
    4. Enter your COMMENT on the right side of the screen.
    5. Press “submit” below your comment. Congratulations, you’re done!

  • ChBot

    Huge difference between safety and freedom, and one generally comes at the detriment of the other !!!

  • ChBot

    You run with your bag ??? :-)

  • ChBot

    “Unnamed airport”, “unnamed place”, “near forever”, … Wow ! That’s borderline specific ! :-)

    More seriously : swabbing your hand was a rare demonstration of doing the right thing : checking for explosives or powder traces on you was a non intrusive and non shameful way (naking the kid in public is not a solution) to eliminate the main risk.
    Remember : even if you trigger the metal detector, they know if it is by a lot or not. A few metal clips and buttons will probably just barely set it off !

  • ChBot

    Chris : I think your answer is not fair (and that’s coming from someone who don’t care that much about TSA : I don’t live here !) :
    There is a huge difference between random id checks (which do nothing for the public safety) and a random bag checks (especially if they focus on bags looking big and heavy enough to contain a 6l pressure cooker or a few automatic weapons) !
    While I agree with you that one kind is not desirable (and could even be unconstitutional in the US), maybe even the TSA bashers could approve the second kind, assuming of course it be done right !

  • CarolinaLannes

    Actually, the most common way for kids traveling internationally from Brazil with only one of the parents is to have a written authorization from the other parent, recognized by the Brazilian consulate.You can also ask, when having the kid’s visa done, to have the authorization to fly with only one of the parents notted and the Federal Police will have no problem with that.

    Then, again, we have no TSA in Brazil. No enhanced pat-downs or porn scanners either.

  • EdB

    “While I agree with you that one kind is not desirable (and could even be unconstitutional in the US), maybe even the TSA bashers could approve the second kind, assuming of course it be done right !”

    I don’t know about that. You can fit the pressure cooker in a standard size backpack. There are also automatic weapons that will fit in there too. Just because you are carrying a bag big enough to hold something dangerous is no grounds for searching the person in public. Taking that logic, that would allow them to search every car driving through the area. God knows how many pressure cookers you could fit in the trunk of one of those things.

  • cjr001

    Yes, the screening area there does overflow. But then, that is the case at pretty much every airport I’ve been to recently.

    And why is that the case? Because we have to take off jackets and belts and shoes, and take out baggies of liquids and laptops, and empty our pockets, and wait for body scanners and then people to be patted down for false positives after going through those body scanners…

  • y_p_w

    OK. San Jose outbound. Seattle inbound. Maybe I was just a little bit paranoid that naming the airports might get me in trouble the next time I fly out of them.

    However, my kid was identified (and the equipment was correct) as someone carrying enough metal to set off a metal detector. What I found really odd was that the resolution wasn’t to find out if there might be a weapon hidden, but to check a parent’s hands for any kind of explosive residue. I was frankly a little bit disturbed that they might pat down my kid and even more disturbed that they didn’t do anything that resolved the root problem. Don’t they at least have wand detectors. With one, they would have easily figured out there were six pieces of metal, and all of them are on the exterior of the overalls.

    There are some small firearms on the market. I’ve heard of some that are about the size of two adult thumbs. They’ll set off a metal detector, but barely.

  • ChBot

    In Europe, when you set off the metal detector, they’ll use the wand to locate on you where the metal is, and will only pat that place if needed (ie if they can’t see it’s your watch or a button or a piece of jewellery ! I guess we’re more modern than you !!!
    Even small firearms contain quite a lot of metal (you need it for strength). It’s the apparition of ceramic barrels that is a lot more troublesome for the metal detector !!!

    And yes, i can understand that the idea of TSA patting down a baby or a toddler is disturbing.
    I still think they did the right thing : all the metal on your kid was apparent, they knew you probably just barely set off the metal detector, so checked for the most potent danger !

  • y_p_w

    Frankly I’m not convinced that checking my hands served any purpose other than to justify stopping my and for one of the TSA screeners to avoid actually patting down my kid.

    As for a firearm, there are some tiny, .22LR revolvers and Derringers. Some might weigh as little as 4 ounces.

  • Mundane Lustrator

    Yes, I experienced power tripping TSA screeners at MHT too.

  • hey.shuga

    It’s honesty the most annoying/emotional thing in the world. I’m so sick of them treating us like this. It’s our constitutional rights dammit.

    That is all. I’d rather not speak of my experiences