Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A New TSA Rant (plus Alaska Airlines praise)

One of my dear friends ran into some very unfortunate circumstances a couple of weeks ago, right in time for her birthday. So I decided to give her the best present I could manage: my presence. (Written with a completely straight face and in all seriousness.)

So I scheduled a last minute trip to Northern California last week to cram in as much time as I could with her, our friends, and my family. I got to bump baby bumps with my best friend who is about two and a half weeks behind me in her pregnancy and looks absolutely radiant. I got to reconnect with someone I hadn't seen in many years, got to play guitar with my dad, and had a Chinese food party with so many people I love. It was quite the whirlwind for a lady about thirty-one weeks along.

The interesting part was the experience flying there and back.

I have a lot of praise for Alaska Airlines. When I told the flight attendants I was seven and a half months pregnant, they were all very nice and offered me drinks and extra snack packets even before the cart went through. I was able to walk up and down the aisle whenever I needed. I'd also made sure I got the seat closest to the bathrooms in the back. As no one else was sitting with me, the attendants even encouraged me to put my feet up on the empty seats.

When my first return flight to Seattle was delayed about four hours, I received a hotel voucher for the night, which was nice since I was prepared for a twelve-hour layover in SeaTac anyway. I had even bought a cheap air mattress and pump and knew exactly where I was going to sack out for the night. Didn't even need it.

I got about five hours of sleep before having to brave the TSA security of SeaTac. I had no idea what to expect.

My other experiences were the same as before: opted out of the scanner (they still tried to convince me to go through in Anchorage, insisting there were no X-rays to harm my baby in the scanner. There hasn't been enough research to prove the scanners truly harmless yet, X-rays or otherwise. Research that has been done has been paid for by the companies selling the machines.) Had the typical pat-down in Anchorage as well as Sacramento.

Now here's where my disdain for TSA has grown even greater than before.

In Anchorage on my way to California, I got the pat-down and saw one of the TSA agents going through my bag. I thought I had removed all the non-security-friendly items at home beforehand, but I had missed my Leatherman tool in a small side pocket. I sighed, thinking that I was going to lose it or have to mail it home.

When my pat-down was finished, the agents discovered the machines for the test pads with which they wipe your bags for bomb chemicals had all gone down at once. I had to wait an extra ten or fifteen minutes while they called someone to get one running. During this time, the agent that gave me the pat-down noticed my Leatherman tool sitting on the counter next to my bag and asked if there was was something wrong with it. The agent searching my bag replied no, there were no blades in it.

Now, there are several possible explanations here. One, perhaps she didn't want to give me any more hassle since I was pregnant and already waiting quite a while to be released thanks to the faulty machines. Two, perhaps she'd never seen a Leatherman before and only saw the pliers when she opened it, not the other tools inside the handles. Three, perhaps she never even opened the darn thing to check.

She said it was fine. The tests came out fine and I was told I could go on my way, so I did.

I did not do this on purpose to prove a point. This bag of mine was somewhat new and I had overlooked one of the smaller pockets when getting ready for my trip.

But the fact remains that the TSA agents let a banned item through their security.

What happened in SeaTac was even more interesting.

I'm sure most have heard about the TSA Pre-check lines by now. You pay a fee and get a government background check that, when passed, allows you to go through the Pre-check line instead of the regular security line. It's just like the old days: no taking off shoes, no taking out laptops, and just going through the good old metal detector.

When I got to SeaTac the morning after my hotel stay, a bunch of people including myself were being herded through the Pre-check line like cattle. I didn't realize it until I got my ticket and ID checked, and for a moment I thought I had gotten into the wrong line. But it was very busy that morning and there were two agents guiding masses of people into the Pre-check line. I went through without having to take off my shoes (very nice for a pregnant lady) or going through the pat-down for opting out of the scanner.

I pondered this as I waited for my flight to board.

If I had been one of those that paid for Pre-check, I would have been very pissed off seeing all these people going through for free. So why were they doing it?

I believe it was because the scanners are too slow for the busy periods. And when you include those evil people like me who opt out, it gets even slower.

What's to stop a terrorist from planning to go through during those known busy times when people are pushed through Pre-check just to keep things moving smoothly? Is this something that happens at all major airports? If the body scanners and the pat downs are so effective, why are they so easily tossed aside when things get busy? How long would it have taken to get through security if they hadn't done that? If my Leatherman tool could be missed when things are slow, what could be missed when things are hectic?

I choose not to do Pre-check because I only fly at the most once a year. And I plan on not doing that as often as I can get away with. I believe that it is unconstitutional to force me through pat downs, through body scanners that are unknown health dangers and often give false positives and negatives, and to force background checks on a law-abiding citizen without a warrant. This all tromps on my right to freely travel about my country.

If they will send people through the old fashioned security measures en masse at busy periods, then why is all the rest of it even considered remotely necessary?

The more I see, the more I wonder why so many people just accept what they are told and go along like sheep with such ridiculous charades. I weep for our nation and pray that those who chose to be blind will one day open their eyes.