With very little in the way of apologies to Arlo Guthrie….
Coming in from London, from over the pole
Flyin’ in a big airliner
Chickens flyin’ everywhere around the plane
Could we ever feel much finer?
Comin’ into Los Angeles
Bringin’ in a couple of keys
Don’t touch my bags if you please, mister customs man
Arlo and company might have been concerned in ’69 about what could be found in their bags coming back into the U.S. of A., but today it’s just a little different. It’s what’s in your bags getting on a plane and unless you’re flying in a private, non-charter aircraft, taking off from a cornfield airstrip (suspicious all in itself,) you’re going to deal with our incarnation of Mr. Customs Man, airport security, here in the U.S., the TSA.
Right out front, I’m biased, but rationally so I think. I spent 13 years with Homeland Security, just a little less than half of that as a TSA screener, performing the pat-downs, X-ray screening, helping passengers get ready to go through the line by giving advisements on what to remove from their bags and persons to expedite their trip through security. I never had, in all that time, a single complaint, to my face, much less to the agency. My experience in that regard was very unusual, and not shared by most of the really good folks I worked with. While the vast majority of TSA officers really do strive to show respect and professionalism in the commission of their duties, like with any other “people” endeavor, there are a few unsavory folks who think their badge and uniform entitle them to treat others as cattle to be herded. I only mention them at all because you and I may face one going through security. Much, much more common is the situation where we, the passengers, are upset, late and just inexperienced enough travelers to be nervous about security screening. Consequently, every stressful thing that happens is “their”, TSA’s, fault. And even more rarely, the so-called professionals that want to create and foment an issue…….
So, after all that – I want to share a few thoughts on traveling through security. The what to put in your bag, or not, has been covered by a few thousand other folks, so I won’t belabor much of that here.
- None of us have the “right” to air travel. In just the same vein, we do not have the God Given Right to operate a motor vehicle. Every state in this Country refers to driving as a privilege – to be extended or withdrawn, dictated almost completely by our actions as drivers.
- TSA doesn’t make up any rules about what is allowed or not. Congress does. TSA may advise based on latest tech or emerging threat info, but what happens in security screening is based on law, so don’t take it out on the officer who is providing screening at the airport. He/She and we are required to comply, so why make an issue.
- Listen to what’s being said by the officers at the front of the security line – Read the signage, and heaven forbid, go to the TSA.gov website to get the straight skinny on how to prepare for screening. Uncle Bill, “who flies all the time, at least twice a year”, is not the supreme source on procedures. Even the newest TSA officer is and if they’re really not sure, you can ask to speak to a Supervisor or TSM, Transportation Security Manager. If someone tells you, as they do every time, to take everything out of your pockets, that means everything – currency, tissues, coins – nothing is too small to not count. Get it out, put it in the plastic X-ray bins and get on through – no stress, no sweat. Ladies, “pockets” also refers to the other handy little spots you tuck money, cell phones and body parts into.
- Try, even if it really goes against your grain because you’re being “violated”, thanking the screening officers for their work. Just like every other encounter you’re going to have today, this week, this life, a little appreciatation goes a very long way to easing things along. Refer here back to point #2. Got a problem with a procedure? Talk to your elected representative, who, if they respond at all, will tell you that procedures are a work in progress.
- And finally, be aware that the universe really, actually, doesn’t revolve around you – this point applies to every one of us. Once we accept that, life goes along a little easier for all concerned.