Category Archives: TSA

Chris Elliott Pinpoints TSA Ways to Punish Op-Out Fliers

Will some agent harrass me because of transdermal patches

Could these transdermal pain patches been mistaken for an instrument of terror by a TSA agent?
Could these transdermal pain patches be mistaken for an instrument of terror by a TSA agent?

I’m getting on an airplane on Thursday — the first time in several months that I’ve flown. Since the last time, I’ve had a worsening back “issue” that manifests itself with excruciating pain in my hamstrings and glutes. I see the surgeon on the 18th, but meanwhile, I’ve been keeping the worst misery at bay with OTC Salonpas transdermal patches. I buy them 120 at a time  at Costco

Chris Elliott, travel consumer advocate extraordinaire, flies a lot more than I do, so he is victim of more TSA attention than most of us. For various reasons, he chooses to opt out of the agency’s preferred security screening methods, and he often finds fodder for his column he does. He recently wrote “3 Ways the TSA Punishes Passengers Who Opt Out.” As he presents it, and he always adds research to his own travel experiences, the opt-out option is not appealing either. I never really thought about it before.

So here is the decision I need to make in the next couple of days (or at least when I head for the security maze): If I plaster some Salonpas patches on my rear end, will they show up on an X-ray? Would a patdown, which is hateful to begin with, reveal “something,” and would some misguided agent decide that those little stick-on rectangles might be a terror weapon? Would the overzealous TSA official want me to strip down?  Should I lather up with Ben-Gay instead of the more effective patches to dampen the pain with setting off alarms in the TSA brain?

Read Chris Elliott’s column on three broad categories that the TSA’s intimidation/bullying/punitive tactics fall into, and read the column for examples of each. He concludes (and I concur), “The false choice between a dangerous scan and an invasive pat-down must end, and the sooner it happens, the better.” Perhaps I should have waited until I return before posting about the TSA again. I  suppose there’s a risk of being flagged for “special” attention by the TSA, but I can’t help sharing what’s on my mind as I think about what will be a short but guaranteed uncomfortable trip.

TSA Testing Looser Screening of Seniors at DIA

Under-12 or 75-plus get a bit of a pass at airport screening

Last fall, the Transportation Security Administration announced, with considerable self-congratulations and fanfare, that it would no longer require youngsters aged 12 and under to take off their shoes and light jackets when passing through security screening areas. Now, the agency is testing “modified” screening procedures for passengers 75 and older at “select security lanes” at Denver International Airport and also Chicago O’Hare, Orlando and Portland, Oregon.

Now, seniors lucky enough to go through the chosen security positions will not have to remove their shoes and light outerwear. A secondary scan through advanced imaging technology would theoretically clear “anomalies,” which could include medical and mobility aids and also sanitary items like adult diapers.

The TSA believes that these procedures being tested could reduce unwelcome and sometimes embarrassing pat-downs of older travelers. “This is another step in moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and streamlining the process for travelers that history and intelligence have shown pose less risk to aviation security,” Denver TSA federal security director James Schear told local media. More self-congratulations on the part of the TSA for simply being sensible — at last.

PreCheck to Ease Airport Security Lines

Accept some red tape now to cut security lines when you fly

The security infrastructure at airports and the staff to monitor, supervise and sometimtes stand around is enormous and costly.

After a decade-plus of annoying travelers at great national expense ($8.1 billion in 2011) and  reportedly without ever stopping a terrorist incident, the Transportation Security Administration appears to be satisfied with its fairly new PreCheck program that lets “select passengers” benefit from a fast-lane,  expedited screening process. The agency lost no time in trademarking it as TSA Pre✓™.  This pilot program currently at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit  Metropolitan Wayne County, Dallas/Fort Worth International and Miami International airports is geared for expansion, but still only certain travelers will be eligible to participate.

When approved,  an individual traveler at those airports may keep on his/her coat, belt and shoes, is allowed to leave the laptop in its case, and need not reveal containers of liquids and gels. The program implements what is described as “a key component of the agency’s intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to security.” It focuses more on pre-screening individuals who volunteer information about  themselves prior to flying in order to potentially expedite the travel experience rather harrassing everyone equally. I call it good, practical sense that should not have taken a decade to implement — or begin to implement. Skipping the tedious coat, belt and shoe removal, not having to take laptops out of cases seems like a big favor, doesn’t it? Other countries have never instituted these procedures, and I, for one, am looking forward to a time when they no longer exist here.

Who Are the Elite Fliers?

Eligible participants currently include certain frequent flyers from  American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, members of the Customs and Border  Protection’s (CBP’s) Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI  and NEXUS, who are U.S. citizens and are flying on participating airlines and the 22 airports that are in CBP’s Global Entry program. If the program is deemed successful, TSA says the progrm will be be expanded “once operationally ready.”

Criticsm of TSA Picks Up Steam

Agency moving but not improving. The White House wants your thoughts

Thanks to Chris Elliott for once again identifying the pointlessness and again humorous irony revolving around the Transportation Security Agency.  In his post, “TSA Watch: A Crazy Agency Finally Gets an Official Diagnosis,” he noted that the Department of Homeland Security, an expensive federal agency that the budget-cutters seem to ignore even as they want to slash education and health funding, is soon moving into new offices. He wrote, “DHS Secretary [Janet] Napolitano and the rest of the Homeland Security team,  including parts of the TSA, will soon move to a renovated castle-like structure opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane.” In fact, he noted that Secretary Napolitano’s “will be in the very same room used by the director of the nation’s first major federally run psychiatric institution.”

After three days in Connecticut (staying with a friend without WiFi access and no time), I’m  in New York right now, a city whose insanity plays out with its own nutty level of congestion. I still have minimal computer time, But I couldn’t resist sharing Chris’s column and suggesting you scroll down to the poll at the end and voting. I added by little vote to the bottom bar.


TSA Revising Procedures When Children Fly

TSA to exempt children to pat-downs. Old folks are next

TSA agent, when uniform shirts were white and not yet blue, screening a potential terrorist (not!).

Ten years and a couple of days after the 9/11 tragedy and nearly nine years and 10 months after the Transportation Security Agency was established, and after increasingly intrusive procedures, agents are finally going to have to keep their hands of people’s kids. After tests were conducted at Boston Logan International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Miami International, Orlando International, Houston Intercontinental and Denver International, the TSA will be instituting new procedures that will result in fewer pat-downs of children 12 and under.

Parents who have cautioned their children about “inappropriate touching” had to stand by as US government security screeners did just that and perhaps explain the contradiction of when it’s OK and when it isen’t. The TSA finally relented and is introducing new procedures to reduce, thought not likely to  eliminate, pat-downs of children at airport checkpoints. Also, kids age 12 and younger will not have to remove their shoes when passing through a metal detector or full-body image scanner. If there’s a suspicious shape, the children will reportedly be allowed to pass through the devices several times before they are either cleared or physically searched.

CNN reported, “The furor over screening of children erupted in spring after a video posted on YouTube showed a 6-year-old girl being searched at New Orleans airport on April 5. The girl protests the search at first, although she complies quietly while it is under way.”

Maybe old and/or ill people like that poor 95-year-old, wheelchair-bound cancer patient who had to remove her adult diaper because it was “too dense” for the screening devices. That occurred last June (click here to read the CNN report). At that time, the TSA  defended its screener after the story went viral, but the outrage over the pat-down of a 6-year-old seem to have caused the agency to change its tune. What a difference 89 years make!

Chris Elliott’s Poll on Heroes Against TSA Excesses

Five heroes (or villans) in the Resistance against overreaching TSA practices — and my candidate for an honorary mention

If it seems that I ardently dislike the Transportation Security Administration and its policies, it’s because I do. Sheltered by the Patriot Act, this post-9/11 agency is  part of the Department of Homeland Security —  arguably the most overreaching branch of government since J. Edgar Hoover ruled the FBI. In its short life — a little more than nine-and-a-half years, Homeland Security in general had shown that it knows few bounds when it comes to intrusiveness. Denver Post cartoonist Mike Keefe nailed it regarding public indignation of the Murdoch empire’s snooping compared with compliance to whatever Homeland Security does in the name of “protecting” us:

But, as Dave Barry is wont to write, I digress. Christopher Elliott, a steady watchdog on behalf of the traveling public, today wrote: “Every few months, someone seems to capture the traveling public’s attention with an action that exposes the absurdity and indignity of being frisked at the airport. Many of us would call them heroes for their actions. Others would say they’re villains, because they demoralize the TSA and give comfort to the ‘enemy.’”

Chris Elliott has a new post with a poll on his site asking readers to vote for which of five high-profile situations in which travelers resisted the TSA’s excessive and inflexible policies. Although she wasn’t on the post, I respectfully suggest that Chris bestow some kind of honorary mention on Jean Weber. She is the daughter of a 95-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with terminal leukemia who was forced to remove her Depends adult diaper at a TSA checkpoint at Northwest Florida Regional Airport last month and went public — very public — with the indignity her mother endured. The story received wide coverage, but the local newspaper’s report and the TSA’s lame excuse was as detailed a summary as any soon after the unfortunate incident.

I voted in the Chris Elliott’s poll, and you should too.

TSA’s ‘Virtual Strip Search’ Being Phased Out

New software can detect “objects” without revealing explicit body images

Here’s the first smidgen of good news from the Transportation Security Agency in ages. The TSA is tweaking the software used at screening stations that will replace the current intrusive, explicit Xrays with new general body outlines. Without being anatomically detailed, it nevertheless is said to reveal hidden “objects. New software is expected to provide the privacy that the TSA should have built in to begin with. I’m sure I am not the only traveler looking forward to the installation of the new product that has reportedly been tested since February in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Washington. I wonder when the new software will be installed in Denver.

Out With the Old

In With the New

The Los Angeles Times noted, “Critics have pointed to explicit scanned images as a virtual “strip search” and a violation of passengers’ privacy ever since the full-body scanners were phased in last year. But TSA says that situation will change with this upgrade.” This blog was “one of those critics”

New Handheld Screening Device on the Horizon

Improved screening device, but will the TSA buy it?

I received a press release about a new device called All-Clear developed by Brijot that aims to avoid the worst and most intrusive aspects of TSA passenger screening at airports. It is a hand-held, image-free, battery-powered, passive millimeter wave screening device that detects both metallic and non-metallic objects. The company calls it a “touchless patdown.”

Brijot boss Mitchel J. Laskey has positioned AllClear as an alternative to the invasive, embarrassing, uncomfortable “enhanced patdown” or “virtual strip search” to which airline passengers are now routinely subjected. How welcome that would be if the Transportation Security were not so heavily invested in current technology that replacing it would be difficult.

The press release noted that “in the pre-9-11 world, getting on a plane was as easy as emptying your pockets and walking through a metal detector. In the post-9-11 world, airline passengers must take off their shoes, their belts, empty their pockets and be subjected to invasive body scans and pat-downs that add dignity and privacy to the price of an airline ticket. But a new Star Trek-like handheld scanner may signal the end to some of  those more invasive security checks.” Actually, I think current practices add the loss of dignity to the price of airline tickets, but I’m splitting hairs here.

I am old enough to remember pre-pre-9-11 when passengers and the people seeing them off or meeting them could simply walk to the gate. Back in the day, we didn’t go about emptying our pockets or taking our shoes off, and we could carry food, beverages and perhaps a welcome-home bouquet without having anything inspected or confiscated. It was an innocent time without metal detectors, X-ray machines, uniformed security personnel or endless lines snaking around in the terminal.

LaGuardia Airport's Marine Air Terminal, used for Pan Am Clipper international flights.

The release goes on to explain that the new AllClear device, described as a passive millimeter wave system, can detect metallic objects, liquids, solids, powders, explosives, currency (paper), ceramics, drugs (various types) and “contraband (including CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, cell phones, etc.)” without needing to be physical contact with the traveler being screened. It therefore is said to pose no health risks for anyone, including children, pregnant women and people with pacemakers.

Another benefit, according to the release, is that “The AllClear only requires one operator, minimal training, and is easy to use.” Given the turnover at the TSA, this is a good thing. The release continued that “the time it takes to screen a person using the AllClear is similar to using a handheld metal detector and takes less time than a pat-down. What’s more, it’s not just for airports. It can be used anywhere security measures are taken to keep the public safe – schools, public buildings, courthouses, concert venues, theme parks and more.”

The security infrastructure at airports and the staff to monitor, supervise and sometimtes stand around is enormous and costly.

So far, keeping the flying public “safe” has cost well over $40 billion since 9-11. If — and it’s just an if at this point — AllClear is widely adopted and can make the process less unpleasant, I’m all for it. I don’t know how much each AllClear unit would cost, but considering how many of our taxpayer dollars have already gone to airport security, why not?

Super-Staffed Security Checkpoint at Gallatin Field

Fourteen screeners, give or take, at Bozeman’s five-gate airport

The Transportation Security Administration continues to mystify me. En route to Montana from Colorado, Denver International Airport’s high-tech backscatter X-ray system pegged me for an extra patdown because some of the fabric on my stretch fleece pants and polypro top seemed “thicker” than the rest. I blogged about it the other day, and on reflection, think the device must have read the thick skin I’ve developed as a former New Yorker, long-time freelancer and traveler who has too often dealt with TSA capriciousness.

Bozeman's Gallatin Field in summer -- five gates, fewer than 30 flights a day and 14 TSA screeners!

Yesterday when I returned  via Bozeman’ Gallatin Fieldwhose five-gate terminal boards fewer than 30 flights a day (at this time of yea, anyway), something on the order of 14 TSA agents were on duty at mid-day. The first checked boarding passes and photo IDs. The second announced that every passenger had to have the palms of both hands swabbed and proceeded with the swabbing and inserted the pad into an instrument. I’ve had items from my carry-ons swabbed before, but never my hands. When I asked, the TSAette informed me that “all airports” do this. She said it the device sensitive to “explosives.” Now it would take a pretty dumb terrorist to make some kind of incendiary device that he (presumably a he) planned to bring onto a plane without wearing rubber gloves.

Two or three security agents hovered around the X-ray device that examines carryons, purses, shoes and coats and jackets. They peered at the screen and occasionally stopped the belt for a better peer. Others hung around, waiting for the opportunity to handcheck luggage or pat down a passenger. The rest were supervisors and/or miscellaneous stander-arounders. Maybe it was shift change time , resulting in a lot of blue shirts — and maybe not.  A uniformed Bozeman police officer or sheriff’s deputy also was in the little screening area, just for good measure.

I’ve been reading that TSA employees are seeking, or perhaps have already gotten, collective bargaining rights, meaning that this agency will probably remain swollen and overfed with tax dollars to keep us “safe.” The TSA’s budget is $8.1 billion for 2011.  How many schools would that keep open? How many bridges and highway potlholes would it fix? How much substandard housing would that upgrade. How much medical research would that pay for? And how “safe” is it really keeping us, even as it’s costing billions?

TSA Keeps Us Safe from Terrorism by Fleece

Simple clothing but the TSA still finds reason for patdown

At Denver International Airport yesterday morning, the security checkpoint line was not long, but the people backed up behind the podiums of rubber-gloved agents who look at you, your boarding pass and your photo ID —  mainly because the metal detector/patdown lines were moving at turtle pace.  Although I left home before 5:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. flight, a highway delay ate up a lot of my “spare” time, so I moved over to one of the the shorter X-ray lines. I hate the whole idea of these virtual strip search X-rays, but I didn’t have much choice.

I was wearing six clothing items: one pair of socks,  sports bra (no metal), panties, stretch fleece tights(no zipper, no buttons) and polypro top (I had taken off my jacket and my vest). When you step into the X-ray capsule, you stand with arms overhead like a criminal being arrested and your feet spread and planted on yellow shoe-prints painted on the floor. Why shoe prints, I wondered, when no one is permitted to wear shoes while being X-rayed,  metal-detected or frisked? Why not footprints? 

Then I was told to stand on a mat until the unseen TSA screener radioed permission to proceed. I wasn’t allowed to continue, a  female screener, said that she had to pat down my right thigh and my back and asked whether those areas were “sensitive.” When I asked why, she said that the fabrics in those two areas was “thicker” than the rest. I wonder how the right upper leg of my stretch tights could be “thicker” than the lower right leg or entire left leg or fabric between the the waist and crotch. Or why the polypro on the back was thicker than the arms, shoulders or front.  Flawless technology. This is all so stupid.  So expensive to taxpayers and so stupid.