Tagged as a troublemaker by the TSA

by Christopher Elliott on July 22, 2013

Crime SceneThink the TSA operates above the law, with virtually no accountability to the public? Then Vadim Rapp’s story won’t surprise you.

The rest of you, who think the TSA is just trying to protect the traveling public from an imminent terrorist threat — well, I’ll just let Rapp tell his story and then let you decide for yourself.

Rapp was flying from Tampa to Chicago recently.

“When I got to the hand baggage screening checkpoint, I initially went to the first screening lane, but the operator of the next lane waved me to her,” he said. “Or so I thought. And I went to her lane, which was the next one.”

The lane was empty, but as he approached it, another passenger passed him in a wheelchair, escorted by a TSA agent. He waited for them to pass.

“I put my belongings in the tray and pushed them through the X-ray. While I was waiting, another TSA employee looked at me and asked, ‘Opt out?’ I said ‘Yes’,” he recalls.

Rapp was sent back to a waiting area. That’s when he noticed that the door he’d passed through had large “DO NOT ENTER” sign on it. Oh no, he thought. He’d followed the wheelchair passenger through the wrong door.

That’s when the trouble started:

Once I was behind that little door, I was noticed, yelled at, and told to go back.

I crossed back. There was a big panic around me. TSA people yelling, calling phones etc. I did not understand the reason for the trouble.

But he was in trouble.

A TSA manager asked him why he’d gone through the door. Rapp said he didn’t know. Wrong answer!

Another agent approached him and asked him for his phone number. Rapp said he didn’t understand why she needed his number. Wrong answer!

Finally, a manger told Rapp that because of his “non-compliance” he wouldn’t be allowed to fly that day. He could come back tomorrow and try.

Now let me see if I understand this.

Guy goes through the wrong door at the airport. TSA agents panic. Guy clams up because he’s scared, refuses to cough up his phone number. TSA says, “Sorry pal, you’re on a 24-hour no-fly list. Come back tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing that confuses me. If Rapp is a terrorist, how will putting him on a temporary no-fly list help? Isn’t the TSA just punishing a passenger who happened to misunderstand the directions of one of its own agents?

Rapp wanted to know what to do. I suggested sending a complaint to the TSA.

You’re going to love the response. It forwarded his grievance to the Tampa airport, but not before telling him it declined to do any “per case” investigation and that it only looks for “trends” in the complaints. (You know, like the NSA looks for patterns in the data.)

“The response has no case number, and comes from “do-not-reply” address,” says Rapp.

Well, that’s our government at work.

If I thought for one second that any of this was keeping us safer, I’d be fine with it. But I just don’t see how misdirecting a passenger makes him “non-compliant” or how sending him a response to a “do-not-reply” address does anything to change the widespread opinion that the TSA does whatever it damn well pleases.

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