7 things you’ll love about the TSA

It’s been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.

The Department of Homeland Security order — which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a “secret” TSA security directive — was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I’d see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA’s most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.

So you’d think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn’t have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.

I can actually think of seven things about airport security that I love — and that I think you will, too. As one of the busiest travel weeks of the year begins today, let’s review them.

TSA Pre-Check. Wow, I wish we could all use those lines. It’s common-sense screening. No invasive scans and you can keep your shoes on. Too bad you have to either be an elite-level flier or a member of the Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS programs to qualify. But maybe they’ll let everyone into that line soon. After all, the government collects enough pre-flight information about us to “pre-check” everyone on the plane, don’t they?

Families get a pass on scanners. Although it probably won’t admit it, the TSA generally doesn’t force young kids through its controversial full-body scanners, and — bonus! — it also won’t make their parents or guardians go through. In my last eight flights, we’ve never come close to one of those dreaded machines. I like that.

Almost no wait to be screened. The TSA is so overstaffed that it’s unlikely you’ll wait longer than 10 minutes to get screened. Even during the busy holidays. Yeah, that’s what $8 billion the TSA cost us this year will buy you. Here are the TSA’s self-reported wait numbers, if you’re a trusting kind of air traveler. And you know what? This is one of the rare times when I do believe them.

You can leave your shoes on. If you’re under 12 or over 75, that is. But I’ll take it. I have three kids under 12, and do you know how hard retrieving three pair of shoes at the end of the conveyor belt is — plus remembering your own? Thanks, TSA.

A little more common sense. Good news: they’re allowing snowglobes on the plane this year. Just small ones. But it’s progress. Hey TSA, how ’bout those liquids and gels?

Private enterprise is alive and well. Think the TSA isn’t entrepreneurial enough? Think again. It sells all those items it confiscates, replenishing the government trough from which it slurps, even if it’s done somewhat indirectly. That’s gotta count for something.

This is just the beginning. Agency critics are getting their act together and pressuring Congress to rein in the TSA. Already, some of the most dangerous full-body scanners have been quietly removed. Next to go are the rest of the scanners, which will either be decommissioned or reach the end of their intended life-cycle in a few years. It can’t happen soon enough.

Don’t get too excited, because there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. Too many kids and grandmas still get hassled during screening. And if you want to experience a long delay at the screening area, just opt out of the full-body scanners. You could be left waiting, and might even miss your flight, a little trick agents call a retaliatory wait time.

But overall, even though there’s more than enough for which to criticize the TSA, there’s a little to like. And in the future — if we can keep the pressure on the agency — there will be even more to love.

And what if you don’t? Don’t worry. I’ll be here to write about that.

  • RonBonner

    Sadly Christopher has it completely wrong.

    Pre Check: Only applies to less than 1% of travelers.

    Families get a pass on scanners: So if you are not part of a family traveling together get ready for an electronic strip search or invasive sexual assault pat down. No Thanks TSA!

    ,b>Almost no wait to be screened: There shouldn’t be any wait to be screened yet we all know there is at many airports. TSA’s inefficient procedures back people up waiting for the Travel Document Checker, a complete waste of time that adds nothing to security.

    You can leave your shoes on: Again what part of the flying public does the under 12 or over 75 group represent? This act was a feeble attempt by TSA to counter the strip search and sexual assault feel downs of several elderly or young travelers. Another failed effort by TSA.

    A little more common sense: Snow globes. Little snow globes that must fit into the one quart bag with any other liquid items you may have. The correct answer is that TSA has the ability to test liquids, yet has failed to do so. Instead TSA tosses confiscated items into common trash at the checkpoint proving beyond a doubt that TSA does not consider the items to be on any danger.

    Private enterprise is alive and well: Where I come from people who sell stolen items are called thieves and fences. That description pretty much fits TSA to a T!

    This is just the beginning: Christopher tells us about the x ray scanners being removed from certain airports when in reality those scanners are being moved to smaller backwater airports so they won’t receive as much attention from the public.

    Anyone who thinks TSA is doing anything to make the public’s screening less onerous is only fooling themselves. Let’s see a statement from TSA acknowledging that some procedures put in place were simply wrong for a free country and have removed those procedures. Let us see TSA hold its employees accountable for their acts of thievery or abuse of the public. I don’t suggest anyone hold their breath waiting on TSA to own up to the misguided so-called leadership of TSA under the stewardship of John S. Pistole.

    I am clearly not as optimistic as Christopher. TSA is a total train wreck.

    TSA employees don’t like working for the agency and the public in general hates TSA yet SES level (Senior Executive Service) TSA employees don’t think TSA has any problems. I think those SES employees need to get out of their offices and talk to the people that TSA is abusing daily.

    • Great Post Ron!

      To be fair to Chris, if you have a family, it is a positive that the most egregious government-sanctioned abuse of the Bill of Rights since Japanese Citizen detention (or maybe since Mayor Bloomberg’s illegal stop and frisk for no reasonable suspicion program) helps families travel easier by avoiding strip search scanners, criminal genital pat downs, and annoying disrobing (shoes)…although it clearly opens up the gaping security hole for potential terrorists who can travel with their families.

      PreCheck (or Project Animal Farm) is helpful in saving time during the anti-4th amendment procedures for those who occasionally benefit, but I was laughing at a guy in Dallas who was complaining that there was no PreCheck line at the security gate he was at.

      • Daisiemae

        Japanese detention? That was certainly one in a long list of heinous abuses practiced by the United States federal government. However, I think it’s more similar to McCarthyism myself.

        I’m continually amazed that no one in the media or in the blogs has likened this TSA atrocity to the abuse that American citizens suffered at the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the FBI during the 1950s.

        McCarthy and his gang of thugs backed up by J Edgar Hoover and his gang of thugs at the FBI destroyed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans…just like TSA and DHS are doing now.

        It seems the American people can never escape the abuse and oppression of the federal government. No matter what we do or who we elect, one gang of thugs is simply replaced by another gang of thugs with a different title.

  • Susan Richart

    I’m hoping that your comments were written with sarcasm and if not, sorry, Christopher, you missed the mark totally. There is NOTHING to love about the TSA.

    Pre-check, kids under 12 and us oldies being given special treatment is nothing but a sop to quiet the TSA’s most vocal critics. All it takes is a visit to TS/S (travel safety & security forum at FlyerTalk) to see that in the case of pre-check, it is working. 🙁

    (BTW, at TS/S recently I’ve read a couple of comments that indicate that one parent got through WTMD with kids, but the husband/father was directed to WBI.)

    Those most dangerous WBI machines are, by many accounts, being moved to smaller airports that until recently did not have an WBI capacity. That’s no victory at all.

    • Daisiemae

      I agree. I was disappointed to read this post. There are enough feel good propaganda pieces flooding the media with glowing reports of TSA’s peace on earth and good will toward man. I didn’t expect to read one coming from Chris. Especially when most of the points listed are definitely NOT something to love but are mostly ploys to distract the attention of the courts, the politicians, and the public away from both the heinous criminal acts that TSA performs on a daily basis and the complete incompetence and stupidity of the agency as a whole.

    • RonBonner

      Christopher must have had to much egg nog!