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From the TSA Front

Gail and Joel had some business this past week in North Carolina. They flew Delta to Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) on Tuesday and returned Friday night. The outbound trip was routine. It included a very short layover in Detroit, with potential for trouble, but the flight into Detroit arrived early, and they had no checked luggage, so there was no problem at all, and the next leg, to RDU, was early too.

The return trip on Friday, via Atlanta, was not so pleasant, thanks to the TSA and Delta. This isn’t my story to tell, since I wasn’t a part of it, so I will be brief. But I don’t want the unpleasantries to pass without comment.

Things got off to a bad start at RDU, when Gail and Joel went through security. One line, which appeared to be slower, led through a standard screening lane. The other, which they chose, had both standard screening and one of the famed Rapiscan machines. Apparently, people were selected for the rapiscan on essentially a first-come, first-served basis. Once a scannee walked out of it, the next available person would be sent in. Others passing through in the interim would receive standard scanning.

Through this random process, Joel was directed to the rapiscanner. He declined, as is his right. As has been well reported, no one really has a clue how safe those things are. Or how secure the images are. Why endure it? But, as was also well reported back when it was in the news during the holidays last year, if one invokes one’s right to bypass the rapiscanner, one is subjected to a vigorous and intimate frisking. Plus, just for the heck of it, one may also be subject to rudeness and harassment. Joel got an extra dose of that. Again, this isn’t my story, and I don’t have all the facts, but one example of the harassment was a detailed examination of his carry-on bag (his only bag for the trip), prompting the TSA harasser to question him about his 3 ounce bottles of contact solution and to bring the supervisor over for a closer look. Everyone knows 3 ounces is the limit, and Joel was within that limit, but they chose to make a fuss about it nonetheless. (And let’s not even get into the idiocy of the 3 ounce limit and the broader issue of the ratcheting up of airport security, so that once some dumb regulation is introduced, it is never removed.)

While Gail waited for Joel, she watched an older woman in a wheelchair being sent into the rapiscanner. What’s especially interesting about this is that just the day before, the ABC-affiliated TV station in Raleigh reported on a similar incident:

A 94-year-old wheelchair-bound Florida woman says a search she went through at Raleigh/Durham International Airport went too far.

Marian Peterson said it happened July 6 as she went through a TSA security checkpoint before boarding a flight home.

Peterson said she was selected for extra screening. First, security officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her stand in a full body scanner. Then, she was given a physical pat down.

“They took me to one side and they patted me down, and they made me stand for, with my arms out, for over 10 minutes,” she said. “I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to stand, I was going to fall down or something.”

We would have missed this story if Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic writer and blogger, hadn’t posted about it on Friday, more or less as Gail and Joel were at RDU. Goldberg has been one of the best commentators in recent years on airport security excess. Joel saw the story yesterday morning and thought for a moment that it was about the very woman who was rapiscanned right after him, but of course the timing was off, since the reported incident took place earlier in the month. In any case, as Goldberg noted, the story was part of “today’s news of the absurd.” And there’s no evidence that the absurdity will end.

Things didn’t get better for Gail and Joel. Once they cleared security, Gail and Joel were able to get on an earlier flight to Atlanta, but this just gave them a three-hour layover. And that layover became longer when Delta had some equipment problem that they didn’t fully explain, as a result of which they had to switch airplanes. Apparently, because the new one had a different configuration, some seat reassigning was necessary, as Gail and Joel discovered when they were stopped at the gate as they were about to board. The machine scanned their boarding passes, sent some sort of signal, and they were told to step aside. Except there was no room to step aside. With the delay in boarding, everyone had been invited to board at once and there was chaos. Gail had managed to secure seats in exit rows when she did the online check-in, but now she and Joel were re-assigned to the rear of the plane.

There’s more. But I’ll stop. They did eventually arrive in Seattle and I drove them home.

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Categories: Security, Travel
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