I just returned from a trip and had some more unpleasant experiences with TSA.
PART I: Checking Baggage
The people I were visiting had a few rounds of ammunition that they never planned on using. I figured I'd bring it back with me and it would get used. The last time I flew with ammo was awhile ago, but they had no problem with it being packed in plastic bags. So, this time, I tossed it in a ziplock and packed it securely in the bag. I declared it to the airline agent at the ticket counter as well as to the TSA person who was running the baggage screening line.
Well, this was apparently a big deal. The TSA person immediately sequestered the bag and began searching it. I told her the location of the ammo -- she didn't bother asking, of course -- to facilitate the search and she just gave me a dirty look. After finding the ammo, she set it aside, said, "You can't fly with this!" and continued to toss my luggage.
Careful to stay behind the line that demarcates the TSA-only area of the search zone, I volunteered to either pack the ammo in a cardboard box I had inside my luggage (their website says such boxes are fine), or just leave it behind. It was only a dozen rounds of pistol ammo or so, so I didn't really care too much about bringing it with me. She gave me a dirty look and told me to stand back (even though I was 20 feet away at this point). Of course, this now requires her to call her supervisor.
The supervisor comes and demands my boarding pass and ID. I provide both. He then asks for a second form of ID that has my physical residential address on it, like a driver's license. Given that my first form of ID was a government-issued photo ID, I didn't see the purpose for the second and I inquired why he needed another. He curtly replied, "This is our procedure; I need it to write the report on this incident." I considered making a bigger issue of it and declining to hand over more ID (I mean -- who says you need a driver's license to fly, right?) but decided that I wanted to get home so I give them my driver's license too. I again volunteer to simply not fly with the ammo and to remove it from the baggage; the TSA guys get alarmed at this idea and accuse me of trying to circumvent procedure.
Next, the TSA folks get a local police officer who is patrolling the airport involved. He comes in and takes all the ID and calls me in, I assume checking for warrants and such. Then, they all talk in hushed tones for a few minutes and keep me tapping my feet. Luckily I wasn't in a hurry. After a few minutes, the police officer ambles over with my IDs and the ammo and tells me that the TSA folks say that I can't fly with the ammo, and that they have decided not to take "further action" at this time. I decide to avoid a scene and just hand the ammo off to my relatives who had dropped me off at the airport.
PART II: The Checkpoint
Of course, I know I'm going to get selected for "random screening." My relatives were skeptical, but come on, the random screening isn't random. Of course, about 6.9 seconds after I go through the metal detector with no alarm, a beep triggers and the attendant tells me curtly that I'm a "RANDOM! Got a random here!" I get herded into a small glass enclosure, with the supervisor who dealt with me at the baggage check smirking a bit.
I keep it cool, still having plenty of time. There are no male screeners working right now other than the supervisor so it may be a few minutes. Meanwhile, a family -- mom, kid, dad -- are going through security. The kid is kind of freaked out and is grudgingly pried away from mom. Dad goes through the scanner, mom sends kid to dad, then mom goes through; kid, sniffling a bit, jumps into her arms. Mom also get selected for random screening. She walks into a second enclosure, kid in arms.
"Ma'am, your child will have to wait outside." Mom hands kid to dad, and kid starts SCREAMING. Then, dad and bawling kid watch while a screener does an "enhanced patdown" of mom: the full monte, touching the breasts, feeling inside the waistband, touching the groin. Dad averts his eyes and looks a bit shamed. Kid is really upset. I felt bad for them.
Once mom's screening is over, there is a bit of a lull. Given that I've been hanging out separated for a few minutes from my stuff including my wallet, I ask one of the screeners: "Excuse me, do you mind putting my wallet into the enclosure here? I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle." She looks at me like I'm an alien. I continue, "Well, if you'd prefer, I can just go grab it." This of course is a no-no: I can't leave my plexiglass prison, apparently. This screener -- who is doing nothing, as the line is now zero people -- can't reach three feet away. She calls over to the belt operator and tries to explain the request.
The belt operator picks up my wallet, opens it (for no apparent reason!!!), closes it, and puts it in a second little bin before placing it back on the belt. She then lectures me about how it is my responsibility to maintain positive control over my items at all times, even though I haven't said another word at this point. She is clearly irritated at having had to get off her little stool behind the computer monitor. After she tells me to take positive control over my items, I then take a step to leave and go get my wallet but then I get told to stand still by the first person who is still doing nothing. I shrug and just say, "Do you mind please placing the wallet into the enclosure with me then?" This triggers another lecture about how it is solely my responsibility to maintain control over my stuff, and then belt operator goes back to my stool. My wallet is still sitting on the belt.
I decide not to press things, and there is still no traffic anyways, so I'm not urgently concerned about my valuables walking off. After another few minutes of the three of us sitting there a bit awkwardly, the far side of my plexiglass prison is opened by the bomb-sniffing-machine operator. She tells me to stand on the mat where the mom was recently searched.
Interestingly, these mats have little footprints showing where your feet are. They seem to be a bit awkwardly placed. It really is a clever posture: put people in their stocking feet, in a stance that is a bit too wide, with feet that are side by side so they are a bit off balance. Nice way to make it clear who is dominant, I guess. I assumed a bladed stance, ignoring the little white outlines, and waited for more directions.
Apparently I was not getting the full monte today as there are still no male screeners to touch my genitals, except for the supervisor who is alternating between smirking and messing with his cellphone. I get asked to select one of my bags for extra screening. I demur and see which one she picks (the smaller laptop case), which then gets swabbed for explosives. I then get sent on my way.
As I walk by the supervisor, he asks me another question or two about the ammunition. I politely but curtly reply. The interrogation appears like it is going to go on for awhile, so I ask, "Excuse me, am I being detained and am I required to stay here?" The supervisor replies that I can leave if I like but it will go into "the report." I shrug and go get a beer at the airport bar near my gate. They can put that into the report.
I'm really sick and tired of TSA. Technically, I was in the wrong; the ammo should have been packed in a box. However, they've let me fly with ammo in plastic bags before and didn't bat an eye. When I offered to fix the situation on the spot by removing it or packing it in a proper box, they refused and proceeded to treat me like a perp. Heck, I don't even know why a LEO got involved. I don't have a problem with screening people non-randomly at the checkpoint (that's actually smart), but there is no need to be vindictive, smirk, or be unprofessional. I see the relationship with TSA as very adversarial: I am not inclined to cooperate with them nor do I trust them enough to report suspicious activity. If I saw something suspicious at the airport I'd be afraid of being hassled by them when I reported it, frankly. Of course, now I'm entered into a master TSA database (name, address, etc). Putting on my conspiracy theory hat, who knows if TSA is building a list of personal information on everyone that flies with a firearm or ammunition; it wouldn't surprise me, and it'd be trivial for them to do.
While I didn't get one, this is the third time I've seen the full body patdowns up close and personal. They are totally inappropriate. We are raising a generation that thinks it is ok for a government agent to touch mothers in front of their children and vice versa without even reasonable suspicion. We have an agency which systematically targets disabled people (try flying with a wheelchair, prosthetic, or medical device) for extremely invasive and uncomfortable searches.
Unfortunately, TSA is with us to stay. No politician wants to get rid of them and be "soft on terror." And most travelers are apparently ok with having their children molested in front of them, which says a lot about Americans these days I guess.
1 hour ago