Monday, August 17, 2009

In line at O'Hare

The "L" gates are the last outpost at O'Hare. You'll find no glass archway, no flags of the nations flying at "L". "L" is where they stuff a menagerie of assorted airlines in a dark concourse with low ceilings.

And I found myself waiting in the security line at the far end of Terminal 3, gateway to the "L" concourse.

The screening line is equipped with two x-ray lines and one walk-through magnetometer...and a long line of passengers.

A heavy-set woman in a white uniform shirt limped up and down the line shouting that they were trying to find more staff but that we were the real problem.

She said that any electronic item larger than a cd player needed to be put in a separate tub. Because we weren't doing that, more bags had to be pulled for manual inspection and screening.

With TSA, it's always our fault.

And, they shouted to us to put our shoes right on the belt, not a tub...and make sure they are placed on the belt with the soles down...and nothing inside the shoes (like coins or watches).

So, I get up there and put my liquids and gels in a grey tub with my jacket.

And I got pulled aside because of my little ziplock with shampoo and 1/4th of a tube of toothpaste.

The x-ray tech flagged it and handed it to a younger woman who looked at it, shrugged, and handed it to another TSA worker.

This fellow was intense. He studied the bottom of my shampoo bottle, ostensibly looking for something that said 3.5 ozs so he could bust me for having more than 3 ounces. But it wasn't there.

Gratefully, it was a recyclable bottle or they would have called in the EPA and I would have missed my flight.

As for the 2 ounces of toothpaste remaining in the tube, he was obviously displeased that I hadn't purchased a travel size tube.

I sort of glared at him and he said, "What!" I replied, "Nothing", knowing that he had the authority to strip search me or otherwise make my life miserable for a couple of hours.

Once again, TSA comes through with a bad travel experience for me. The blue cub scout shirts did nothing to make them more traveler-friendly. I don't feel more secure because they are there.

History shows that Europe has exposed the threats. It was two flight attendants, a doctor, and passengers on a flight from Paris that detected and restrained Richard Reid and his shoe bomb plot, leading to the removal and x-ray of all shoes.

The 3-1-1 liquids and gels restriction came about in 2006 when police in the UK arrested 24 suspects who were planning to blow up airplanes by carrying various chemicals on board and mixing them, then using a spark from a battery to detonate the bombs.

Or so it seems. At the end of the day, only three of the 24 were convicted, and they were not convicted of an attempt to blow up an aircraft. Sadly our Homeland Security was nowhere to be found when it came to uncovering these plots. But to avoid embarrassment, they made knee-jerk reactions we are still living with.

But pilots see it as worse than nonsense, making air travel harder and less enjoyable.

"The sheep are buying it, " writes one American pilot on a website used by air crew. "We've already seen Angie Airhead, the 6pm news reporter, on the scene at the airport interviewing passengers stuck in hour-long screening lines. Angie: 'How do you feel about these new security measures?' Traveller: 'If it promotes the war on terror, I'll gladly give up my tube of Pepsodent.' The only thing it promotes, moron, is tooth decay."

So, maybe TSA needs a new name?
Totally Senseless Arrogance?
Travel Suppression Agency
Traveler Swearword Aggravator

In any case, their measures are intended to give the illusion of control while it seems obvious that well-funded terrorists will find a way around these silly rules.
Oh, and on my return flight that same bag of liquids and gels didn't even create a second glance from TSA.

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