Airport security reaches new levels of absurdity

Here's what happens when you refuse to comply with TSA's "new rule." Blue-glove groping, anyone?

Topics: Air Travel, Ask the Pilot, Business,

Airport security reaches new levels of absurdityA security official demonstrates a full body scanner during a photocall at Departure Gate 2 at Hamburg Airport September 27, 2010. Germany started on Monday the voluntary use of two 'L-3 Provision ATD' body scanners for a test period over the next six months at the airport. REUTERS/Christian Charisius (GERMANY - Tags: TRANSPORT SCI TECH) (Credit: © Christian Charisius / Reuters)

Wait, wait, stop the presses. It gets worse.

Airport security, I mean.

Truly I had no intention of devoting yet another post to the sad, silly foibles of the Transportation Security Administration, but I’m risking heart attack or a nervous breakdown if I don’t get this latest one out of my system.

I was at the airport yesterday, on duty, headed through a TSA checkpoint in my full uniform and with all of my applicable credentials. I hoisted my bags onto the belt, deposited my MacBook in a plastic tray, and approached the metal detector.

“Sir,” said a guard.

And I knew. I just knew this was going to be something stupid.

“I need you to remove your belt.”

“Huh? My belt? Why?”

“All passengers need to remove their belts.”

“I’m not a passenger.”

“All pilots have to remove their belts.”

“We do? Why?”

“Sir, remove your belt.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s the rule.”

“What rule? I never have to remove my belt. The buckle is nonmetallic.”

“It’s the new rule. All belts have to come off.”

“What new rule? I don’t understand.”

“Sir, you need to take it off.”

“But … What if I don’t?”

“Then you’ll have to go through secondary screening and a full pat-down.”

And so I opted for the secondary screening. Not that a pat-down is reasonable, either, but I did not want to submit to something that I felt was excessive and ridiculous without a reason or explanation.

I was asked to stand in a cordoned-off area, where I waited for several minutes as guards stood around looking at me. Finally a supervisor came over, wearing disposable blue gloves, to administer my secondary screening.

You Might Also Like

“Sir,” he said, “um, you still need to remove your belt.”

“What do you mean? I chose this so I could leave the belt on.”

“No, either way the belt has to come off.”

“What? And if it doesn’t come off?”

“Then I cannot let you through.”

So, it would seem, secondary screening isn’t really “secondary” at all. Instead of simply taking off my belt, I get a full, blue-glove groping and I have to take off my belt. Either that or I’m not allowed to fly the plane.

“Really?” I asked.

“Really.”

And with that I started laughing.

Much to his credit, the supervisor also laughed. He smiled, nodded and proceeded to explain this “new rule.”

Before getting to that explanation, I will note, for what it’s worth, that this particular supervisor, who asked that I not reveal his name or location, was perhaps the most decent and reasonable TSA employee I’ve ever interacted with. He was courteous and professional, not to mention sympathetic. He acknowledged that much of what flight crews are forced to endure does not make sense from a security standpoint. He does not enact policy; he enforces it. Further, he seemed fully aware of the ridiculousness of the new belts procedure.

Belts, it has been determined, can interfere with the images procured by the new full-body scanners being deployed at checkpoints around the country. And so, from now on, passengers need to remove them.

Now, although we can debate the body scanners from an effectiveness point of view, or from a privacy-rights point of view, separately, this at least makes sense.

Fair enough, except for one thing. As I looked around me, I noticed that there weren’t any body scanners anywhere at the checkpoint.

“But sir,” I said, motioning to the left and right, “there are no scanners here.”

“I know,” he replied. “I know. But to keep things consistent, across the board, everybody has to do it.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

He looked at me. He shrugged and sighed.

It’s not his fault, I know.

I took off my belt.

Somebody, somewhere, needs to shake us from this stupor of blind policy and blind obedience. I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t some test — a test of just how stupid Americans are. If TSA said that from now on we had to hop on one foot while humming “God Bless America,” would we do that too?

That’d be ludicrous, certainly, but how much more ludicrous is it, really, than asking people to remove their belts for purposes of walking through a nonexistent body scanner?

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Do you have questions for Salon’s aviation expert? Contact Patrick Smith through his website and look for answers in a future column.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>