Body scanners? Pat-downs? Sooo last week

Now that "opt-out day" has fizzled, is that the end of the story? Plus: Got a question about TSA protocols?

Topics: Transportation Security Administration, Air Travel, Ask the Pilot, Business,

Body scanners? Pat-downs? Sooo last weekA TSA official holds a bag of liquids and gels at Washington's Reagan National Airport.

So, national “opt-out day” came and went, having caused hardly a ripple. No surprise, really. And just like that, one of the year’s biggest and most important stories has suddenly vanished from the airwaves. Body scanners? Pat-downs? That is, like, so last week. TSA (and the terrorists) wins.

Really, I swear, we are almost done talking about airport security. (This column needs a laugh track at times.) Just hang with me and help me get through these few loose ends.

Having spent the past two weeks hashing out the more serious stuff, here are some random musings on TSA madness, just off the top of my head:

Please explain the logic of why passengers cannot carry a 10-ounce bottle of liquid through the checkpoint, yet five or more 3-ounce containers is no problem. Contact lens solution, any size, that’s OK too. And baby formula, no restrictions.

I never realized terrorists were that stupid. It’s funny, but not really, how on one hand we give our enemies all the credit in the world. The invasive patting down of the elderly and infirm, for example. Yet we hardly hesitate in offering up the most obvious loopholes imaginable.

Just to reiterate from last time: An airline pilot who once flew bombers armed with nuclear weapons is not to be trusted, and is marched through the metal detectors before every flight, just like passengers. But those workers who cater the galleys, sling the suitcases and sweep out the aisles can amble through a turnstile unmolested?

You Might Also Like

That’s not to imply that caterers, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and the rest of the exempted ground workers are dangerous. Nevertheless, this is a double standard so staggeringly audacious that it can hardly be believed. TSA actually looks us in the eye and tells us that pilots “need” to be screened — as it waives regular screening for tarmac workers. How can anybody take this agency seriously? And why has the media consistently ignored this made-to-order scandal?

True story: I’m traveling off-duty one day. I’ve got a 4-ounce tube of toothpaste in my bag that is obviously less than half-full. Take a guess where the tube ends up.

A few weeks later the same thing happens, this time with a tube that is almost completely empty. There is something hopelessly wrong with a system that preoccupies itself with minutiae at the complete expense of reason. I am fairly sure that it’s something less than a security risk to allow TSA screeners to make the occasional judgment call and perform simple arithmetic.

A month ago I was going through security at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. They took a miniature pair of round-tipped scissors from my toiletries bag and wouldn’t give it back. Americans, maybe, aren’t the only ones out of their minds.

Still, we take first prize. If ever I’m unsure, I need only to have another look at this photo.  This one little picture, through such neat and hilarious economy, wonderfully encapsulates the dementia of our current security culture. Some day in the future, Americans will be looking back at such artifacts. What will they think? If this country has any future, they’ll be judging us harshly.

So it appears that many TSA rules are contradictory, even incoherent. Are they? Is there something we don’t know? I would love to sit down with TSA chief John Pistole and try to find out. But since Mr. Pistole’s office will not respond to my inquiries, how about the next best thing — maybe, even, the more useful thing: Let’s talk to a TSA screener. Said screener, whom we’ll call “Marty,” works at a busy international airport and has agreed to an interview.

Better still, let’s open up the floor. If you’ve got a nagging question about TSA protocols, send it my way. I’ll pick the most cogent and thoughtful questions and add them to the pile. (Twenty words or fewer, please, and the deadline is Friday, Dec. 3.) Marty’s responses will be published in this space next week.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

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>