In Search of Consistency at the TSA Checkpoint

My unfashionable defense of the Transportation Security Administration has been, while not exactly ardent, at least steadfast and long-standing, grounded in the simple fact that passing through security at my home airport was worse before the TSA showed up.

It was impossible back then to know what the hostile minimum-wage rent-a-cops at Bradley International (sic) Airport expected passengers to do as they approached the conveyor belt. All we could be sure of is that they would shout their seemingly arbitrary commands with derision and sarcasm. I didn’t hate them, even then. Their underpaid misery seemed greater than any misery they could inflict on the traveling public in those random and brief displays of despotic authority. But I don’t miss them, either.

At least with the TSA, I know what to expect. Or at least I thought I did. Lately I’m becoming confused.

I try to stay informed about the latest edicts regarding what must stay in the bag and what must come out, and sometimes I just rely on my best deductive reasoning. (The netbook is a computer because it has a keyboard and therefore it must come out, unless it’s in a TSA-approved bag, which it isn’t. And it gets its own bin. Because 9/11. The tablet is not quite a computer, and may stay in the luggage, no matter how it is packaged.) But some other things seem to change from airport to airport and day to day.

And so these are the mysteries that now confront me, and perhaps you, too:

Is the PreCheck line exclusively for the annointed? I thought you had to pay your fee, prove your worthiness and learn the secret handshake to use PreCheck but on Monday my husband got waved over to the PreCheck line in Fort Lauderdale for no apparent reason. The guy ahead of him had also been sent over to PreCheck at the entrance to the security lines, but got bounced back from the checkpoint to the regular line despite his protestations that he’d been officially diverted. My husband braced for the same treatment but was allowed through.

This resulted in an inordinate amount of spousal attitude after I finally got through the regular line and rejoined Mr. Aren’t-I-Special. So he got to keep his shoes on, didn’t have to be irradiated and skipped having his personal parts gawked at by an unseen voyeur with government benefits. Plus he got 10 extra minutes of not standing in line. Big deal.

The question is why? I can assure you that he doesn’t look particularly trustworthy.

(A slightly related question — does the TSA really believe that we’re going to refer to PreCheck as Pre[checkmark symbol]? You can trademark what you like but you can’t make bloggers hand-code a stupid symbol every time we refer to something, which is a particularly pointless exercise when the code won’t work properly in every browser.* Prince couldn’t get away with this symbol crap and he was a lot more popular than the TSA. Maybe we could call it “the program previously known as Global Entry.” But I digress from my digression.)

Do the shoes go on the conveyor belt or in a bin? I can see reasons for either approach. Who wants dirty shoe soles in the bin where the next passenger is going to put her purse? But what if shoes go on the conveyor belt and then fall through the rollers? What if the laces jam everything up?

As near as I can tell, the latest official guidance from the TSA was in 2009 when it was decreed that shoes go on the belt. But I generally find that if I put them on the belt, the TSA agent puts them in a bin. And vice versa.

There may be no right answer but I would settle for a consistent one.

Do we have to keep the boarding pass out? If I’m still carrying the pass while approaching the conveyor belt and radiation chamber, a TSA agent shouts, “You don’t need your boarding pass.” If I put it in my bag the agent shouts, “Everyone, you must have your boarding pass in hand.” Even though it’s already been checked. Twice.

The shouting is at least generalized, and not directed at anyone in particular. I do appreciate not being yelled at specifically.

Anyway, I admit that all my questions fail to address the more fundamental and important issues of security, privacy and bureaucracy raised by the TSA and our security practices. (For that, I refer you to Politico’s recent piece Dear America, I Saw You Naked.)

I’m not trying to solve all that. I’m just trying to figure out the rules so I can follow them and get to the gate.

* Oh, all right: Pre✓ If that didn’t work in your browser, well, you see what I mean.


5 thoughts on “In Search of Consistency at the TSA Checkpoint

  1. Doug

    Pre-v/- * is quite different from Global Entry though not unrelated. Global Entry saves me hours of wait time every time I come into the country (often) though there are ever-more people able to use it and last week at Dulles about half the machines were down. Pre-v/- which gets you OUT sooner, not in, and is something I get automatically from being Global Entry and probably also from being a very Freq Flyer. Of course, this last time in the Pre- line the guy in front of me insisted on taking everything off and out of his bags as if he had no idea what he was supposed to do or couldn’t read the signs.

    And, no, I don’t mind giving up all the info to get these. I worked for the US Govt in the Middle East for many years so there is little they don’t know about me already. And, besides, just to fly at all they need your name and the NSA can tell them everything else, so agreeing to give it up is nothing more. D

    *sort of pre-check for all browsers.

  2. Dave Phelps

    I’ve always (which is approximately maybe a hundred times, give or take a dozen or so…) put my shoes in a bin and have NEVER been told to put them on the belt.

    1. Jeanne Leblanc Post author

      I think maybe just once or twice I was instructed to put them onto the belt but I’ve also seen the TSA agents take them out and put them on the belt. Though perhaps not lately. Could also be that BDL is different from normal airports.

    2. Leonard Kiker

      Global Entry is supposed to work at precheck, but don’t try it in MSP. The barbarian guarding
      the gate there sarcastically sent me to the regular check-in recently.


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