Thanks to Zero Tolerance, You are Not Safe

The silly concept of “Zero Tolerance” may have started in American schools, but it certainly did not end there. It not only has spread to schools in other countries, what’s the expected result when all those schoolchildren get out of school, and into the Real World?

They practice what they learned, of course! The story, from the 10 October 2004 issue:

ZT in Real Life, Airport Division

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration says it probably won’t prosecute school teacher Kathryn Harrington, 52, of Laurel, Md. She was passing through security at Tampa (Fla.) International Airport when agents pulled her aside for carrying a weapon: a leather strap with tiny weights in each end. “It was a bookmark,” Harrington says. “It’s not a weapon. I could not understand why I was being handcuffed and put into a police car.” She notes she has carried the bookmark through airport security several times without incident, but won’t again. (St. Petersburg Times) …Of course screeners couldn’t recognize it as a bookmark: few of them have ever read a book.

The bookmark, which was seized by police.
The leather bookmark, showing Harrington’s initials. (Police evidence photo.)

Reader Reaction

I’ve had quite a bit of email reaction to the story. Some have told me the tagline was “mean,” but far more have written of their utter frustration with jumping through hoops for officious morons. (I’ve indeed seen conscientious, intelligent, and personable screeners. Sadly, who can argue that the few I’ve seen are the norm, rather than the exception?)

Bob in Washington: “On a recent trip I was told I almost set off the metal detector. The only metal I had on at the time was my wedding ring. Isn’t it truly sad that we must remove our shoes and almost everything else just to get on an airplane? Israel has a much larger terrorist problem than we do, and you don’t run into that kind of thing there. The difference: They look for terrorists, rather than weapons.”

Since the last issue I have flown out of London. I didn’t have to take my computer out of my briefcase. They were shocked to hear that we have to remove our shoes in the U.S. I didn’t even have to take the fist-full of coins out of my pocket. And we glided through security with ease.

None of this “almost beeped” stuff that you experienced, as did I on my way out of the U.S. And the U.K. also has been dealing with terrorism for many, many years.

So I agree: the TSA does seem to be concerned with rules when they should be concerned with the security of the airplane; they’ve lost sight of the forest by intensely concentrating on the needles on the trees. I’ve run several articles in True since 9/11 with examples; some of the most insane are here.

I could publish lots of reader horror stories too, but I think the pro-TSA responses are more illustrative. For instance, Gary in Florida, who didn’t like the tagline on the story:

“As a TSA screener who holds a B.A. degree and is retired from the Navy after 20 years as an officer, let me say sir that you are a moron. The corps of TSA screeners is overall highly intelligent (there are exceptions of course) and dedicated to make flying as safe as possible for the public. A large number of screeners have attended college and many hold degrees. Personally I have an extensive library consisting of hundreds of fiction and non-fiction books. So kindly keep your uncalled for, inaccurate and insulting comments to yourself. If we are going to make mistakes I, for one, want to make it on the side of caution.”

Exceptions indeed. One hopes Gary occasionally reads some of those books. When I make a joke about how much cops love donuts, I don’t get cops whining to me about the stereotype. What I have seen over the years is cops working to show that the stereotype is not really true (or, as the case might be, isn’t true anymore).

I didn’t destroy TSA’s reputation: the screeners and their management did. I hope calling me a moron made Gary feel better, but all he did was help prove the point. If only attending college for a bit (or even graduating) proved intelligence or indicated common sense!

And as far as erring on the side of caution, a government agent trampling on our civil rights is a grievous error indeed, and I don’t see them working to avoid that. You can’t protect our “homeland security” by destroying what the country is based on, and to insist it’s possible is folly.

Bruce in New York did a much better job of defending the TSA:

“I love your newsletter, but I have some objections to the continuing TSA bashing. My wife is a TSA screener, and they don’t have any discrimination with the items that are prohibited or not. The St. Petersburg Times got a lot wrong in their story. [The bookmark/book weight] not only resembles a ‘sap’, it could indeed be used as one. You can’t bring large heavy candlesticks, souvenir mini baseball bats, or a nightstick in the cabin, so why should you be able to bring an 8×2 inch piece of leather with lead weights sewn in? I have a knife in my pocket almost every day. It’s possible I might forget that if I traveled by air more. Should it be taken away, and not reported as a possible weapon to the airport police? I think the lesson to be learned has nothing to do with ZT, it has to do with the public’s awareness of what has to transpire to keep our flights and passengers safer.”

I absolutely agree that passengers need to pay more attention, if only evidenced by the number of loaded guns that TSA detects. (Even if they are carrying it legally, they should not only know that they can’t carry it past screening; it’s hard to believe they forgot they’re carrying it at all, which says something about their general level of responsibility. So yes indeed: a great many passengers are also stupid.)

But more to your points: yes, the bookmark could be actually used as a sap. And…? I got plenty of notes from martial arts experts who pointed out that a great number of everyday items — including those not prohibited by TSA — can be used as lethal weapons, such as pens.

You note candlesticks don’t pass; I can fashion a weapon out of the parts of my briefcase that would make much more effective weapons; thanks to the strap, they’d have better range, too. Exactly how many terrorists have succeeded in taking over an airliner with a candlestick, anyway? Or, for that matter, a briefcase?

And yes, I normally carry a pocketknife too, and I remembered to leave it at home. As far as I can tell, you’re suggesting that the police should have been called to arrest me had I forgotten it, and you say the case I reported is not a good example of zero tolerance permeating into the real world? I think you’ve lost your perspective — just as TSA clearly has.

Sadly, TSA does perform a necessary function. It’s because that’s true that they need to do a lot of work to regain the public’s trust and respect. Screeching “you’re a moron!” and running home to momma with tears streaming down their cheeks isn’t the way to do that.

As Bob so eloquently noted, the problem is not weapons; it’s terrorists. TSA as an agency is focusing on the wrong thing! Until they acknowledge that, fix it, and then act like professionals who remember with every single passenger exactly who they are serving (the passengers, if that’s not obvious!), they will continue to be the butt of jokes and snide remarks — and rightly so. They have a lot of work to do to fix their image, and it’s time they got started.

Related Pages

After reading these pages, ask yourself this question: based on these real-life overreactions, are you sure you’ll never do anything that could be misinterpreted and might land you in jail? Hint: don’t be so sure the answer is yes!

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43 thoughts on “Thanks to Zero Tolerance, You are Not Safe

  1. Thank you so much for this! I’m SO tired of airport ZT (school ZT disgusts and worries me more, but since I’ve been out of school for awhile, airport ZT is more a part of my life). I no longer fly much, but until recently I had a job that involved a decent amount of traveling; I got so annoyed with the constant stream of new rules being put into place. The one that really got me was the whole banning of liquids on-board (I know they’ve relaxed this one now, but I flew once while they were still very uptight about it and wouldn’t let you take ANY liquids on-board). The thing that got to me was that the person trying to use the liquid terrorist materials (forgive me my impreciseness; it’s been awhile and I don’t remember all the details) was CAUGHT using the procedures they ALREADY HAD IN PLACE. Yet because of that one person, the entire rest of the world was subjected to draconian new rules. It seems to me that this means that person WON. Sure, maybe they didn’t manage to kill anyone, but they still managed to singlehandedly (or with just a few people; I no longer remember how many people were involved) control the flights of everyone else around the world (or close enough; I’m sure some airports don’t follow the new rules). Not only that, but now the security workers have to waste their time confiscating deodorant and lotion, thus taking more of their time away from looking for REAL weapons. At least they’ve relaxed these rules a bit, but it’s still a pain.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t make us any safer. Besides my point about how it takes up time and energy so that those who are trying to keep us safe are more thinly spread, there’s also the fact that (as you pointed out here, Randy), there are plenty of other ways to get around the rules. The easiest has always seemed to me to be taking martial arts so that you yourself are a weapon. If you’ve studied some of those enough then you don’t NEED nail clippers and bookmarks to overcome those around you; you can do it anyway. Now, I know that most people wouldn’t want to put the time into learning a martial art just to hijack a plane. I also know that most martial arts schools (at least the good ones) put a lot of focus on discipline and good ethics, reminding you that using your skills for anything other than self-defense is NOT okay (and will probably get you kicked out of the school).

    But still. Can we use some common sense here? I wish people would think about this, instead of getting scared and jumping on the bandwagon of, “We need more RULES, so it won’t happen again!” No, we DON’T need more rules. We need to watch people carefully when they go through security, we need to pay good attention, but adding lots of rules won’t help with that.

  2. The terrorists have WON!

    The US traveling public is now under the thumb of a tinhorn gestapo that mindlessly makes travel a royal pain in the posterior!

    And we, the taxpayers, get to pay for the largest bureaucracy ever conceived.

    Boy oh boy, have the taliban scum ever won a great victory over us! They have us doing it to ourselves!!!!

  3. My small son and I were traveling home to California from my parents’ in Detroit, where my folks had given my son a squirter shaped like a giant snake. The water squirted out from the mouth. There was no problem with carrying it on in Detroit, but when we needed to go through security between terminals to get on our connecting flight home, they said it was “in the form of a gun” and wouldn’t let my son carry it with us. First, I had brought it to the airport by air from another airport, and second, it was in no way “in the form of a gun,” as it was clearly a giant, bright green, plastic water-squirting snake, but they insisted on checking it, to the very obvious distress of the small boy to whom it clearly belonged.

    What hazard could this toy possibly have presented to the safe operation of a flight?

    It is disgusting what the screeners put us through in the name of security.

    Another incident: I took a friend to the tiny airport in Monterey, CA once. She was 67 or 68 at the time, using a support cane painted in the traditional blind cane pattern of white with a red tip. She had two total knee replacements, used two hearing aids, with which she still had very poor hearing, and was (duh!) pretty obviously blind. When we got to the gate, which had a plexiglass security enclosure around the metal detector and security screeners, we were told that not one of the people on duty there would give her an arm to hold to walk through the metal detector or to hold onto while they wanded her.

    I am a quilter, so I had a pair of scissors in my purse. They tried to tell me that the elderly blind lady who needed a support cane to prevent her from falling would have to stand alone, without her cane, to be wanded. I stepped up and gave her my arm anyway. They told me I couldn’t walk her the 8 or 9 steps (literally) to the ticket agent at the door (because I had scissors in my purse, and was not a ticketed passenger), that I couldn’t leave the purse on the desk for the 8 or 9 steps to the door (while I was in full sight of the three security people and one ticket agent), and that none of them would give an arm to my blind friend. Was I supposed to give her directions? “A little more to the left–no go right, now straight.”

    I told them they could take the purse out and dispose of it, but I was walking her to the door. Of course, as soon as she walked out the door, someone was there to walk her across the tarmac to the steps and help her up the steps to the plane.

    They did not decide to arrest me, but I was pretty steamed at the obvious stupidity.

  4. Just last week I was pointed to a website (don’t remember the URL) which documented the petty thievery that has gone on since TSA got into the business of inspecting bags. TSA blames the airlines, airlines blame the TSA, and passengers are left without recourse. It’s not just jewelry and electronics, either: shoes, fancy underwear, anything the thief decides is of value.

    “Correlation does not imply causality,” and so it may be that TSA personnel are not the thieves, but if their insertion into the flow of baggage correlates with the increase in thievery, then something is definitely wrong with the way this country has implemented its security policies.

    The same website provided eyewitness accounts of the pilfering that happens at the security checkpoints (“we’ll need to run your bag through again”), and offers pointers on how to avoid being a victim of the pilfering — but again, nobody in the TSA has ever been held accountable for the pilfering.

    I suggest that the probability of falling victim to either of these forms of theft is several orders of magnitude higher than the probability of falling victim to an airborne terrorist ever was.

    And I find it interesting that through the TSA, we are no longer victims of terrorists, but of petty thieves instead.

  5. The letter from Gary in Florida reminds me of the college educated and degreed TSA screener a friend encountered at JFK in NY last year. We were heading to the Caribbean to go sailing. The id screener was checking documents.

    My friend’s ticket had his first name as ‘Bob’. His passport listed him as ‘Robert’. I could not believe the following conversation.

    Screener ‘Who is Bob?’

    My friend ‘I am.’

    Screener ‘Than who is Robert?’

    My friend ‘It’s me.’

    Screener ‘It can’t be. You can not be both Bob and Robert.’

    This went on for a couple of minutes. I and other passengers were snickering, trying not to laugh out loud.

    Finally, a supervisor can over to see what was holding up the line.

    She allowed Bob/Robert to pass.

    That day we all felt safer knowing that all the Bill/Williams and Jack/Johns had to get supervisor approval to fly.

  6. Wait a second… isn’t making new rules based on terrorist’s actions uhhh… giving in to the terrorists?

    No, it’s adapting intelligently to conditions, which have been changing since the start of air travel. -rc

  7. I agree with this one hundred percent. A few years ago, I flew out to Texas with my family to visit my grandparents. Upon leaving the Austin airport, I had a “dangerous weapon” confiscated from my luggage and taken to be destroyed. The weapon was a small pair of sewing scissors that had fold-down handles. What REALLY upset me was that they confiscated my scissors while I was still on the other side of the metal detector, struggling out of my belt and combat boots so they didn’t set off the alarm.

    Two years ago, I flew to France on a school trip. On the way back, when I flew through Chicago-O’Hare, they confiscated parts of my sewing kit again. I think this time it was the needles. It should be noted that in the Norfolk airport–near one of the busiest naval bases in the US–I got BOTH of these things out of the airport without triggering an alarm. However, officials did get incredibly concerned over a long, straight, metal thing in my purse on top of my sewing kit. This long, straight, metal thing turned out to be a six-inch comb with plastic teeth.

    Another friend of mine once shared a story of flying out somewhere with her family, two years after 9/11. Her father, an avid fisherman and a dentist, flew out a few days ahead because my friend and her sisters were still in school. His fishing tackle was in his carry-on luggage, including a knife and several hooks. He was practically arrested. When my friend and her family flew out to join him (once he was released), she had brought her homework with her to do on the plane. An official pulled her compass out of her binder, snapped the point off, and returned it to her. Uh…what was she supposed to DO with it? Half the point was the point.

    Zero tolerance should not equal zero sense, but alas, this is the sad state of the US today.

  8. There’s a simple reason the TSA looks for weapons rather than terrorists. They’re required to by bureaucrats who are afraid to offend people, and who as a result, in effect, direct their regulations toward inanimate objects instead. It is politically incorrect to look for terrorists (profiling), and political correctness is way more important to these people than keeping a plane from being blown up or hijacked. (The same attitude permeates our border security, as well. That’s why they keep streaming in to the US, unabated.)

    My last flight, out of the Nashville, TN airport in April, is instructive. I was carrying a few essential toiletries, because I distrust the airlines getting my checked baggage to me on time at the destination (I’ve been a victim before), and they confiscated a bottle of hydrogen peroxide I used for a mouth rinse. Don’t know how I could take over or blow up a plane with hydrogen peroxide, but there you are. Like you said, losing the forest for the trees.

    In the same run through security, they examined a sleep machine I carry with me (this due to the fact that the airline I was using, US Airways, now charges extra for all checked bags over one). After they did their test, instead of packing the machine back the way they found it, they left it for me to repack myself. So, there I was, half dressed, trying to put my belt and shoes back on as usual, and had to repack as well. This is just an example of the humiliation they are only too eager to put innocent flyers through, in order to avoid offending the guilty or potentially guilty. As a result, I have lost all respect for my government’s efforts, such as they are, to keep me safe in the air.

    The only way this changes is if everyone — congresspeople, CEOs, EVERYONE — is made to go through the same thing we common people are at airport security. I bet there would then be some changes in the system. Of course, these privileged few have their own lines and special treatments, so how would they have any idea of what goes on? To them, we undoubtedly sound like a bunch of whiners. So be it. To me, the current situation reflects negatively upon THEM just as much as it does TSA or the career bureaucrats pulling the strings on these PC policies and procedures.

  9. “…I hope calling me a moron made Gary feel better, but all he did was help prove the point. If only attending college for a bit (or even graduating) proved intelligence or indicated common sense!

    “Sadly, TSA does perform a necessary function. It’s because that’s true that they need to do a lot of work to regain the public’s trust and respect. Screeching ‘you’re a moron!’ and running home to momma with tears streaming down their cheeks isn’t the way to do that.”

    Now really, Randy. Even you have to admit that that isn’t a fair way of characterizing what Gary did. Don’t you think that kind of hyperbole is a bit much? (When can we look forward to you calling someone a “girly-man”?)

    Gary did not claim that going to college “proved” that you were intelligent (although he did imply that there was a relationship between going to college and being intelligent) or that intelligent people always had common sense–but I think that it would be pretty difficult to get through college without having read a single book.

    For that matter, it would be difficult to get through middle school without having read a single book. Usually, digs in the style of your tagline are more funny if they’re not too big an exaggeration.

    I don’t think Gary “proved your point”. The fact that someone disagrees with you or objects to one of your insult-jokes doesn’t prove that they’re less intelligent than you. But he was wrong to call you a moron. Often annoyingly smug, yes; a moron, no.

    I stand by my characterization of Gary’s comments. -rc

  10. We need to distinguish between the scanners and the rules that they enforce. The latter are often plain stupid. But the former need not be.

    I used to travel frequently to the US for business. It was astounding that every leg of every trip I was “randomly selected by the computer” for special searches. The searchers were typically cold and humorless.

    I suspect that they behaved that way because they were ashamed to enforce to the letter some of the stupid rules.

    I’m tempted to buy over-sized trousers the next time I have to fly to the US. See if they charge me for flashing when my trousers drop after having to take off my belt. 😉

  11. I just can’t understand why in the world they arrested her. Across the country, surely TSA has to deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people every day who forget about something they have — a pocketknife, a pair of scissors, whatever — that falls under the “could be a weapon” rules. And in my experience (I’ve done both “whoops, that sure is my pocketknife” and “oh hey, I thought I’d taken those scissors out of my backpack”), they look sternly at you, take it away, re-scan you to make sure that was what set off the alarm, and send you on your way. I can understand in this case being a little more alarmed, as the bookmark isn’t really an instantly recognizable object, but surely they could still deal with it by, you know, asking questions.

    In a sane, common-sensical world, sure. And that’s exactly the problem. -rc

  12. Emile, I would like top point out that if you just start looking for terrorists (by which I am sure you mean Arabs) then you run the risk of letting anyone through who isn’t of the “terrorist” group. Not only are not all potential moslem extremists Arabs, but there was a time when we were worried about non-Arabs bringing weapons on the plane. Further more, the only difference between that and the situation as is is that you would not be affected because you are clearly not of a targeted race.

    On another note, a few years ago a French friend coming to Canada was stopped twice before and after the screening by customs officials trying to take away the Toblerone he had bought in the duty free shop by claiming that the sharp edges could be used as weapons. In this case he just looked them in the eyes and said, “You just want my chocolate” and they let him go. I can’t remember if these were American or European screeners, but the point still stands. People can be corrupt and stupid. If they happen to become security officials, they have a lot of power not tempered by brains or morals.

  13. In January 2004 I was flying back from Maui. I got my electronic ticket at the airport there and went through security to my gate. As we were boarding the plane, the attendant looked at my ticket and said I had to stand to the side and wait for TSA to come. I had the SSSS on my ticket and it had not been marked to show I had been searched at security. Because I hadn’t. They just looked at my ticket, scanned my stuff in the machine, and passed me on.

    A TSA officer showed up and explained that I was supposed to have been pulled to the side and searched, and he then proceeded to do so. He pulled everything out of my backpack and used a wand on me. And he seemed very upset that the security checkpoint had not done the search the way they were supposed to.

    A couple of days after I got home, I emptied out my backpack and found in the bottom of one of the pockets my Leatherman tool. With 4 knife blades. It went through the X-ray machine at Ft. Wayne International, LAX (I had to change airlines so had to go through security there on my way to Maui.), and Maui, plus a special screening by hand in Maui.

    This level of competence is certainly not worth the hassle and trouble they put us through.

  14. I happen to believe that the problem in airports today is not the ‘moron’ TSA screeners but the morons who make the rules for the moron TSA screeners.

    We should absolutely be profiling for terrorists. As said earlier, the Israelis and Europeans have been successfully doing this for ages. And I don’t mean looking for Arabs; yes, we should be checking the Arabs but also we should be looking for persons who fit the profile of a terrorist. Someone who is acting nervous and such. We’re trampling on civil rights but we can’t profile the people most likely to be a terrorist? That’s going too far? Baloney!

    While we’re all getting our civil rights trampled on, we should be using common sense to eliminate terrorists from planes and quit worrying that someone gets their feelings hurt because they were singled out for some thorough frisking. The World isn’t fair. Get in line.

  15. My wife & I are in our upper 70’s. In one incident they found a 1 inch (2.5 cm) penknife (which she has had practically all her life) in her sewing kit. She had to leave the line & go to where she could mail it to our home.

    Another incident occurred when we flew an airline that only printed the first 5 characters of the passenger’s given name. Her name is the feminine form of mine. My name is 6 characters long, & hers is 9. Both truncated to 5 characters are the same. We had IDs showing our full names, but we had to go back to the airline’s desk & get an attendant come down with us to get us through.

  16. Common sense. If 8 foot tall Chinese guys are robbing banks, that’s who you look for.

    You shouldn’t have to worry much about a 6 year old Scandinavian traveling with Grandma to Acapulco to escape the depths of winter.

    Don’t get me started on fluids. I saw a woman in Vegas pleading to carry her inhaler on board.

    TSA is performing a service to the best of their abilities. But, their leadership is not getting the job done. There is inconsistency of enforcement depending on what airport you are traveling through.

  17. I’ve been travelling by plane since the 1960s. I remember the pictures of the planes parked in the desert and the fear that was engendered in airline passengers about being hijacked.

    I have no problem with being searched, and even delayed, if it will make my, and my fellow passengers, trip safer.

    In all professions there are those whose grasp on common sense may be a bit tenuous. Just because someone has a degree, even an advanced degree, doesn’t automatically make them competent at what they do.

    What the story has shown is that there is a need for constant training of all personnel in contact with the passengers so that people can learn from the mistakes made. As there is constant surveillance of the security areas, I hope that the tapes of incidents such as this one are made available to those responsible for our security in all airports so that they can improve the standard of their training.

  18. Randy, you are correct about passengers being responsible as well as the TSA screeners. Last year I flew home for my mother’s emergency heart bypass, so my mind just wasn’t on the leatherman tool in my purse. I had stuffed my small purse into my carry-on, which passed the screeners with no problems. My return flight home I remembered to pack it in my suitcase instead…but forgot about my toothpaste and hand lotion which were in my carry-on, both of which were NOT the correct miniscule size airports require. The toothpaste was confiscated, but the lotion was passed over.

    My friends have stories about their scissors being confiscated when they fly (we’re all crocheters), so I make sure I leave my good ones home. I’ve also made the comment that anyone properly motivated could use anything in their carry-on to injure or kill someone: heck, the cord on my cd headphones could be used for strangulation, for pete’s sake! Crochet hooks can stab, yarn could strangle as well as shoelaces. And that’s just us crafters!

    The American public needs to take an active part in common sense (for the most part we do now) and in self-protection. But its nice to see more and more airports putting in a mini post office at security checkpoints for those of us who simply forgot.

  19. Here in Australia, we seem to be fairly on the ball with airport security, including common sense. I have flown at least two return trips minimum every one of my nineteen years, and on numerous occasions have been carrying small tools, swiss army knives, multitools, allen keys, screwdrivers, and lately barblades (long, wide and thin pieces of metal used to open bottles at my work). I rarely purposely put these things in my bag, but rather will have left them and forgotten.

    Nine out of ten times, I find that security will pick me up on the suspicious item, but when removed and explained, they seem to realise that there is no way in hell a charming, well-spoken, highly literate and intelligent nineteen year old is going to attempt to hijack a plane with an allen key, let alone sacrifice his overseas trip!

    However, I occasionally come across circumstances where I will be stopped at one airport checkpoint, but not the others I pass through. Particularly annoying when going on camping/backpacking trips and requiring tools that I cannot take with me, but the replacement I had to buy is allowed to come back with me.

    I most certainly agree with the argument of profiling for potential troublemakers. Surely with all the stories we see, hear and read about digital face scanners used to identify potential criminals/terrorists through live security footage, there must be a smarter and less invasive way to weed out potential terrorists before reaching a security screening zone.

  20. In the early ’70’s, I was boarding a plane and had a Buck folding knife in my camera bag. The gate personnel saw it, removed it from my bag, put it into a box, attached a luggage tag to it and let me get on the plane. No problems.

    Then shortly after the Lockerbie Incident, I was going through the Munich Airport. I had two Swiss Army knives, the large ones, with me at the gate inspection station. All the inspectors wanted to check was the walking stick to see if it was only a walking stick. They didn’t even look closely at either knife.

    I contend that even stripping each passenger and making them wear hospital type gowns will not make flight any safer. TSA screeners need to look for those who wish to do harm, not those who are harmless.

  21. In 2001 I sustained a neck injury which left me with chronic pain. Hence, I have to take a lot of medications which include some narcotics. Anyone who has ever been in this situation is required by the doctor who prescribes the medications to sign a pain contract. If you lose or mismanage your medications, you have to do without until the end of the 30 day period for which pain meds are prescribed.

    I tell you this because of the many instances of which I am aware, through television exposes and talking with other pain patients, that it is not uncommon for TSA inspectors to confiscate or steal some or all of your narcotic meds. This has made it impractical for me to fly to see my daughter in Nashville, TN. I can only drive about 25-30 miles without putting myself in extreme pain. Thus, the only method of travel left is via Amtrak, which takes 24 hours to reach Nashville from our home.

    TSA needs to do something in order to gain the confidence of chronic pain sufferers, because the current method is broken!

  22. We used to fly fairly often. But now that it is such a hassle we have started driving instead. My mother had a stroke a couple of years ago and I ended up driving between Maryland and Florida at least 4 times, round trip. It would probably have been much more convenient and faster to fly and rent a car at the other end but I just didn’t feel like putting up with the added problems of airport security when I had more important things to worry about.

    I wonder how much money the airlines are losing due to the problems they have introduced in the check-in procedure? I can understand the desire to show they are trying to keep us safe but I don’t feel they actually are. If terrorists made the same attempt they did on 9/11 now, they would be overwhelmed by the passengers using blankets and pillows for protection.

    They need to work smarter, not harder, and not alienate those they purport to serve. There are worse problems than a supposed 52 year old terrorist taking over a plane to worry about but they seem to ignore those problems because they aren’t visible enough.

  23. In December 2006, my then 14-year-old son and I boarded a plane in Austin, Texas for a flight to Vancouver, BC. The metal detector beeped when my son walked through ahead of me.

    The TSA officer stopped my son and confiscated his keyring, which had attached to it an empty shell. Knowing very little about various ammunition calibers, I’ll just describe the “bullet” as being about an inch long, tapering to a point on one end. (Someone else may know what I’m trying to describe.) The shell clearly was just for show and never actually a real piece of ammunition: it was hollow, unscarred, etc.

    I was wrong in not being aware of what he was carrying, I admit. Although not a justification, let me say that he was living with his mother at the time, but going on vacation with me without her for a week.

    The TSA officer spoke to me from the other side of the metal detector and said that either she would keep it and we would have to fill out a police report at a kiosk 20 feet inside the secure zone, or I could take it back out of the airport terminal and dispose of it or otherwise leave it behind. (She returned my son’s keys to him.) I chose the latter option, but my son had to wait on the secure side of the metal detector for 2 or 3 minutes for my return. (I tossed the item in a wastebasket just inside the terminal exit doors, out of sight of the metal detector where my son waited patiently.)

    I returned, passed through security, and we got on the plane without further incident. So, maybe there is hope; this TSA official actually thought outside the confines of her ruleset.

    And yes, my son and I had a chat (not a yelling match) on board the plane about the stupidity of carrying something like this in an airport. He doesn’t carry anything like the “bullet” at all now, and removes any metal on his person like a seasoned traveller.

  24. I feel the TSA is one of the most inept and hated agencies ever created by Congress. My worst experience was when an elderly crippled woman snuck up on the TSA inspector with her two aluminum crutches and her wheelchair plus an attendant. He STOPPED inspecting the entire line while calling for backup. When protests were made by those of us in line about not being able to go around her, he replied that he would see we did not make our flights. I told him that if I missed my flight he would be spending time in nearby Dublin Federal Prison for false detention and abuse of authority. I also held up my Department of Homeland Security badge. We got to go around her.

    He deserved worse for making such a threat in the first place. -rc

  25. This isn’t strictly on-topic, but there is a solution to the complete lack of airplane comfort and convenience, airport crowding, and the TSA in general.

    Zeppelins.

    I believe it’s time for the zeppelin to make a comeback. Sure, it’s a lot slower than an airplane (approximately 1/7 the speed of a Boeing 747), but think of the comfort! A Hindenburg-class airship had room for 50 passengers, including public areas, a dining room, and a writing room. With current technology, an enterprising engineer could probably fit a swimming pool in there somewhere (speculation).

    I would expect a zeppelin to be far safer from a terrorist attack, given that it would use a nonflammable gas (helium) for lift and would need much less in terms of fuel, leaving a far less impressive explosion. Given the comparatively slow speed of a zeppelin, a kinetic attack by a zeppelin is comparatively pointless. Also given its speed, the chances of a terrorist group getting the zeppelin out of the country and kidnapping the crew and passengers is also comparatively reduced. So there’s much less need for security around a zeppelin than there is “supposed to be” around an airplane. Zeppelins can travel for much longer distances than conventional airplanes; several zeppelins broke long-distance flight records in their time.

    Also, it’s been 75 years since the Hindenburg disaster. Many people aren’t going to think of that immediately anymore.

    If somebody wants to take this idea and run with it, you’re more than welcome to. I, unfortunately, do not have the ability to do so.

    Boy, is this barely on-topic! But it wouldn’t work for practical reasons. Not just that they’re so slow, but because of the helium shortage. -rc

  26. My eldest daughter and I traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah last year, going through Detroit Metro Airport on Southwest Airlines. We dutifully took off our shoes, dumped out our bags, had everything scanned, but when I went through the electronic portal, I beeped. I showed I had nothing in my pockets, took my coat off, etc., but still I beeped. I was taken aside and contact body-searched by a very apologetic young woman, in full view of all the other 100+ passengers going through the checkpoint. I choose to remain calm, trying to put the (very embarrassed) employee at ease, explaining that I had no metal implants or anything else that might set the machine off. I had been taking iron for anemia–maybe that did it?

    Finally, after several minutes, my daughter (who had been trying to pretend she didn’t know this crazy woman she happened to be traveling with) realized I had my glasses hanging around my neck on a metal-beaded chain. They are always there, as I can’t read anything without them, and I don’t even know they’re there most of the time, until I need them. I took them off, then asked if I could challenge the machine again. No beep this time!

    The glasses had been hanging in plain sight all that time, and none of the security people had noticed. My daughter and I had a good laugh as we boarded the plane. I again had my glasses on when we boarded to leave SLC, but the security people there noticed them right off, and asked me politely to remove them and put them in the basket. Life is really too short to fall apart over the trivial.

  27. On my way back from Austin, TX to Detroit MI, my friends helped me w/ my carry-on to right before security screening (my carry-on was heavy). They saw my friend switch the burden over to me before I approached the screeners. They made sure to give me the different colored bin to assure I was more thoroughly screened and this included a case my friends had given me of chocolate covered Macadamia nuts. They had to take one tray out at a time even though they’d x-rayed it. I almost thought they were going to test each chocolate, but they didn’t.

    Oh, and I happen to be white, but my friends were a black man and a Philipino woman, so maybe they thought we seemed like a suspicious bunch or something?

    I can understand them deciding they needed to screen me thoroughly, I suppose (since they saw me receive my bag from the person I’d been walking beside), but they were being very rude and speaking condescendingly to me the whole time. They spoke to me like I knew I was doing something wrong and that I was obviously trying to get away with something.

  28. Here’s what the TSA has gotten for itself:

    On one of my daily trolley rides home from work, I was pleased to see a very pretty young lady in a form-fitting uniform board the trolley. Ah, a little “eye candy” to counter the boredom, I thought.

    In a few seconds I observed the insignia of the TSA on her uniform and suddenly felt nothing but contempt for her. I turned the other way and did not look back.

    This was my honest experience. Judge me harshly for any of it if you wish.

  29. Now let’s see, so far, you have made it a point to insult TSA, (not stereotyping are we?) as well as make a point of making us sound like morons. I wish I could explain to you how hard this is to hear. Let’s see, I see 9,000+ people come through my airport a day, at least 5,000 of which seem surprised that they can’t have liquids (missed the 15 signs did you?) acting like we don’t realize that water isn’t dangerous. However some clear liquids that resemble it are. So many chemicals in everything that could be used to hurt you, but 200 different special interest groups making Congress allow them on. Why? Because your bag may not make it to your destination if you check it in. Which the airlines also blame on us (easy scapegoat, huh? Good thing they never lost any bags before TSA). The wheelchair bound? Airlines insist that their skycaps push you with a chair that has sat outside unattended for hours so the union workers can get tips (I mean, why would we check that?). People call us worthless, but we can’t get training done since 500 people a day are screaming at us for 10 minutes because they can’t have their 4.0 ounce lotion. Who wants to work here? We try, but I’m not sure you get it. We are a group of people who are about 85% good, honest, hardworking, and caring people. Who are abused, underpaid, overworked and looked down upon because people can’t follow simple directions. Our turnover rate is sky high, we rarely get backup from anyone because cops, fams, and almost all other agencies think we are useless. I wonder, if you put yourself in our place, would you be sweet, happy, cheerful, and respectful? 15% of our workforce is probably useless, but more likely just overwhelmed with the demands of our society to be P.C. Did you even realize that we are forbidden to defend ourselves from a physical attack by a passenger? I have been elbowed in the ribs, punched in the back and had my toes stomped on repeatedly, and yet to touch a passenger in any way not proscribed is an automatic termination. As for the lady with glasses on, did you think that maybe the operator was looking at the 50 people in line waiting for you as well? Maybe looking for the one that just bolted out of line? I hate this crying crap. Everyone uses us as a punching bag, but we are good at what we do. Most people (think several million a day) fly here with no problem. As for Isreal, first make every single adult in America serve in the Armed Forces, then talk to me about their security. No kidding they don’t need to hassle, most of their citizens have been trained to kill already, as well as being fanatical about their country. Try that one here. We do good work, but the people in charge of us are Business managers trying to run a government funded inspection force. Doesn’t make sense? Ask any military, cop or even basic uniformed service and you will see the problem. We are trying to keep this country safe in the best way we can, and I am disappointed that you, of all people(since I actually really like this newsletter), would be so shallow. I am sorry you feel like this, but all it tells me is that you are like the rest of America, you blame the most obvious target instead of fixing the real problem. The real problem is not the terrorists on this, it is the selfishness, and greed of so many people.

    I wasn’t sure if you were talking to me specifically until the end. Stop being ridiculously defensive, Stephen, and read what I and many, many, MANY others are saying, and try responding to it, rather than the “they’re just useless” whine that is NOT among my words. There are specifics there; there are none in your response. -rc

  30. What is as amazing as the “zero tolerance” is the “zero consistency.”

    Shortly after the “shoe bomber” the TSA inspectors were on the lookout for wire cutters. I was trying to take a computer on board in a rolling case, and after the case went through the X-ray scanner, I was asked if I had a pair of wire cutters. I then remembered that I had left a computer toolkit in the case, and that there were a pair of needle-nosed pliers in in the toolkit.

    So I was taken aside, and I opened the case, took out the toolkit, and opened the toolkit for the officer. He pulled out the pliers, looked at them, and said that he would have to keep them, and I said that was not a problem.

    The officer then looked at the toolkit again, pulled out the philips head screwdriver, looked at the 4 inch steel shaft and pointed tip, pretended to think for a moment, and the HANDED IT BACK TO ME.

    That’s right, he took away my needle-nosed pliers because I might use them to cut a piece of wire(?), but allowed me to go on board the airplane with the functional equivalent of an icepick.

  31. I think TSA is just the latest manifestation of government bureaucratic stupidity and inability to think. I’ve had to deal with Customs in a number of countries, and I’ve been amazed to see that U.S. Customs is the most abusive. When I’ve watched people who are being detained for hours without explanation, who are then threatened with additional waiting time for inquiring about it, I think it’s essentially the “rent-a-cop with a badge” syndrome. They ARE in charge and you WILL know it.

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that, while TSA is a government agency, they hire local companies to provide the personnel, who subsequently are hired through the Unemployment office. It’s an entry level position and a high school GED is sufficient. A college degree is the equivalent of installing an elevator in a mobile home.

    While the abuse has become more widespread since 9/11, it was still abundant even in the 1980’s. And screeners in Australia exhibit the same attitudes as seen in U.S. airports.

  32. A number of years ago, my wife and I were traveling in India and took a flight to Nepal. During preflight processing at New Delhi the inspector found in my wife’s handbag a small (3″) pocket knife, which was barely sharp enough to cut an apple – you certainly couldn’t have peeled one.

    She was taken out of the line, and strip searched, and then she and I were escorted to the plane by armed guards.

    When we arrived in Kathmandu the pilot walked the length of the cabin dangling the knife by the paper tag that the airport staff had attached to it. “Would Madam like to claim her dangerous weapon?” he asked with a grin from ear to ear. Many passengers, seeing the size of the knife also laughed.

    What is really crazy is that also in my wife’s handbag was a 5″ long can opener with a hardened steel cutting tip that was so sharp she always kept it wrapped in a handkerchief so it would not cut her handbag. No-one even saw that!

  33. I was involved in an incident that goes the opposite way. I was waiting for my wife and children to arrive in Portland. I went into the restroom and noticed a suspicious package in the back corner (almost under the toilet) in one of the stalls. After everyone left the bathroom and it was still in the same place, I walked out and found the nearest TSA personnel and told them about the package. He went to tell the “Proper” person.

    After a few minutes, I started the stopwatch on my wristwatch. It took another 6 minutes for the “Proper” person to arrive. He looked at the package and said a cop would be need to be called. It took another 8 minutes for the cop to arrive. During this approximately 16 minutes since I told the TSA, the bathroom was running as normal. No one (other than me) was watching for the package to leave the bathroom. Now if that is nuts, the cop came in and picked up the package and opened it while people were going in and out the bathroom. I just stood there wondering how he passed 1st grade being that stupid. Thankfully it turned out to be an empty show box stuffed in side a plastic bag and wrapped in a paper bag. However, it could have easily been much worse. I would hope this is a rare example of airport security; however, I doubt it.

  34. I, too, have had some bad experiences with TSA. On my last flight, I failed the metal detector because of a false teeth bridge in my mouth. They took me over to the side, and made me stand on two footprints while they wanded me all over. The part that I minded was the fact that they face you AWAY from the tray containing your belongings and valuables that you have, so that you cannot keep an eye on your stuff while they meticulously wand you all over for several minutes. Any of their associates or other travellers could help themselves to whatever you put in the tray, and you cannot watch your stuff. Certainly, there must be a way for them to keep you and your stuff together while they check you for imaginary “Weapons.”

    When I arrived at my destination, there was a card in my luggage saying that they had been through my suitcase – I guess I also had terrorist items in my checked baggage. I certainly hope that they have a regulation of “Double Custody” (Two or more agents jointly checking through travellers personal effects) to ensure honesty of the suitcase checkers, or at the very least, have cameras and video recorders monitoring every action of these searchers, while they go through suitcases.

  35. “When protests were made by those of us in line about not being able to go around her, he replied that he would see we did not make our flights. I told him that if I missed my flight he would be spending time in nearby Dublin Federal Prison for false detention and abuse of authority. I also held up my Department of Homeland Security badge. We got to go around her.”

    I’m glad that that worked for Bill and those who were in line with him that day, But I would wager that anyone who did NOT have a DHS badge that tried to so much as get that checker’s name and employee number in order to file a complaint would have found himself spending his vacation in a 5 x 8 foot room with bars on the window.

    …Any takers…?

    It was indeed a power struggle. Bill had the power. Few do — and indeed would likely be treated just as you suggest. And that’s exactly the problem. These are government workers who completely forget who they work for, and what the mission is. Instead, they cling to their power, and those around them back them up on it. -rc

  36. There is at least one good thing the TSA has accomplished. There is almost no one who has experienced dealing with the TSA, even when they do their job correctly, who now wants the government to take over the health care system. The TSA is one of the best arguments against a government grown too large that anyone can make.

  37. “Since the last issue I have flown out of London. I didn’t have to take my computer out of my briefcase. They were shocked to hear that we have to remove our shoes in the U.S.”

    Where did you fly out of? I just went through Gatwick (back to Newark) last Wednesday and they absolutely required me to remove my shoes. As a matter of fact, they have a separate line and machine just for shoes.

    Apparently things have changed since I wrote that three and a half years ago. Bummer. -rc

  38. I always thought that Americans were really easy going and the least likely people to stick to rules. Since I started getting “This is True” I have been horrified at some of the stories I read. An official saying he would make people miss their flight. A teacher not only accused of being a Wizard but the accusation being upheld. Are these people complete fools? I honestly get a feeling of despair when I read stories like that. Why don’t people rebel against them?

    We are. That’s exactly what I’m doing: the best way to stop such stupidity is to show it for what it is — ridiculous. When enough people speak out against it, it will change. -rc

  39. I am a police officer who flies frequently on business, and despite the fact that I could carry a firearm on board an airplane I do not. I check it in my suitcase, which is a major chore, then carry my empty holster and badge concealed on my person. Of course, when going through TSA checks I have to remove my belt, holster and badge. Each and every time those security guards see my badge they subject me to a secondary search; they even routinely swab my carry on for explosive residue. In one instance I caught a TSA guard attempting to steal my badge, and had to chase him back into the unsecured area. Once his supervisor got involved I got my badge back, but he refused to call the airport police (I had every intention of charging this thief). Due to time constraints I had to leave and was unable to follow through.

    Frankly, I wish you had delayed your flight so you could press charges. -rc

  40. Profiling is not the answer. There are white americans who have been involved in terrorist action. One of the biggest complaints over the years is how difficult it can be to spot a terrorist. Also, I think the TSA agent who ranted for pages about being overworked etc has a point. In some cases they are just the messenger.

    All that being said, obviously the system is broken. Anything can be used as a weapon (except maybe cotton balls or something). So removing every potential threat is not even an option. As human beings we accept a certain amount of risk in our lives. If we didn’t want to risk our lives we’d never step out our front door. We certainly would never get in a car. The rules need to be changed to block just OBVIOUS weapons from getting on a plane. And, perhaps more importantly, abuses of the system need to be addressed. There should be an external review of complaints about abuses of power, theft etc. When someone else from homeland security heard that threat there should have been follow-up. “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

    And theft is a crime and the police should be investigating.

  41. Did you know that the armed airline pilots, while carrying a concealed pistol, must still follow all other rules about “contraband”? No pocket knives allowed. Never mind the gun, fire axe in the cockpit, oh, and access to the controls of the aircraft itself!

  42. I worked at a medium-size airport in Canada for two years in airport security: not screening, security of the airfield and air terminal. I worked closely with the screeners and while many of them thought the specific rules were silly, enforcing them was their job which they did competently and professionally. My complaint about the whole system is that much of what has been done since 9-11 is simply so the public can see something is being done. Sometimes this has been to the detriment of other security efforts which have not been improved because the budget does not stretch to hidden measures.

    Anyone who works at an airport will tell you there are many more threat vectors than the passenger gates. Do not worry. Airports are safe, more secure than before 9-11, but this is largely not due to the large sums of money and new regulations thrown at the problem. Transport Canada has agents who try to break through airport security. One at my airport tried to reach a plane and was intercepted eight times before reaching his target. Once by a fuel truck driver, once by a baggage train driver for one airline, again by a baggage train driver for another airline, once by a construction crew escort, once by a pilot of a plane on the apron who radioed tower about him, once by a routine security patrol, once by a gate agent, and once by ground crew of his target plane. The only difference the infiltrator faced from pre-9-11 was a greater awareness of the need for security. The extra people, regulations, equipment, money since 9-11 were not involved at all. They were busy having U.S.-bound passengers remove their shoes.

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