Frustration with the Transportation Security Administration won’t lighten the burdens imposed on travelers at the airport. The recent tragic event at LAX is certainly not an answer. The individuals behind the uniforms are doing the work they’ve been hired to do. But are we really better off with the rules that incite both distress and jokes?
Typically, muffled giggles and snorts erupt when the subject of the TSA is mentioned in conversation — but only when out of earshot. Everyone has a story to tell, and yet no one wants to end up on a watch list. The TSA has dismantled common sense, creating a sea of ineptitude in an attempt to treat everyone the same, while perhaps ignoring the obvious.
Traveling for work, both before and after that horrific day in September 2001, I have adjusted to the new norm of enhanced screening. Driving to the airport, my mind shuffles through a self-imposed airport “worry” list — I hope my flight isn’t delayed — or bumpy — and that the person next to me doesn’t spread out. I will gladly console a crying baby. The downward spiral of more than trivial worries — plane crashes, hijackings and shootings, I appease with relaxation breathing. Denial works too.
Airport security is a mandatory annoyance — flashing my identification and boarding pass; slipping off and on my heels; unpacking and repacking my computer; and clear, one quart bags holding 3-ounce containers of liquids. The routine is blasé, but I still get the jitters while hoping for a seamless transition to the “other side.”
Wheeling my carry-on behind me, I visualize a stamp of approval at the checkpoint crossing. My stride slows with the crowd of business people, military personnel, families and students; ebbing and flowing through the amusement park-like line, up to the TSA checkpoint. Breaking out in a sweat, I attempt a transition into chakras meditation before suspending my individual rights to fancy uniforms milling around with indeterminate training, brusque conduct, and lots of power.
Lucky me! I’ve been selected to enter the advanced screening capsule. Asking “why” is not acceptable, so I place the soles (perhaps my soul?) submissively on the foot pattern with my arms up in surrender. The machine makes a Cuisinart whirl, searching my inner person for compromising paraphernalia. I suppress the plea for Scotty to “Beam me up!”
Once the mixer door opens, TSA guy points over his shoulder and says, “Go over there for additional screening.”
I protest silently. “I answered the questions correctly … no weapon in my carry-on … or flammable materials … and you examined every inch of my body. Look at the pictures! On second thought — no, don’t look.”
The eyes of another TSA guy drift up and down my “person,” looking for heaven knows what.
“Is something wrong Ma’am?”
“No,” I lie. I don’t want to be flagged as a discontent.
Reading minds will be next.
“Is this yours?” TSA girl asks, holding up a shiny, silver cylinder. “It’s over the limit.”
I whisper a bad word. They found it!
Hoping they’ll make an exception, I smile and say, “It’s only my expensive 4-ounce can of hairspray.” TSA girl confiscates it anyway. Where do those items end up?
I look for common, suspicious characteristics with the other clandestine passengers pulled aside for special treatment. There is that saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Maybe I’m a security menace after all, along with the little girl and her doll, the man with the hip replacement, and the woman with a pacemaker. Obediently, I tried to follow the rules with my correct travel ensemble… one carry-on, one personal item, identification, boarding pass, bare feet, adherence to the liquids rules (except hairspray), and my almost zipped lips.
Onboard the plane, I stow my bag under the seat in front of me, only to find my full, forgotten, overlooked — and TSA-forbidden — water bottle. I feel so safe.
Kathleen Rogers is a member of The Olympian’s 2013 Board of Contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.