Ridiculous Security Theater Courtesy of the TSA

In my Hawai’i trip report earlier this week, I mentioned a terrible experience with the TSA on our return from Maui, and I said I’d write it up later. Here’s what happened.

First I should say that this isn’t me complaining about being felt up or going through body scanners. The real problem here is that the TSA decided to do something just for the sake of pretending it was providing a secure travel environment. It was “security theater” at its worst, because it didn’t even provide a sense of security. It was a ridiculous waste.

My dad dropped us all off at the curb so we could check in and then he would return the rental car. We checked in quickly and went over to security. At the main security Enfamil - TSA Threatcheckpoint at Kahului, the lines weren’t long, but a line-minder saw our stroller and said we had to go into the security line further down. This line was for all of the people who were going to take awhile to get through – strollers, wheelchairs, etc. With only one line open in this area, it moved like molasses even though there were so few people in the line.

We had a bottle of factory-sealed formula (at right) for the flight so we could feed our son on the way home. As on the way out, we had to give them the formula and they put it in some magic box to test it. I’m not quite sure what the black box does, but there’s some kind of sensor or something that they put on the bottom of the bottle. This wasn’t an issue on the way out, but coming back in Kahului, they were clearly having problems.

My wife took our son through the metal detector and I got all of our belongings through the x-ray machine. Once on the other side, my wife had put him back in his stroller and we started gathering our stuff. Soon enough, we were completely put back together but we had to wait because they still hadn’t given us the formula back.

The TSA agent who was operating the black box came over to talk to whom I assume was his supervisor about something, and she went over to the box. For whatever reason, they couldn’t get this thing to work. She came over to me since I was the one still waiting for the bottle while my wife stood a bit further down with the baby and the bags, and she told me they couldn’t test the formula this way. Thinking they were going to tell me we couldn’t take it with us, I was about ready to explode. We had to feed our child.

Instead, however, I was told we had two options. The first was to open the bottle so they could test it. I wouldn’t even let her finish her statement because that’s a non-starter. You can’t open a bottle of formula and then close it back up. In general, it has to be consumed within an hour after opening, especially since we couldn’t refrigerate it.

That brought us to option two: a full body and bag search. This made very little sense to me since this was a factory-sealed bottle of formula, and I couldn’t quite figure out what a full body and bag search would turn up. But maybe they figured if I was going to use a bottle of formula to blow up an airplane, I would have other bits and pieces hidden on me. Right.

So they looked at me and my wife and asked whose formula it was. Um, it’s the baby’s. But that wasn’t the answer they wanted, so I just said it was mine. They told me to grab my bags and come with them to the side. Wait, I had to grab all our bags? “No, just the ones that are yours.”

Was this a stupid joke? I could have picked any bag out of our carry-ons and said it was mine and they wouldn’t have had a clue. If I had a bunch of bomb-making material, I could have just left it in one bag and picked up the diaper bag, or my wife’s bag. And let’s not forget that they’re letting my wife just walk away without being checked herself. If I were trying to smuggle something on my body, we could have just said it was her formula and then I would have walked straight through while she got frisked.

I thought about raising hell, mostly because I figured I could then have a couple extra days on Maui… but I didn’t think jail was a good way to spend time in the islands. They groped me and swabbed everything looking for clues of my assumed terrorist plot. Then they roughly emptied my entire bag, searched everything, and shoved it all back in without regard to how it was originally packed. Of course, nothing was found.

As we wrapped up, I received a call from my parents. Where were we? My dad had already been back from the rental car place (you need to take a shuttle back to the airport), they had gone through security, and they were sitting at the gate. Nice.

Again, it’s not the searching and groping that bugged (though of course, it is annoying). It’s the fact that this was in no way keeping anyone safe. If I were trying to blow something up, it would be so absurdly easy to just get around their little song and dance. It seemed like they felt like they had to just do something… anything. Too bad it was completely worthless.

What a giant waste of time, money, and effort.

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85 Comments on "Ridiculous Security Theater Courtesy of the TSA"

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XlF42
Guest
You’d better compare airport security in Tel Aviv to any Airport in the U.S. (and Schengen airports can queue up in that line as well). I am much more convinced of the procedures over there, they’re by far more efficient. Yes, the initial queue before the checkin counters are a nightmare (if you need to queue up in the normal line), but – they explicitly fast track families, elderly and other relevant groups (so you have to wait longer if you’re a caucasian, male, non-frequent flyer tourist) – once you’re throught, there is almost no waiting time at the checkin,… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest

That is a valid point, but the problem is, Israeli security is essentially based on extensively profiling passengers. While it may be more effective than what we have, it will never fly, no pun intended, in this country due to our stringent demands for political correctness in just about anything. Plus, I have doubts as to the TSA’s ability to effectively profile due to the general incompetence of the agency and the often poor caliber of employees recruited to the organization.

Sean S.
Guest
It is also by comparison a tiny country with significantly less air traffic. It also helps that a bevy of countries that don’t get along with Israel have no cross border contact, or flights going to and fro directly. But the bigger point is that profiling doesn’t work. Consistent research shows that profiling and other so-called “behavioral” detection methods have a bevy of problems, are difficult to scale up, and create a lot of false positives. It also assumes a fair amount of stupidity on the part of any terrorist. It’s not politically correct to point out when stuff hasn’t… Read more »
Red
Member

But in Tel Aviv they dot group you right?

Ron
Guest
“they help you speeding up by explicitly feeding you in front of the next queue” — Ahem ahem. What’s really going on is that they escort you in order to make sure you don’t talk to or take packages from anyone (in some cases the escort follows you until you’re on the plane). Though the net effect is that it does save you time. Also, I’m not so sure about the fast-tracking of families and the elderly at Tel-Aviv, last time I waited quite a while with 3 children (ages 8, 6, and <2). I've also had the honor of… Read more »
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[…] Flier realizes that what the TSA does is security theater, not […]

XJT DX
Guest

While I enjoy everything and anything aviation-related and champion the industry any chance I get, there is not a single good thing that can be said about TSA. They are so incompetent and useless yet authoritarian it makes my head hurt to even think about them.

Until congress decides to abolish them (wishful thinking I know), just remember: it’s not a grope, it’s a Freedom Pat :-P

nicholas.irving
Member

Thousands Standing Arouns

nicholas.irving
Member

*Around

Wayne Rutman
Guest

As a county with a relatlively low security risk and ample gov’t resources to police aviation security, we have the luxury of engaging in security theater. The only real risk to the status quo is if a group of powerful elites (frequent flyers) demanded reform. But they seem to be “buying us off” with precheck now, leaving the schlumps to receive the “full treatment.” I’m sorry, but I just don’t see these conditions as being ripe for reform. That reform has to start with profiling, but I can’t imagine that will happen anytime soon.

Andrew
Guest

This is what happens when you put the dregs of humanity in charge of keeping us “safe.” Perhaps if the TSA could hire intelligent human beings with the capability to think on their feet, this would all be seen for the incredible farce that it is.

Tom
Guest

I would’ve just put it in your carry-on bag. I fly twice a week and sometimes I bring (1) 8 oz. Ensure drink and put it in my carry-on bag just to see if the TSA notices. They have only noticed it 2 times out of 25 so far…

Chase
Guest
Ha, this is a favorite game of mine as well. I either deliberately leave something out of my quart-sized TSA-approved-and-allegedly-inspected bag that I could toss in the bag if they notice or I’ve got a larger item (generally on return flights where the only other option would be to throw something away anyway) I’ll just keep it in the bag, making sure it’s standing upright in my bag as I’m under some impression (delusion?) that this will help ensure my success. Never have I been stopped. They’re either apathetic or they really don’t notice; I’m not sure which is worse.… Read more »
CrizzleC
Guest

Funny story. Kind of. I had a pocket knife that I had forgotten about in my carry on bag a couple years ago. I made 4 round trip visits to MSP from IND until they found it upon going through security the 5th trip on the way back home. Yes, they missed it 9 times in a row, and I didn’t even know it was in there. Had to run back down and have it added to my checked bag. Not impressed.

Steve
Guest

My best TSA theater was when I showed up at MSY without any sort of picture ID. I checked my bag to try to prevent confusions as much as possible.

My buddy kept me company while TSA asked me questions to try to confirm my identity – I think they finally believed I was me when I showed them my dad’s gas credit card…..
After I got a body scan, they wouldn’t let me through until they also gave my buddy a body and bag scan (even though he had his ID).

It made me laugh. Got on the plane just fine.

Tom
Guest

The Enfamil baby formula is “sealed.” Hardly an explosive liquid.
Flying 6 hrs without any formula for your baby would’ve been dangerous.

Michael
Guest

Crazy! We flew 2 weeks ago with our 10 month old son. We bought formula in a tube, like the flavoring they have for bottle water and we had no issues. On the way home we had some jars of baby food extra they just swabbed and put in explosive tester. Yes the system is flawed!!

Red
Member
My old drivers license gave me issues when I would buzz cut my hair as in the photo my hair was well very long and curly drove me nuts when they looked at it looked back at me looked at it back it me. Granted the photo did look like a mug shot, but still other wise it looks like me. At the time I was using this ID I was 16 so perhaps that did not help the fact it did not look like me, but I was flying alone anytime I showed it so I figured be smart… Read more »
DesertGhost
Guest

I hope this article can get to Ray LaHood or Janet Napolitano (head of the Dept. of Homeland Security and former AZ governor).

Jason D
Guest

I’ve really found it’s hit or miss with any security checkpoint. Most of my experiences have been positive (as far as individual agents are concerned – they don’t make the rules) but there are a few nutjobs that you run into occasionally. That being said, traveling from places when business travelers are traveling (so probably never from Hawaii) I find to be easier, possibly because agents really have to get everyone through security quickly, and business travelers are familiar with security and won’t put up with being stopped for no reason.

David SF eastbay
Member
An Brett now that it’s after the fact, what did you do? Did you write a letter to the head of TSa with copies to the Head of Homeland Security, your Senators, Congressperson, the Speaker of the House, and office of the President? If people don’t like what is happening at the airport with TSA they need to bring it to the attention of people who can do something about it. If enough people/voters complain, someone in Washington wanting time on CNN will start to make waves to get things fixed. In a country where items about children and the… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

I should add I know you can’t judge the work each individual TSA agent does, but overall I still don’t feel safer by having them as a whole.

Red
Member

I agree with the Military training idea!

Kevin
Guest
I experienced a very similar ‘event’ when traveling with my family through Newark. I got the ‘extra’ mile treatment and my wife and kids sailed through with nothing. The bags that I took credit for happened to be 1 bag that was for me and not my kids. I just kindda laughed and agreed to the extra security. We had plenty of time and so it was no big deal to me. I am used to it because I opt-out of the new screeners anyway, so I am used to getting the patdowns. TSA Pre-check (through Global Entry) is AWESOME… Read more »
Jim
Guest

The TSA is becoming more and more of a joke every day. I personally refuse to go through the scanners for health reasons, so I am used to the grope, which varies in intensity from cursory to thorough. I have never had a detailed bag search. I would encourage everyone to exercise your right to opt out of the x-ray machines until the TSA allows independent testing.

Dov Isaacs
Member
I also had a very nasty experience with the local TSA gestapo in Maui at the end of what was otherwise a very wonderful, relaxing vacation early last December. In my case, the issue had nothing to do with liquids, weapons, anything in my pockets, or any prohibited materials. They thought that my computer case was “suspicious.” I’ll note that I travel well over 100,000 miles a year, mostly on business, to locations all over the world including airports with exceptionally strict (and professional) security carrying the same computer bag (and contents) and I’ve never had this type of issue… Read more »
LT_DT
Guest

On one of the first flights we took with our oldest daughter, about 6 years ago, the TSA took out one of the ice packs we were using to keep the baby milk cold. It was frozen “solid,” but they gave us a 10 minute lecture about how it was a liquid and therefore was not allowed and confiscated it. Too bad they didn’t find the other two ice packs located on the other side of the bottles from where they obtained the first one.

Kerry
Guest

I had to undergo the exact same ridiculous procedure as Cranky at CVG back in April, even though the flight was just a short trip back to BOS with my wife and then 7 month old. I decided the best course of action was just to roll my eyes then risk getting stuck in Cincinatti with that awful “chili” for another day.

Kilroy
Guest
CVG’s security theater is pretty bad, and the airport is a bit of a chore getting from car to gate (what’s with having 2 concourses, and the only 1 of them that is open is the one FARTHEST FROM SECURITY?). CVG will flag you for things that other airports don’t catch at all. I used to travel every week, and my coworkers and I would purposely never take out our “liquids, gels, and aerosols”, because there were almost NEVER caught in our carry-on bags (maybe <5% of the time). CVG caught them, and made a whole big stink about it.… Read more »
Stuart Wooster
Guest

Crazy, you would think after all this time they would have sorted issues like this out for families by now. I know I would be cranky if I were in your shoes!

ghelart
Member
Cranky – loved your post today. I witnessed something almost, not quite, as ridiculous in SLC last week. Where the 90’ish aged TSA agent was testing the water bottle that the 80’ish aged passenger clearly just purchased from the store by the gate! At the GATE!! Within the TSA Security Checkpoint! I had heard this was going to happen, but was appalled to actually see it. This was clearly just a show of absurdity for the enjoyment of those of us waiting for our flight. If that wasn’t TSA Security Theater, I don’t know what is!! Thanks for your posts!… Read more »
A
Guest

I saw the “testing water bought behind security” at Toronto in the US pre-clearance area. First thought it was a Canadian thing until someone said that’s happening all over the US too.

RICH
Guest

Yep that is what you get from 8.50 an hour people…

Richard Sachs
Guest

When I travel, I have a carry on full of chargers for all of my “stuff’ and TSA has a field day with me; swabbing everything. Everything now goes in ziploc bags and there are no questions. HAS ANYONE IN NEWARK NOTICED (TSA AGENT) DOCTOR ZORBA AND HIS BIRDS NEST HAIRDO?!?!?

tripswithtykes
Guest
Welcome to flying with infants and kids! You will be seeing all sorts of (new) TSA ridiculousness of varying types from here on out. Glad you have you on our side fighting the good fight… it has been 3+ years of stupidity (theirs, not mine) for me. Please do follow up with a complaint because mine have gone unanswered and I’m guessing you have a little more traction than most of us. As an aside, I’ve heard anecdotally from friends and have seen for myself that Hawaiian airports are especially bad. Most of my snafus have been in situations where… Read more »
jabelson
Member

Piece of advise for the future: When we travel we always bring powder that I have already measured out in the needed amounts (cheaper and far less of a security issue). We also bring plenty of water to mix it with. That way we can make up the bottle at our seats right when it is needed….and its fresh. TSA will ask you to drink a bit of water (to prove that its water, but otherwise you will have no problems).

Bert
Guest
TSA have ruined flying. Flying itself has gotten worse over the last few years but going through TSA prior to dealing with flight issues always causes a bad day. I flew from San Juan on Sunday and they were the nicest TSA I have ever dealt with. They were actually WORKING and moving lines as necessary (instead of standing around and watching the line grow). The worst thing about TSA is their lack of consistency. I have to take my shoes off, but the person behind me doesn’t and they get the same treatment as me? Or, in one airport… Read more »
syeo.engr
Member

The highly capricious and subjective behavior of the TSA is one reason I have for preferring connection times of at least 2 hours when arriving in the US on an international flight. It is just good practice to allow time for delayed flights, but it is sad to have to allow time for ineffective and illogical security theater. Compared to the TSA, ICE is a pleasure to deal with – professional and consistent.

trackback

[…] Ridiculous Security Theater Courtesy of the TSA: One of my favorite travel bloggers, The Cranky Flier, recently became a dad, and he just blogged about his first TSA liquid experience gone bad.  His experience mirrors many that I have had… the silliness of the liquid rules and the way in which they are inconsistently and nonsensically applied is infuriating! […]

garyedel
Member

Used my global entry card as an ID in Appleton, WI. TSA did not believe it was a government issued ID and asked for drivers license. Finally another Keystone Kop told the first guy it’s a real federal ID.

Shane
Guest
TSA is not the issue, its the regulations that follow contemporary corporate logic of turning skilled jobs into commodity work by taking all decision making, incentives, self initiative and logic out of the equation. It’s the same as when you go to a grocery store and buy 10 identical yogurts. If you notice, cashiers almost never punch in qty 10, but scan each individual item. Especially in national chains, they do not give the kind of autonomy or authority to local employees to do the logical thing. Same with TSA, there is a set script and set of procedures that… Read more »
james
Guest
The biggest asset you can bring to TSA conflict is time. The TSA counts on you to acquiesce and be subservient in order to make your flight. Challenging them results in retaliatory delays causing missed flights, lost vacation days, missed appointments, and a cost to you. It?s hard to stand up for your rights in this situation. I?ve been told flat out when politely escalating a question or waiting for a pat down ?it will take a while? as a threat to making my flight. While not practical for every trip I try to make the airport as early as… Read more »
steve
Guest

AMEN! Me too!! I get there at least 2 hours early. Then they can body cavity search me if they want. It just diverts attention from the real threats.

wjboll
Member

We can complain all we want and I have written my senators and congressman many times about this albatross. While I get responses (some personal) it’s always the same thing, have to be safe, careful, …. So last month I wrote each of them again and said that if I don’t see any progress with restoring my rights and dignity when traveling I will vote for the other candidate. I’ve had enough of career politicians who don’t represent me.

Mike
Guest
Soon after 9/11 I was going from san/bkk, got a little slip handed to me by the ticket agent saying I was “randomly” selected to have my checked bagged inspected. the ticket agent went with me to the tsa area ( xray belt) I was using fastpack clamshell boxes for my items, aside from the usual stuff I had a small convection oven in one box, and a satellite phone in another. The boxes were sealed with fiber tape, and they asked me to open them. Of course, I had no knife or cutter to open them, so I told… Read more »
stevezwerin
Member
As a sort of aside… I was in Maui in February and decided to visit the little puddle jumper airport in West Maui (Kaanapali). The airport gets five or six flights a day, mainly from HNL. They had a full TSA site there, staffed by four agents. During the hour that I was there, I watched these agents spend about 95% of their time just standing around and chatting. And that was during the time a flight was on its way in and the dozen or so outbound passengers were going through the TSA checkpoint. It irritates me to see… Read more »
rmkline83704
Member
At the Kahului Airport, my wife started to take a picture of the outdoor section of the airport. Two TSA agents and a local police officer decended on her and informed her that she was breaking the law and demanded that she delete all pictures on her camera. When I asked why it was against the law, they answered “Because we say so. Move on or we will arrest you”. Maui was great but our Stormtroopers need a little taming. When I contacted TSA upon returning home, they replied that the agents were mistaken, but it is always wise to… Read more »
james
Guest

Did you delete them?

rmkline83704
Member

Yes

james
Guest

I would have told them to pound salt. You have every right to photograph bridges, architecture, airports and things you find interesting in a public place. Sadly even real police are unaware and backup the made up “laws” of the TSA.

Of course it’s easy to write here, but when you have places to be and things to do sometimes it’s easier to follow the choice of least resistance.

Mike
Guest

they would have been sol. ( you too maybe) if it was a phone that sent directly to face book or the like.

Mke
Guest

Cranky,

simple mistake,
you are applying logic.

That works if the counter-party has discretion.

They play by the book. No logic. No discretion.

Mel
Guest
I know this is lame compared to some of your crazy stories, but my 3 and 6 yr old daughters and I were yelled at because we were standing outside the “secure” area in IND, as the girls waved tearfully to daddy when he went on his first business trip. We were watching him do the shoe thing and repack his laptop, waiting for him to look up for that final wave, but they yelled at us because we weren’t past the sign, which was like 20 feet down the big bare hallway. Really? We couldn’t just be 20 feet… Read more »
cahilldot
Member

stupid stupid stupid..system . it is the government what do u expect? it will get worse i’m sure

john
Guest

I brought back 10 bottles of Grappa and 2 cuban cigars and made it through 3 rounds of security as well as secondary groping in London boarding a US bound flight. Is the cranky flier finally noticing that the TSA is a blue shirt intimidation goon squad? Their only intent is to harass law abiding citizens. Get on the bus Cranky and start writing your congressmen and senators. SHUT DOWN THE TSA!

Felix
Guest

As a parent with a toddler and a baby on the way, the minute I saw premixed large formula bottles, I knew to steer clear.

Its far easier to carry the powder and mix with bottle water from on board the aircraft.

In theory it sounds great but you still need to warm it and TSA is liquid phobic. Still TSA as usual is schizo, Baby food never was an issue, but take bottled formula and they act like you are carrying nitro.

Take it from an airline vet,
formula/juice powder=suspicious but testable
sealed liquids=get a lawyer

wjboll
Member

Do we have a politician in this country who has the guts to take action? I haven’t seen one.

Mike
Guest

The politicians are afraid of the union, and that does not take into account the ones that own stock in the tsa scanner companies.

Sean S.
Guest

We complain but the thing is that the majority of the public doesn’t agree with us, mostly because they either don’t fly or fly so rarely that they never experience the inconveniences those of us who fly on a regular basis encounter day in, day out.

Bobber
Guest

I don’t have an issue with what the TSA do. Their representatives are frequently far more amiable than their British counterparts. However, military training is a good point; in the pre-Olympics security debacle (where G4S accidentally failed to recruit another 15,000 security staff), the UK military were called up. They ran airport-style security checks at multiple sites around London, normally for crowds of up to 300,000 at the Olympic village, and I think we were through the line in less than 5 minutes – efficient, courteous, knowledgeable and professional. It can be done that way.

Greg Garner
Guest
All I can say is that I was an airline manager in the days of private security. Yes, there were far fewer rules about what you could/could not bring through screening, but the quality of the personnel was shockingly bad. They were all ill-trained minimum wage no-benefit workers who cared not one whit about airline security at all. Part of my job involved auditing the ability of screeners to find weapons in checked luggage. All we were allowed to do was put a weapon in an otherwise empty bag, and security had to catch it two out of three tries.… Read more »
steve
Guest
Now you see what everyone has been saying. Its ALL a charade. One flight attendant called it “window dressing.” The ACT creates a sense of security. How pitifully easy it would be to not obey the rules. However, we must all take off our shoes and now with our HIGHER tech devices, remove our BELTS and everything from our pockets. In the mean time, TSA chats amongst themselves while bags go pouring through the Xray. What the heck are they chatting about. Why don’t they actually PAY ATTENTION. I saw one idiot on his cell phone while he was looking… Read more »
LIH Prem
Guest

I live on Maui. I used to use the 2nd entrance all the time, and I sometimes still use it, bypassing the main line when I walk in from the parking lot.

They only have 6 belts total at OGG, and they keep trying different things. The family and staff only line at the 2nd entrance is their latest attempt at solving a problem they can’t solve there without more belts.

I’m always curious to see how long the current attempts are going to last there.

-David

jeremy
Guest
Here is the deal, and it is oft repeated in the 63 comments above me. “I shrugged and just dealt with it”. Even Cranky said that he would rather put up with it, than to find out what a Hawaii Jail look like. While that is an extreme example, not being allowed to fly is the true issue that he faced. We put up with it, so that we can fly. We sacrifice our right to privacy, so that we can go home on time, or not lose our non-refundable fares, or make the business meeting on time. Until EVERYONE… Read more »
james
Guest

Well said.

Add to that many times we’re traveling with family and friends who don’t share the same gusto for not being bullied around, and are even embarrassed when we ask a question, or clarify something with a TSO before compliance. How do you handle turning into “Johnny don’t step on my rights” when your coworker or spouse just wants to get to the gate?

Unlike a protest in city hall, or any situation where we actively demonstrate, in this case the greater good is always personal and we make the sacrifices you mention.

David SF eastbay
Member

After reading all the comments about how TSA can be different from one airport and other (I’ve seen that), or had TSA say something, I was wondering since so many people carry smartphones, has anyone ever pulled out their phone and gone to the TSA website and told the agent to show them where it says what ever they said or whatever might apply?

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