TSA update


Here are my notes from my most recent encounter with the TSA.

I flew on US Airways which contracts to PrimeFlight which part of G2 (I asked the woman—you will see why I cannot give me particular name—who checked my ID).

Flying out of SFO is never a particular treat but the trip made from home to a new college-home is sad in a way that has nothing to do with a bloated government security infrastructure. Approaching the second place where my ID is checked (my ticketer checked my ID when she gave me my boarding pass) I see the familiar maze of lines that characterizes SFO on most days. At approximately 10:45am on August 17 I approach the rightmost checker. I am carrying my laptop case (a thin affair only designed for a laptop, not one of those briefcase monstrosities of cowhide) my school backpack and a tote.

You may see the source of the problem already.

As I hand over my ID and boarding pass I ask if PrimeFlight (whose insignia I now recognize) is part of G2, remarking I offen get confused as to who is part of whom. My checker, a middle aged Asian-American woman confirms that PrimeFlight is part of G2. She is a bit surprised, but every ID checker I have ever asked that question of has been surprised so I didn’t worry. As I am about to walk through, having been handed back my ID and board pass she says

“Only two bags allowed carry-on.”

I stop. My tote is overfull. I knew I could shove my laptop bag into my tote, and she presumably had seen enough people do just that to know it too. I take scowl.

“Do you want me to put my laptop bag into my tote? It will fit but it will just take up time”. I had actually thought this through before entering the security area. Since getting my laptop out of an overloaded tote to put on the scanning belt would be a great deal of trouble I had figured it would be easier to not pack it in the first place.

“You see the sign?” (she points through a crowd of people to another post with a pealing notice from the TSA, presumably telling me I could only carry 2 articles of carry-on on board with me.) Deciding that pointing out the sign’s hidden location would be petty I said,

“Yes, but my laptop will fit in this bag.” I smile, trying to be ingratiating as I got irritated,

“You see the sign? Two items *only*” She has now come out from around her podium to glower at me.

“So you want me to unpack and repack my bag right here?” I asked. Ok, I was peeved and probably sounded it but I was hoping she would see the light of smooth traffic flow and let me through.

“Only two item per passenger.”

“Ok then.” So I proceed to sit down in the middle of her isle and start unpacking my entire bag. It was full to the brim with things I needed for college and I couldn’t just lay my laptop on top.

Then I have an idea.

“May I have your name please?” I ask her.

“What? Why?”

“My name is Jessica. What is your name?” She is standing over me and I peer at her dangling name-tag. “Os—” It looked Japanese but I was having trouble memorizing it.

At this point her hand flew to cover her badge, as she glanced down to make sure she was concealing her name fully.

“Why do you need to know?”

“I am just curious. May I have your name?”

“No.” She stared at me, with a look between a glare and wide-eyed panic. Shuffled behind her podium, now fully obscuring her name from my view.

“Why won’t you tell me your name?” By this time I was standing, because I just don’t like being stood over.

She stared straight ahead and completely ignored me. I sat back down to finish repacking my bag.

A PrimeFlight rep who was directing passengers to checkers says,

“Linda, you still open?”

She nods and another passenger walks up. Also carrying 3 bags. And again Linda repeated “Only two items per passenger”. And the other woman, a little older than me and much more over packed, sits down in the aisle next to me to unpack her bag. I starting talking with her as I refill my bag, saying she wouldn’t tell me her name and how silly it was to repack bags which obviously could fit within each other. I was mostly being polite since the other woman’s three bags were truly each packed to capacity and would probably inconvenience somebody on her trip. Linda continued to check Ids while we sat in her aisle repacking. Once I was done I got up and left.

And that was a big mistake.

As I went through security I casually complained to the TSA officer who was helping load my stuff into the X-Ray machine. I have found that being nice and chatty gets me more information and makes me feel better about the entire process. He nods, smiling and wowing at the oddness of her behavior. After having passed through the metal detector ( I was not poofed on this occasion) I asked the next man behind the conveyor belt if there was anyone I could talk to about her bahavior. I was not interested in complaining I said, but I just wanted to find out her name.

Now I probably sound like some kind of creep, harassing random strangers to give me their names. But part of me feels that if my personal information (state of origin; full name; ID number; address; sex; hair color; eye color; height; age; and that eternal global embarrassment, weight) is to be perused by someone not of my choosing who has control over when and how I get to college, and *who has no immediate government oversight* I should be able to get a name. My Name is Jessica; What is Your Name?

I end up talking to the TSA manager in that section. I explain the situation. He is courteous and repeats that I could only have two bags. I say I am not really seeking to complain, I just want to know her name. I ask who I could ask for her name. He says he has no idea and I should check with my airline as TSA had no oversight over the third party ID checkers. He also says TSA will be taking over ticket-checking in about a month.

And that it was her right to refuse to tell me her name.

I thought about that as I walked away. I know I have a right to not tell anyone my religion, to not tell anyone my political stance, but private employees in an ostensibly customer-service based industry having a right to not tell me their names? I am a great lover of anonymity, but something rings wrong for me when a “right” is used to hide from responsibility. What is it curmudgeons always say, “the right of free speech is not a right to be free from the consequences of your speech?” I am still not sure how I feel about someone who is being paid to interact with me having a “right” to refuse to identify themselves in any way.

As soon as I get to the United Airways desk I wait in line for the attendant. When he returns I ask who I can talk to about an employee of PrimeFlight. He says he has no idea. They are a separate company. I point out that United Airways contracts out to them. He counters that *everyone* in this terminal contracts out to them, a fact I knew. I ask if there is no number, no web address, no internal office I can go to to find out who was that woman? He says I should have asked her manager while I was there. I point out I was being serious encouraged to keep moving. He shrugs.

And so I am blogging about it.

Inspirational joke of the day:

A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons.

The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.


  1. I truly feel for that woman, likely making minimum wage and having to deal with obnoxious passengers like you. It is obviously her job to not let anybody through with more than 2 bags, as per TSA regulations. It does not appear that she was rude to you as she asked you to follow the rules. She probably would have gotten in trouble for not doing that. I’m glad that you were not able to complain about her to her supervisor. Please think before you act.

    1. I won’t point-by-point you here because you’re clearly trolling, but the average airport security employee is making 45k, which is roughly 3x minimum wage and more than me, and every other person working front-line in my nonprofit. She was exceptionally rude, and is required by airport regulations to allow customers to provide feedback on her poor performance.

      And before you decide to go on a long, sad rant, remember that anyone making 45k has choices of jobs in San Francisco, and in fact chose to apply for, train to, and perform the job of being an airport security professional. So I will hold her accountable for all of those actions, as well as her truly unprofessional behavior. Not everyone gets those choices, and she wasted them. Shame on her, and shame on you for judging a situation you know nothing about.

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