I am the first to acknowledge my issues with authority. It started at a very early age when I could not understand why my elementary school teachers did not feel the compelling need to hear my perspective. For the most part, I can identify my urges toward inappropriate behaviors and suppress them before they come out. Most significantly, I listen to and respect the TSA Agents at airport screening sites. Part of the respect is naturally driven by their authority to take me in the back room and inspect places which better remain hidden to even my doctor, but mostly I view their job as important. I make a point of arriving early and the added time for inspection makes me feel a bit safer. This all ended last week.
I checked in and started to go through security. I emptied my pockets, took off my shoes and walked through the metal detector. The detector went off because I walked too quickly. I went back, as instructed, and walked through again. This time the detector did not go off. I was immediately waived to the side by a gentlemen whose parents’ migration to America is much closer in time than my own. He asked me to spread my arms. I did. He ran the wand under my arms, across my body and up and down my torso. There was no reaction from the wand or me. He then physically patted down my upper body and found nothing. He then did the same on my legs. Then, after finding nothing, he asked me to undo my belt and open my pants. As appealing as exhibiting my underwear to the whole of LAX may be, this did not seem like the time or place. As he was talking to me, I was responding and looking him the eye. Looking someone in the eye while you speak is a sign of courtesy and respect. It shows attentiveness. Apparently this is not the case for this particular TSA Agent. In a single beat of my heart I was moved from LAX to a scene from Deliverance.
“Stop staring me in the eye” he said angrily “this entire time you are under investigation and if you continue that behavior, you will not make your plane.”
I was being threatened for “eyeballing” after I was asked to open my pants. I’ve heard this warning before, but never outside the movies. There is a significant difference between exertion of authority and abuse. Unfortunately, this razorsharp distinction may be lost on some individuals.
I once flew from L.A. to Toronto on El Al. With good reason, these guys are serious about their security. When I checked in, someone came up to me in the line ticket line looked into my eyes, and said “I am going to ask you some questions.”
“Did you pack your bags yourself?” It was the same question I answered on every other airline, so I just said “Yes.”
“No, No, No,” he said “this is a serious question. Did you pack your bags yourself, I have to know.”
He then went on to ask me all of the other standard questions. The way he asked them, demanded a response and any uncertainty or inclination to deception would be perceived by this trained interrogator. I, and the rest of the passengers, was then escorted to El Al’s own x ray machine. They x rayed our bags. We then went to El Al’s metal detector. Once through, we were seated in a room where our bags were hand searched. Someone asked if we were going to be late for the plane, and we were told not to worry, the plane would not take off until everyone is confirmed as safe. During the process my name was checked a number of times against the manifest and I was checked in and out of each station. After the whole process, they took us to the TSA inspection where the El Al official smiled at the low level of review. When we got on the plane, we received safety instructions and were served by flight attendants who were better suited to compete in the NFL than fit down the narrow aisles of the plane. Every step of the way, we knew we were safe, and if someone wanted to do something bad, they knew it was not happening here. I never encountered a stronger assertion of authority. Trained professionals understood the levity of their task and the danger they are trying to avoid. I do not mean to overgeneralize and paint the entire staff with the bruch primed by my friend at LAX. While is the most egregious incident, it is certainly not the only one.
The TSA are doing a very important job. Especially during this time of war and the growing instability in our world. There are a lot of crazies out there, and they don’t all look so crazy. Their position on the front line and the responsibility they bear is mind boggling to the point incomprehensibility. All the more reason to screen and train these individuals. There will certainly be kinks in the system, but with all the money we are spending and all the time invested, let’s make the system efficient and effective.