A Tale of Two Airports

This is about a belt buckle, two airports and the Transportation Security Administration. I’m not a frequent traveler, and I plead ignorance about some of TSA’s rules for air passengers. But the treatment I got at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a cautionary tale for the unwary.

Last week I had to fly to Texas because of a family emergency. Thursday afternoon, when I was going through security at Reagan National, the metal detector chirped. I hadn’t taken off my belt, and the TSA officer suggested that maybe my buckle touched off the machine. I asked to go through again, and still wearing my belt I got through on the second pass.

TSA’s officers at Reagan National were calm, polite and professional. At D/FW the officers were arrogant and sarcastic.

At D/FW, my buckle and wallet conspired to make me a terrorist suspect. Saturday morning, I was running late for a 6:15 a.m. flight. The line at security wasn’t that long, but TSA acted like they had to rush the mob through. When it came my turn, the officer at the metal detector saw my belt buckle, and wouldn’t let me through.

D/FW seems to be a belts-off airport, no exceptions. After I removed it and put it through the x-ray machine, I was directed to one of TSA’s full-body scanners. It was the first time I’d encountered one of them.

After scanning, I was directed ahead to another officer. He asked, “Didn’t you know you were supposed to take everything out of your pockets?” Well, no, I was half asleep, and my hearing isn’t up to par anyway. There had been an officer barking instructions at two lines of passengers, but I didn’t realize she had said anything directly to me.

I had neglected to take my wallet and handkerchief out my pockets and they showed up as anomalies on the scan. I had to stand while the officer patted me down. Then he looked inside my wallet. THAT was an invasion of my privacy, and I see no justification for it. If it happens again, I’ll be sure to count my money afterward.

I made it in time for the flight home. So far this has been a personal rant, but here’s the point:

First, passengers should be able to expect consistent treatment from TSA at any airport. My experiences at Reagan National and D/FW were light years apart. Shouldn’t there be standard protocols? Belts-on, belts-off seems trivial, but it’s one more hassle for passengers.

Second, TSA shouldn’t assume that everybody knows everything about their inspection technology. I checked later, and TSA’s Web site “strongly recommends” taking everything out of your pockets for full-body scanning. Not everyone reads TSA’s instructions online. Would it be too much for TSA to post clearly-written instructions at the security checkpoint?

When people began complaining about TSA’s security last year, I felt like they should stop whining and get with the program. No more. People have legitimate complaints. Add mine to the list. Maybe TSA will read it and take note. 

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