Friday, November 19, 2010

Airport Pat Downs and the TSA

Anyone who has traveled by air since October 2001 has had to deal with the petulant, bullying, undignified employees of the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. This agency, part of the Bush Administration's successful effort to increase the size of the Federal government by nearly 15 percent was established to make sure that there would be no more 9/11 like attacks on the United States.

It was a great goal and at the time a politically expedient goal. However as time has gone on and the invasive nature of TSA has become augered into the psyche of the traveling public more and more people are beginning to question the wisdom of how TSA does its job.

The most recent example is the frustration that is being vented by the traveling public now that TSA has, for no known reason other than they can, begun doing pat-downs of travelers who refuse to be subjected to full body screening by TSA employees at the security check points in airports.

One of the main arguments against the pat-downs is the feeling by many that individual rights to freedom from unreasonable search provided by the US Constitution. Curiously just after 9/11 more than 70 percent of the Americans surveyed on one poll agreed that it is acceptable to give up some basic freedoms if it means fighting terrorism. Now that the latest freedom has been taken away people don't like it. You can't have it both ways!

As much as I have absolutely ZERO respect for TSA and the buffoon's who work for it I have to defend this pat down practice. And I do so because of my experience going through the gauntlet known as trying to fly out of the Tel Aviv, Israel, international airport.

First on driving into the airport all travelers are stopped and checked over by Israeli security forces. Then as you walk into the terminal you are immediately patted down (I was patted down by a Jamaican security person once and when I asked her to do it again, more slowly, her male supervisor told me "sir, you need to move along now" but that was Montego Bay, not Tel Aviv). That is the first pat down.

The second pat down comes when you go to approach the ticket counter. You lay all your belongings on a table and two or three security people rifle through everything in your luggage before you give anything to the gate agent. You are also patted down as this inspection goes on.

After getting your boarding pass, and before getting on the escalator to take you to the departure gates you pass through a metal detector but not before you are patted down (for a third time) by other Israeli security forces.

At the top of the escalator you turn right to walk to your gate. There before entering the departure area you are patted down a fourth time. When the flight is called and you walk down the steps to the bus that transports you to the plane, but before getting on that bus, you are patted down a fifth time. Finally at the base of the plane, before walking up the steps (there are no departure walkways at Tel Aviv airport - all planes are parked remotely from the terminal) you are patted down a sixth time.

All the luggage is laid out on the ground by the plane (this is why you are supposed to arrive at the airport four hours early!) where those checking bags have to go personally identify their luggage and probably get patted down again (I had this happen in the Georgetown Guyana airport also). Luckily I only had carry on so I wasn't subjected to a seventh pat down like some people were.

Once you get on the plane you feel pretty damned sure that nothing bad is going to happen to you because everyone and their brother has been checked and checked again six times even before the pilot starts the engines.

Is the security at the Tel Aviv airport excessive? A tad. But you know what? There has never been a successful hijacking of a plane out of Tel Aviv airport. Ever.

We all scream and holler and wax poetic about the need to fight "terrorism" but when techniques are implemented to do that, such as patting down passengers who don't agree to a body screening, then we start objecting like crazy.

We can't have it both ways as much as we'd like it that way. As for me, I will gladly be patted down and delayed a few minutes before getting to the gate if it means there is that much less chance for something bad to happen on the plane. My only hope is that the person who pats me down is about 38 years old, a brunette, and has a body to die for. But that's just me.


  1. Here's my beef. Tel Aviv employ personal with a sense of authority and purpose to honestly root out terrorists, as do most other European countries. Our TSA employees are a bunch of min wage, do nothings, who care less about terrorism and more about their paycheck. Some, with a little taste of power, set out to be arrogant and downright humiliating.

    PLUS (and you know this) Michael Chertoff went around scaring the shit out of people, for months, with the need for these machines where, we come to find out, he works for the company that makes them. That's another rub (excuse the pun)

    As usual, all good intentions for a worthy cause get lost in the greed and manipulation.