Flying Too Close To The Sun

Despite all the argument and examples, few who haven’t been personally touched by the tragedy of the American criminal justice system care that it fails to meet its promise of “justice for all.”  I suspect that’s because few are touched by the system, seeing it as misfortune from afar, providing greater benefit to their lives than detriment.  It’s easier to overlook problems when they aren’t yours.

The Transportation Safety Administration, however, may have found a way to touch people who thought they were untouchable.  The TSA may accomplish what so many others before it have failed, because the TSA touches the lives of so many.  Rich or poor, powerful or weak, law-abiding or criminal, young or old; if you fly, they will touch you.

Years ago, I sat as arbitrator for a physician doing her residency in Manhattan who was traveling to her homeland in Palestine with her two young children.  She planned to fly El Al,  The airline had other plans.  She was stopped, separated from her two young children and detained.  She was frantic about her kids while she was forcibly held.  The only reason for El Al personnel to do this was that she was Palestinian.  They tried to wrap it up in fine rhetoric, but they simply profiled her and detained her.  Better safe than sorry. 

Although I’m Jewish, and some might suppose I have a bias against Palestinians, I was outraged at this woman’s treatment.  Forget about the award (I gave her everything she asked for, which was insufficient).  I told the El Al representative that this is America.  We don’t behave this way in America.  We don’t seize people, separate them from their children, just because we have the power to do so.  That if anyone should understand why unilateral fiat, might makes right, is wrong, it should be a Jew.  I told her that I was ashamed by El Al’s disgraceful conduct.

A few years before, I represented a person who worked as a security agent at JFK Airport.  This was shortly after the 1994 World Trade Center bombing, and before there was a TSA.  I asked her, half jokingly, what she would do if she found a bomb.  She told me she would run like hell the other way.  They didn’t pay her enough to die for the job.  She had no education, and it was a good job, better than the others she was qualified to do.  But it was just a job.

Many around the blawgosphere have been writing about the TSA since the new security screenings have gone into effect.  Some to describe them. Some to complain about them. Some to note the things that are  terribly wrong  about them.  No one cared about the Palestinian medical resident, other than her and me.  People are now beginning to care because it’s touching them.

This coming week, I will be traveling to Milwaukee with my son, who will be fencing in the North American Cup competition.  We travel with an expensive hardcase to protect his weapons.  The manufacturer of the case guarantees replacement of the clasps, specially made to allow TSA access, if broken.  Even though they are specially made for TSA inspection, they are regularly broken.

I have prepared a sign that I place inside the case asking very nicely that TSA agents recognize that the epees within are finely honed sporting equipment, and begging them to be careful, not to play with the weapons and to replace them in the case as they were originally packed.  When we arrive at competitions, the weapons are always damaged.

Our primary goal is to arrive at the competition with the weapons.  We hope to be relatively on time.  I always arrange for direct flights, for fear that the weapons will be lost.  I always plan for enough time to repair the damaged weapons, because the weapons always need repair after the TSA touches them.  One time, the interior of the case was filled with sticky, brown, cola residue that caused substantial damage.  Someone had spilled their soda into the case. 

There’s no one to speak to about this.  There’s nothing to be done.  It all happens out of sight by a person unseen.  We’re left to clean up the mess afterward, cursing but without anyone to hear.  As Ken at  Popehat posts, a former TSA screener  expresses her view of the situation:

Flying is a privilege not a right. As such, it can be and is regulated. Requirements can and are set up to ensure that everyone who flies is safe. If you don’t like it, then don’t fly. You may not be as concerned as the next guy about the safety or you may be more concerned. Point is the job of TSA is to ensure the entire traveling public is safe not just you. TSA officers don’t care what you as an individual want, they can’t, it just isn’t possible. You may be ok with lax security but what about the next passenger who wants thorough security?

Your right to privacy isn’t being violated at all. You always have the option to drive a car, take a train, grab the bus or start rowing a boat. You do not have to fly, you just want to fly. The minute you decide you want to fly then you have to accept that security is involved and you are going to have consent and submit to it period the end.

. . . .

Now if you want to fly, suck it up and accept that you have to submit to the security procedures. Yes you think they are stupid or unnecessary but TSA officers and TSA don’t care what you think. They try to make it all warm and fuzzy but they can’t because it is security not a trip to Disney World. Shut up and get in the scanner or don’t fly.

Aside from the arrogance, what she’s inartfully expressing is the balancing of safety and personal freedoms.  Perhaps she has a point when she speaks to the tradeoff between one person’s indignity and another’s safety.  It’s difficult to say, since these measures are the product of government fiat, not individual demand.  People do demand that the government protect them.  It’s irrelevant if we think these scared people are foolish, as even foolish people are entitled to make demands of their government.

How the government is to protect them, however, is another matter.  It’s unclear that anyone has demanded that the government take naked images of airline passengers, or touch the genitalia of children.  For the most part, the protections sought by the overly fearful have been at the expense of others.  As Americans, we have a long history of demanding the government do what’s good for us at other people’s expense.  We’ve come to consider it our birthright.

But this time, the pain is widely shared.  We all suffer the indignity.  While I’m not thrilled at being put through the indignity of being inappropriately touched or viewed as if naked, my personal situation doesn’t make it terribly traumatic.  My son, half-jokingly, said that they are welcome to scan him and see what they are missing.  That’s not just the bravado of youth, I might add.

We didn’t need to be persuaded that this is all over the top.  We began from that point of view.  My son because we talk about things at the dinner table.  Me because it’s how I think.  As far as indignities the government can inflict upon a person, this barely registers.  I’m still more concerned about damage to my son’s weapons and the Pepsi Syndrome.

Others, however, will find their desire for personal safety tested by the TSA’s security.  There is nothing anyone can tell them that will make them feel the balance for themselves, but perhaps being touched or viewed, or having their spouse or children touched or viewed, will finally have an impact.  Maybe we’re at a line that even foolish people don’t want to cross.  Maybe then, in contrast to the former TSA screener’s view that our rights must be sacrificed so that others can enjoy security, they will say “enough.”  Maybe they’ve gone too far this time.

12 thoughts on “Flying Too Close To The Sun

  1. Jdog

    Damn. I know that your top priority is the match, and coaching/prep, but you’ll be almost close enough for SWMBO and me to drive out and buy you both some supper.

  2. Corvus

    I realize this is somewhat beside the point of your post, but have you considered just giving up and fed-ex’ing your foils to the proper city a day or so before?

  3. SHG

    Epees, dammit, epees!  Foils are for girls.

    Actually, we have, but his practice/coaching schedule makes it impossible to do without his equipment and weapons for the two days it takes to ship overnight.  Plus, it would cost a fortune for overnight as it’s oversized.

  4. Rick Horowitz

    This is why I refuse to fly until after the Revolution.

    The attitude of the TSA officer you quoted is also why my personal feeling is that we will be better off when the public finally gets fed up enough to turn to violence, since law is no protection against the Tyranny we are experiencing from our own government now.

  5. nrasmuss

    I can’t say I agree with your ‘turn to violence,’ but I am a big fan of personal resistance and public shaming. Refuse the porno-scanners; publicly call TSA agents out for grabbing genitals. I won’t suggest that stating loudly that the officer searching you must be enjoying his work won’t generate some push-back against you, but I’m also certain that it makes life that much less pleasant for the agents.

  6. Mark Bennett

    It would be boog-simple for each screener to be assigned an ID for each shift, so that he could leave a slip of paper in your bag saying, “inspected by #_.” But when a TSA mall cop goes through your checked luggage, he leaves no record by which you could possibly ascertain who damaged your stuff.

    It astounds me that we allow TSA goons to paw through our checked luggage with no accountability, allowing them to damage and steal our stuff with impunity.

  7. SHG

    That’s exactly right.  While they sometimes leave a slip in the bag advising that they have inspected it, there is no way to identify who touched the bag if something is damaged.  There is no reason why an ID number shouldn’t be on the slip, but I suspect that if they realized they damaged anything, they would simply omit the slip altogether and there would be absolutely nothing anyone could do about it.

  8. missy11973

    Please, please report to TSA every time your son’s weapons are damaged. They can track down the crew that was working the flight you traveled on. Irregardless of that, they should pay for the damage.

    You said it happens every time and that is unacceptable on any level. There is little reason to remove them from the case to start with.

    On this next trip, take a few photos of the equipment prior to flying and then the damage afterwards and do report. If you don’t report it then there is never a chance of getting this problem corrected.

  9. Nameless Cynic

    “Flying is a privilege not a right.”


    49 U.S.C. § 40103 : US Code – Section 40103: Sovereignty and use of airspace

    (a) (2) A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace. To further that right, the Secretary of Transportation shall consult with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board established under section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 792) before prescribing a regulation or issuing an order or procedure that will have a significant impact on the accessibility of commercial airports or commercial air transportation for
    handicapped individuals.

  10. Lee

    This is my plan, though I don’t fly much anymore, to moan ecstatically anytime they get anywhere near the goods, to the point of drawing a crows (think Harry met Sally).

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