How to handle TSA retaliation
In crafting the legislation that created the Transportation Security Administration, then-US Senator Tom Daschle intoned, “You don’t professionalize until you federalize.” While airport security has been federalized to the maximum, the promised professionalization never happened. In addition to regular arrests for theft and drug running, TSA agents routinely take punitive measures against travelers who dare question their actions.
Of particular bother is what I call the “name game”. At some airports, the TSA agent responsible for checking traveler identification asks the traveler to state his or her name. And unlike with the pornoscanners or conversational profiling, there is no “opt out”. Refusal to participate in this charade leads to denial of boarding.
So what’s the big deal about stating your name? The TSA already receives your full name and date of birth each time you book an airline ticket. Why not just say it and move on? Two reasons; first, the name game is another aspect of control and conditioning by the TSA. Much like with their police-style uniforms and pat downs for declining to submit to the pornoscanner, TSA is attempting to condition us to follow its direction no matter what. Second, the name game exercise is absurd pseudo-security. It adds nothing of value and serves only to perpetuate the illusion of effective security at our nation’s airports. It’s kabuki theater.
Despite my frequent travel, I had not encountered the name game until last Sunday at JFK. I observed a few people ahead of me in line, so when my turn came, I was ready:
TSA ID clerk: Name.
[Writing about this doesn't quite convey it - the TSA clerk wasn't asking politely for travelers' names, he was barking the word in a forceful and menacing way.]
Me: It’s right there on the ID I just gave you.
TSA: I need you to tell me your name.
Me: Why, what purpose does this serve?
TSA: Tell me your name or don’t fly.
Me: I am Citizen Ryan Lile, Comrade.
Needless to say, he didn’t like this one bit. He made some scribbles on my boarding pass, which I looked at on the way to the metal detector.
Note where I drew the red box – he wrote the text “SSSS”. This is a designation that the person in possession of that boarding pass should receive additional screening. This was nothing more than blatant retaliation because I dared to question the system. This type of petty behavior is rampant within the TSA.
Being smarter than the TSA employee in question – and since this was illegitimate retaliation against me – I took corrective action. I printed a new boarding pass for myself, and voila:
No more retaliatory SSSS.
Retaliation from TSA employees isn’t just for questioning the name game. I have seen (and experienced) dozens of retaliatory pat downs and bag searches as a direct result of questioning a TSA employee or policy. While difficult to prove (and hence fight) TSA retaliation, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
1. Print and carry multiple copies of your boarding pass, so that you always have a clean copy at the ready. Alternatively you can ask any airline agent for a reprint.
2. Escalate a problem to a supervisor when needed. Often it’s the more junior TSA employees who have the worst attitude problems. Sadly the supervisors will back their employees more often that not, and even if they’re wrong.
3. If it’s something really important to you, be prepared to take a stand and fight the issue to the top (and miss your flight). This may include calling for a law enforcement officer or senior TSA management.
Ultimately, TSA’s hostility to passengers won’t change unless we force the issues. Defend your rights (and common sense) where necessary, and put pressure on your elected representatives to reign in this unaccountable agency.