Stupidity at the TSA

Well, I guess I can come clean since I'm no longer on US Airways Group payroll, and feel now is the time to tell this story.

I was a supervisor at Key West for many moons and was @ EYW during the Air Midwest years and then Piedmont/PSA station ops using the CRJ-200s and EMB 170s.

This story relates to around 2004ish and TSA.

Staffing at Air Midwest was typically "always" at minimums, which means all agents are cross trained. When planes come in, we'd close the counter & its all hands on deck in the gate and ramp.

Rarely, if ever, did we have staffing to leave an agent at the counter.

Well, we flew Priority Mail for the USPS to MIA on the last flight of the evening, a 520PM-ish departure. This plane typically came in from TPA and went right back out to MIA. We also had an MIA-EYW-TPA flight that would occasionally run late, especially if weather in the Bahamas was bad (It came from Eleuthera or Governors Harbor) - so there'd be times we'd have 2 planes on the ground at once.

The USPS would have the same guy, day in and day out, come by & drop off 4 to 5 big orange USPS Mail bags. We'd weigh them & do what we need to do in our system, then place them in the bag line up for the TSA screeners to do an explosives test. TSA would then take the bag and place it NEAR the bag belt and we'd throw it on the belt, then off to the back. Mind you, same USPS guy, and typically same TSA guy.

In Key West, I think we had an OK relationship with the TSA. The former Piedmont/Air Midwest manager became the local FSD, so we figured she has a clue. And she was nice, however we weren't shocked by some of the stuff going on. She wasn't horrible, but she also didn't hesitate to reprimand us for little crap either.

so on a fairly windy & cloudy day, and in typical Air Midwest fashion, the flights were all running late. Everyone had checked in for both MIA and TPA and we closed the counter. We had mentioned to the TSA guy standing around we were waiting on mail and ask him to wait. (mind you, we had a great relationship with some of the TSA guys).

so we're all outside working the flight, and the USPS guy comes by. TSA guy and him start talking, and TSA guy starts to clear the mail bags. When you do the same thing day in & day out, and know everyone, you can forget stuff. Like asking him to stay. So the mail bags have now gone from behind our counter, to TSA screening, and landed on our bag belt (which has a door closed on it, so nothing can clear). everyone is outside working the TPA outbound as there are a bunch of connections on there.

what we didn't know was TSA Regulatory (from DC) was there doing an inspection.

And he saw the mail bags, on the CLOSED BAG BELT, with no US/ZV employees around.

Everyone comes back in and someone went to the counter to see if the mail man was there, he wasn't, but saw the bags, so she unlocked the belt door and sent the mail back after checking with the TSA agent if they were good to go.

And in the back on the ramp was the TSA Regulatory guy.

He had the galls to start a LOI - Letter of Investigation with a $10,000 fine.

Mind you, at no time did any staff at USAirways or Air Midwest accept these mail bags (in person). In the course of his LOI, we showed hiim the videos, with all staff clearly visible at the time the USPS guy dropped off the mail bags. The video of our counters unfortunately chopped off the top 1/2 of everyone's body, but you could also see the TSA guy and USPS guy talking, and no US agents around.

Our former station manager, and now the FSD, didn't even try to help out the way the station was hoping.

It cost Mesa hundreds of hours of legal & administrative time just to fight this stupid fine. TSA refused to back down, saying we clearly violated the security of the system by accepting bags & leaving them unattended on the bag belt. That was the basis of their fine - that we accepted bags and left them unattended. Despite the video proof it was infact the TSA agent who broke the rules, not us. USPS guy was supposed to wait for a ZV/US agent to come out to accept the bags, and he didn't either. However, not sure how all of this soon became the fault of the station.

Key West is a very unique airport & town. We are (were) operating in a building built back in the days of DC-3s and flights to Cuba, with a very small infrastructure and small island. Everyone knows everyone else & typically get along (hence the One Human Family as the Island's motto). We were also a haven for inspectors from the FAA, DOT, TSA, and even company when it got cold up north. Why not come visit Key West on Uncle Sam's dime and be able to charge the $350/nt La Concha or Sheraton while doing work for the US Gvt?
One of my "favorite" TSA stories goes back a few years.

I assisted a wheelchair pax up to the gate; the man was north of 80, missing both legs, and wearing "Iwo Jima Veteran" hat; he was traveling with his wife. As is often the case with elderly people in wheelchairs, he set off the mag (he had metal implants in one of his arms). So he got the complete pat down and ETD swipe. Oh yeah, his carry on was dumped searched, too. I was feeling increasingly mortified watching this, he and his wife took it in stride. Afterwards, i had the chance to talk with him for a bit. Yes, he had left both legs on the sands of Iwo Jima and had been awarded two purple hearts and a Sliver Star. The Mrs had been his girlfriend back home some 60 years before.

It was hard to hold back tears as I shook his hand and told him what an honor it was to meet him.

Look, I have no bone to pick with the TSOs; I'm sure it was embarrassing for them. I do question TSA's policy of treating everyone as posing the same level of threat. Yup, that legless 80 something war hero had to be treated the same as a young man hailing from certain places in the world.

Anyone else catch the former El Al security chief who has been on several talk shows lately? He says the body scanners and enhanced pat downs don't do nearly as much good as passenger interviews and, yes, profiling would do.
I agree that the TSA has gone way too far in their efforts to harass the public in exchange for their lack of real progress in implementing serious security, apparently on the assumption that making lots of peoples' life miserable will be mistaken for security.

As for the lack of profiling, that is more our fault. The ACLU and lots of lawyers are just waiting for any sign of profiling, so as to file suit and tie up lots of time in an effort to squeeze money out of the government.

I see it in investigations of local police departments. Despite speed and red light cameras showing non-equal share of transgressing the law depending on race, the local cops have to record racial info on every stop they make, and get blamed for the imbalance -- the exact same imbalance shown by impartial red light and speed cameras to within a single percent!

If zero real impartiality is jumped on due solely to some appearance of partiality, what chance is there that "profiling" will not be jumped on?

Zero chance.

I agree that what some other countries do for certain aspects of law enforcement appear to be more effective, but their rules are different too. And while some of us might now say we are willing to change the rules in certain cases, history shows that if you give an inch, the authorities will try their hardest to grab a mile. Not all of them, but enough will to cause a backlash later.

Might it help if TSA recruited medical school rejects to operate the backscatter scanners (less prurient interest in images), instead of the regular marginally-trained personnel that sign up for TSA? (Sorry, but I've asked questions of TSA personnel about what their instruments are telling them from wipes of my luggage, for example, and the response shows they have not a clue what is really going on with their instrument--unlike myself as a former chemist in law enforcement forensics and military energetics).