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If you've been traveling of late, you might have noticed that the TSA has a new strategy of expediting the security screening process, filtering travelers going through general security into the dedicated precheck line at random.
We've seen it at different airports across the country, most recently in Denver and Philly. There's usually a TSA employee standing at a fork in the cattle-call line, and an iPad randomizer determines your fate as to which way you are sent through security. If the arrow points one way, you go through the normal screening lines. But if it points the other, you get to join the TSA precheck line where you, a person who has not signed up for precheck and has not been prescreened, is not required to remove your shoes, laptop, or outer layers.
TSA / Bad Ideas / Airport Security / Airline Security / PHX / → All Tags
You guys know our stance on TSA, and our basic frustration with people who knock the airport security agency just for kicks. You know it because we've repeated it endlessly to the point where we asked you to incorporate it into your New Years resolution for 2014.
If you're going to complain about how much TSA employees suck, you need to choose one of two options: either support more funding for agency, so it can hire better people, or elect lawmakers who will dismantle it, which will never happen because no politician wants to get tagged for the next terrorist attack. Anything else is just complaining for the sake of complaining.
Recent assessments from the CIA indicate that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists are creating new shoe bombs that have the ability to generate multiple casualties on airplanes. Reports of the new threats came alongside other warnings - specifically but not entirely related to the Sochi Olympics - that terrorists are seeking to hide explosives in toothpaste and cosmetic tubes. Happy middle of the week everyone!
Putting aside the crazies who say that news about terrorism is designed to scare the American sheeple into letting the United Nations inject our kids with vaccinated fluoride (or whatever) there are usually two ways that people react kinds of stories of heightened threats.
Valentine's Day Travel / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
TSA recently blogged a list of tips for traveling during and around Valentine's Day. Yes to regular and even liquid-filled chocolates, but no to flower vases with water in them, plus a reminder that there are special rules for traveling with wedding dresses. Because wedding dresses and flower vases with water in them could be used to compromise the security of aircraft, you see.
In other news, engineers have discovered a way that hackers can hijack TSA scanning machines to remotely overlay what screeners see with arbitrary images. So if you're a terrorist smuggling a gun through security, and you've got a friend who has gained access to the computer linked to your checkpoint, your friend can cover over the image of your gun with what looks like a pile of socks.
Last week saw a good deal of travel politics news - we'll unpack most of it as the dust settles this week - but there was something in particular we wanted to post today, if only because it's kind of aggravating.
The end of last week saw a back-and-forth in Politico between TSA and a TSA ex-agent who wrote an expose confirming every bad stereotype people have about the agency. Neither side comes off particularly well, but what got our attention is how even at the top levels of public debate, people still don't get a very, very fundamental point: you can have lots of very specific rules, and then you get TSA employees who implement stupid regulations, or you can empower TSA employees to 'use common sense,' and then you get douchebags who use the wiggle room to abuse travelers.
It can be one or the other, but - unless you're going to get better TSA agents or abolish TSA completely - you have to choose one.
Airport Security / Airline Security / TSA / Congress / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Not to beat a particularly stupid dead horse, but just one more thing about that silly hearing that Congress held last week with TSA officials. We've repeatedly covered how the overarching debate over airport security is broken: politicians attack TSA for cutting corners, but those same politicians aren't willing to either change the rules (so there are no corners to cut) or increase the agency's funding (so it wouldn't need to cut corners).
We've already posted on one aggravating part of the hearing, which had Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) declaring that TSA agents don't say "please" and "thank you" enough, and so he's going to write legislation sending them to politeness school. He saw security officers telling travelers to do awkward things like take off clothing, and stand in line, and assume various positions, and he thought it would be better if they were nicer about it. But the problem isn't whether agents are polite when they implement poorly conceptualized and even more poorly executed security policies. It's that the security policies are poorly conceptualized and executed.
TSA / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Congress / Bad Ideas / Airport Security / Airline Security / Rants / → All Tags
The Jaunted policy on travel politics is very straightforward: there is nothing so broken about the experience of getting from one airport to another - whether it be picking a seat or paying for baggage or going through security or even taking off - that Congress can't make it worse.
TSA, for example, is a disaster in hundreds of ways significant and incidental. But give an elected official a chance to address even the smallest of the agency's problems, and they're bound without fail to come up with legislation that falls somewhere in between useless meddling and genuine damage. We actually had to check today's story multiple times before we could convince ourselves it wasn't a parody.
It's that time of the year again, the time when the year just plain ends. Alas, we can't just let 2013 go that easily, especially since travelers spent it both up in the air and up in arms over a crazy range of topics. Needless to say, we're ready to get going into 2014, but first we're taking a brief look back at the best of 2013 with the Jaunted Travel Awards,or as we fondly refer to themThe Jauntys.
TSA has always been kind of a tragicomic clusterfuck - let's all recall this unbelievable idiocy which was followed by this shameless denial - but things have really picked up in even the last month and a half. Between confiscating the guns of sock puppets and trying to use cartoon dogs to explain why mommy and daddy are getting bad touched, it's almost like the agency is trying to confirm skeptics' worst stereotypes. The fact that we just learned that TSA's security theater may be extra-useless because the post-screening area has materials for weapons isn't helping.
And yet none of those qualify as the wackiest TSA tale of 2013. They're excellent examples of where TSA agents decided to either overthink or underthink regulations, but they don't really get at why the agency is so special or what role it plays in travel politics. To understand that, you have to go back to the fiasco over trying to allow pocket knives on places.
Think your Facebook page is all fun and games (and friend of friend's baby pictures?). Well, you're right to an extent, but recently Vimeo co-founder Zach Klein discovered that it also does double-duty as a form of acceptable identification for passing US airport security.
Klein forgot his drivers license, but was able to show TSA staff his Facebook page to establish his identity while passing through security on December 22. Our sister site, CN Traveler, picked up the story from there:
Airport Security / Airline Security / JFK / New York Travel / New Jersey Travel / Travel News / TSA / Bad Ideas / Airports / Airport News / → All Tags
Roughly a year ago some poor soul got lost jet skiing in Jamaica Bay, and ended up shivering wet outside the fence at JFK. He proceeded to scale the airport's 8-foot fence, make his way across 2 runways, and enter Terminal 3. Good for him - how else was he expected to get warm - but bad for the Port Authority. The organization is ostensibly responsible for security at the airport, which presumably includes not letting a random guy in a neon yellow life jacket wander around runways and terminals undetected for hours at a time.
This year, there have been no life jacket-wearing New Yorkers embarrassing the Port Authority by effortlessly defeating one of their airport's security system. Instead it's a cross-dressing Jersey City resident. Airport security you guys; gosh we just don't know.
Is there any chance that TSA is just trolling us now? Earlier this week there was the thing with the sock monkey, and him having a gun, and his gun getting taken away at security. We theorized at the time that it might be because the screeners were just fucking idiots, but now we're not so sure. Maybe they're just very, very clever about doing ostentatiously stupid things.
Before we go on, let's remember that TSA is an airport security agency that coalesced in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks. There is something of a debate over whether it needs to exist, but one way or another it's the result of terrorism. Justified or not, the fact that TSA had to be invented kind of sucks. The way that security officials have to go about their business - what with the whole patting down Americans like criminals routine - also sucks.
There are times when we try to defend TSA for mindlessly enforcing its rules rather than following 'common sense.' Yes it's absurd to pat down grandma after she triggers a scanner, for instance, but once an alarm goes off TSA agents are obligated to go through a very specific procedure. Do you really want them making their own decisions on when it's OK to believe the machines? Keep in mind how we recruit some of them.
But this is just fucking idiotic. The story reads like something we'd invent if we were trying to imagine a really stupid instance of TSA security theater. Seriously. We can actually imagine ourselves saying something like "next thing you know, they'll start taking away toy guns from hand-woven stuffed animals." And yet here we are.