Back to Squawk list
  • 138

Confessions of a TSA Agent

I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that… ( More...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

dax9876 18
I have absolutely no idea why this article is getting voted down. It's a very well written piece, and though not totally groundbreaking to a lot of us, if more people in the general public took a look at this, maybe we could see some change.

The most starkly real and frightening thing he says here is when he mentions how if a terrorist really wanted to make an impact, all he would have to do would become a TSA officer. To me this is a very real and scary threat, but perhaps more scary is the relative ease in which literally thousands of people at each major airport are issued SIDA badges. Literally every single ramp worker and customer service worker are granted direct access to aircraft, without having to pass through security at all.
blucenturion 19
that is such a well written piece, I intend to follow Jason's writings going forward. How illuminating!
grude 17
Going through security several times in the last 6 years I always thought it was more theater than security. This was a very well written piece and I know that honestly I am not any safer than before 9-11. I hope this starts a change, but I honestly doubt it. Government agencies, once given power will never give it up.
Tim Duggan 6
I'd like to see this article as a "Sticky" on FlightAware (if possible).

My career spans far enough back that there was a time when our valid airline crewmember IDs allowed us to bypass the magnetometers and x-ray eye-wash "theatre" entirely.

Then, it changed (sometime in 1988, iirc? Late 1980s, for sure). But, it was usually the case, back then, that the screeners knew how ridiculous it was, to "examine" pilots and F/As. But now, the TSA? A whole 'nuther animal!! A beast that's outgrown its usefulness and effectiveness.

And the most galling thing for we pilots was, management always told us "Don't make any waves." Being hassled for having a fricken allen wrench (which BTW) was 2.8 inches long? While in uniform. With all proper ID and authority to be there. To fly a leg with an airplane full of passengers and cargo. (Pssst....KDFW? Are you reading this?)

But, "Don't make any waves", they told us. Should I (not) mention the blatant gaps in every airport's (cough, cough) 'security' that still exist?
TSA is the proof that the terrorists have won so far.
Harry Thomas 5
WALLACE24 is correct. We have become more scared and mistrusting of each other than ever before. Though we certainly always need to be on guard for terrorism, security has never been handled intelligently. It is loaded with knee-jerk reactions. The TSA is prime example. This gentleman has been proving it in his blog for years.
tpmorrow 4
Yep,that's it in a nutshell.

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

joel wiley 5
With respect, must disagree. An intermediate goal in asymmetric warfare is to force your opponent to alter his behavior in a manner deleterious to his previous actions. Undressing, getting irradiated and groped, denied a drink of water, seeing one's loved one off at the gate rather than the curb, all are examples of our behavior being changed. IMHO the change is a negative one. What is worse, it does not improve our safety.

So, point goes to the TSA and other terrorist organizations. Another loss for our Constitution.
AWAAlum 0
I wonder if you have to go through security flying out of Afghanistan.
joel wiley 1
Haven't yet, why?
AWAAlum 1
Just idle curiosity if all airports had beefed up security or if it's just the States and Europe.
PhotoFinish 1
I still remember when there was much less security in the states, while security at airports in other parts of the world, often walked around with military-grade machine guns.
In Guatemala they have beefed up security. When I was there I also had to go through another screening, by the airline, at the gate. It was stated that because the flight was going to the US that the Guatemalan inspection was not thorough enough - which was not true.
fbomba6 4
If you liked this article, there's one more on Cracked by an Israeli Security Expert that will be interesting for sure:
Robert Hirst 4
On a recent trip, my wife had her contact lens solutions "tested". They passed even though one of them was hydrgen peroxide a known oxidizer! I also had a ski boot dryer (!) swabbed for explosives. I'm a middle aged white guy traveling with my family, fercrissakes. Oddly, one of my sons had the TSA check...the other didn't. The truth is that to make a bomb that works with a quart of liquids takes alot of time and special handling. Neither of these is available on a plane with 100+ pax and three restrooms. The terrorists have already won.
Patrick Smith 4
Nothing in the story really surprises me one way or the other, but it's good that somebody has come out, who happens also to be articulate and willing to take things further.

I left a comment...

"Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, boarded his plane in Europe, not in the U.S. That's one of the things about the body scanners: we've got them in Columbus, Ohio, or in Kansas City, but you don't see them at the vast majority of airports overseas, where the odds of a terrorist strike are much, much higher. Just one of the many inconsistencies and contradictions in our approach to airport security. Are the scanners really about safety, or are they about fattening the coffers of the contractors who provide them. Follow the money, as they say."

That's a paraphrase of points made in my essay, here...

Martin Haisman 0
2006 TSA appropriations for general security 4.98 Billion, screening workforce and equipment 3.91 Billion, Aviation detection and enforcement 1.07 billion. Sundries 156 million. Source Aviation and Airport Security Terrorism and Safety concerns K M Sweet from 2006. The TSA was formed by Don Young and Ernest Hollings overseen by President George W. Bush. Lots of money and lots of war and a kid can't carry his juice bottle.
The one thing that made me the maddest. In Orlando there is a Starschmucks right at the security gate...they watch you buy a coffee...make you toss it and guess what is right on the other side of the security gate? Starschmucks. Bastards. I try to be peaceful but most TSA people I have ever met (mostly at ORD) need to be punched in the face.
Tammie Collier 5
I'd get mad at TSA some days for being too strict. But I've MET the flying public and been on the receiving end of their stupidity too many times to not realize sometimes it's THEIR fault too.
Also, if you think a terrorist or smuggler wouldn't hide something dangerous in a child's toy or an elderly person's wheelchair you're delusional. I say let security scan whomever they please, including ME, long as it keeps me safe up there.
Matt Hauke 0
I totally agree. For as much flak as the actual TSA agents get, the flying public is the absolute worst. Ignorant, arrogant, and self-entitled.
Ric Wernicke 6
This says nothing those of us who pass through security don't already know. I just do as they ask and get it over with as pleasantly as possible. I wear slip on shoes, leave my belt in my carry on, and just don't bring items that would need a look. I did politely refuse back scatter x-rays because of the cancer risk from radiation and most of the time I was simply waived through. My impression was the guy doing the pat down was less interested in doing it than I was.

I have to say that this writer is more self aware of his humanity than the run of the mill TSA worker. If you look for brilliance in airport security it will sometimes show, especially if you are sympathetic to their working conditions and accept them as people.
blueashflyer 5
One time TSA took my 5yr old daughters kid-sized un-opened plastic bottle of fruit juice out of her backpack. "YOU CAN'T HAVE THIS..." She asked "Why does he take my juice" all puppy-dog-eyed. I said loudly right in front of the worker, "because sometimes the government takes things away from the citizens." He was all fuming mad because I made him the bad guy, but I was already past him he couldn't do anything.
Could have pulled it out, showed it to er and said "Sorry but this will have to stay here because it isn't the right size' You can get another juice over there' Sorry" Not what you say but the tone and message you deliver.
Pam Niehoff 2
Yes, for $6.00 inside the gate. Let's jack up the prices inside the gates, why don't we???
When given the chance...always always be mean to TSA. It is best when you are at your destination however. I cant wait for that whole mess to be disbanded and the staff be back at the fast food frier...I am a jerk though :-P
mikeenderle 4
"I quickly discovered I was working for an agency whose morale was among the lowest in the U.S. government. In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds."

I was going to say something but this clip of the article pretty much summed it up.
Obviously you do not work with/near the TSA & do not deal with the incredible things people attempt to bring on-board an aircraft...everyday. You are only a jerk for as long as you choose to be.
Andrew Urb 2
And people ask me why I gave up a lucrative consulting business that required constant travel throughout the U.S. and internationally. The hassle of the delay in the security lines and the idiocy of the rules was worse than traveling from the Jakarta airport to the city.
Peter Crew 2
Great piece of writing!
PhotoFinish 2
Consider this a preview of the novel/ book he's writing about his time at TSA.
Stacy Mattson 2
The formation of the TSA, HLS and others are merely a knee jerk reaction by the government to attempt to show the public that their government is doing something to protect them when in fact they are only creating bigger government and spending us into oblivion. If a terrorist wants to, they can find a way around just about anything. Please try not to illuminate where the flaws are and make it easier for them.
Pam Niehoff 1
Come into Canada via Lake Ontario in season as a family...
AWAAlum 2
Don't take this as a vote for the TSA, but, having read all of the comments, every one of which is negative, I have only this to say, and it's a serious question: OkAY THEN, WHAT IS THE ANSWER AND HOW CAN OUR SAFETY BE GUARDED?
Outpostone 1
In short, it can't!; If people are full of hatred and they hate you and don't mind killing, that is.
Edward Bardes 1
As long as there are two people alive in the world, someone is going to want someone dead.
Ric Wernicke 0
Seriously? Remove almost all items from the passenger compartment. Coats, hats, ladies bags, men's briefcases, essential medicines, and infant supplies. Return to 2 pieces free baggage. Move the security barrier to the jetway. Allow passengers and well wishers to move freely about the terminal before flight. Make the search and ditch prohibited articles at the last moment before flight. You can't take food or beverage into the ball park, might as well apply to planes too. This will make all the fuss of keeping passengers sterile before flight moot.
PhotoFinish 1
I like the idea.

But it'll make logistics for the airlines (which already have so many variables) much more conplicated. It would result in many more flight delays.

Who's kidding who? Airlines would rather waste passenger time than plane and/or pilot time. Most passengers also prefer lower fares.

Those pasengers who value time over money already tend to avail themselves of those premium offerings that greatly reduce or eliminate any waiting, that allow them to arrive later, depart sooner, and have a comfortable place to relax when they have the time.
AWAAlum 0
I fail to see how moving where the security barrier is placed changes anything. Only where it is. Additionally, I think the x-ray equipment may be a bit awkward. But I will concede I know nil about the inner workings of the airport.
PaulN2719 2
I once applied for a job with the TSA before thinking better of the idea. After reading this piece, I'm glad I changed my mind and it never came to pass!
Karla Smith 2
Traveling is no longer any fun thanks to our irrational security procedures. However, the procedures and protocols are not set by the poor TSA guy on the line at the airport. Put the blame where it belongs, not the guy just trying to get a paycheck.
Pam Niehoff 2
No. But they are power hungry, arrogant SOBs for the most part. Jeez, give me a uniform and a badge and a wand...
Sam Unruh 2
Very well-written.
C Smith 2
Great Piece !
C Smith 2
Great piece !
Terry McKinney 2
Our best friends from our schoolie jobs at #1 RCAF Fighter Wing in Marville France (1965-67) are now retired Airline pilots. The article is a good read but as a Canadian I shouldn" say much about it; however I can tell you that when he said that they took nail clippers from aircrew he wasn't an exageration. He was an A340 Air Canada captain out of Vancouver Base to Asian destinations had his nail clippers taken. This was in in Canada, thus the stupidity of so-called airport security isn't just in America. He also told me that the Air France A340 overrun at Toronto a few years back was a no brainer. PILOT ERROR.
Outpostone 1
I was at the Toronto airport when that happened. I heard the airplane fly over and I remember thinking, "why is he flying an approach in this storm"?!!! Moments later it was live on TV and I watched it burn. Thankfully everyone got out alive. I was completely astonished at that!
Don Arsenault 3
TSA "security" is a joke as is the rest of the "Homeland Security" apparatus!
Pam Niehoff 2
Except for the US Coast Guard!
T Economou 1
This is a bit late but just saw this page. I'm always impressed with the comments by folks that find it a horror that elderly and infants are sometimes closely inspected by TSA. What better way, short of working on the inside, of smuggling explosives onto an air carrier. Terrorists love our cavalier attitudes. Why not ask yourselves, would you rather see the inside of a fireball at 35,000 feel..or accept a little inconvenience before boarding? There are always better ways to enhance security but security comes first, not convenience. Regarding the suggestions for wearing slip-ons, flip flops or sandals, have you ever participated in an emergency evacuation after a survivable crash landing or the ensuing push to get off the airplane? Where the surface beneath the aircraft covered with metal shards and/or volatile fluids? The chances of such foor wear remaining on your feet after such an event are minimal. Take a moment and consider making your way through such a mess barefoot.
patrick baker 1
i willl believe in the TSA if and when the israeli version of the tsa takes over american airline security, then and only then will i dare to feel safe flying. what a clownshow the tsa puts on each day, and how much irritation they give out to american passengers. without providing security or safety confidence.....
btweston 1
I was once flying home from Pittsburgh with a coworker and he was singled out by TSA for a bag check. I had already passed through at stood watching while the agent went through his carry on. She’s moving stuff around and then she says, “Oooh, this is scary.”

A more senior agent comes out and takes a look, then throws a suspicious glance at my coworker and says, “Is this yours, sir?”

My coworker says, “What?”

The TSA dude lifts up a large tube of toothpaste and says, “This is contraband. You can’t take this aboard an aircraft.”

Naturally, my guy says, “I brought that from gone and it wasn’t a problem at LaGuardia. May I ask why it’s a problem now?”

TSA guy: “I don’t know how they do things at LaGuardia, but here in Pittsburgh we’re really good at our jobs.”

My coworker says, “Slow down, pal. You’re confiscating my toothpaste.”

TSA guy grimaces and, in the most angry display of impotence I’ve ever seen from a Fed, throws the toothpaste into a garbage can and authoritatively tells my coworker to “Have a nice flight... SIR.”

It was fun to watch.
matt jensen 1
Ric Wernicke 1
The TSA officially shot back “many of the TSA procedures and policies referenced in this article are no longer in place or are characterized inaccurately”

Methinks the TSA should read Pinocchio and release a truthful statement.
PhotoFinish 2
If only that were true.

Too often in this administration, there are lies to cover up the truth and incompetence. The media has not done its' usually more thorough refutal of such blatant fibbery (for not using an uglier word).

This tone and strategy comes from the political operatives. But the man in charge is responsible for making the decisions to actively deceive the American people. In the past, some Presidents were proud to proclaim 'the buck stops here'.

Nowadays, it seems the only 'bucks' are at fundraisers.
T Economou 1
Late reply but just read this. Of course there's always a better way to do things. But still, the cavalier comments of some, e.g., regards searching of elderly and infants...what better vehicle for smuggling explosives onto an aircraft than in an elderly person or infants clothing. What would annoy those objecting more...seeing the interior of a fireball at 35,000 feet, or having someone searched at the gate? As for slip-ons, flip flops, etc...have you ever had to evacuate an aircraft in an emergency? With metal shards and/or volatile fluids on the ground? Do you think your flip flops will remain on after the experience of a survivable crash landing and the rush to an exit? Think about it.
aeg100 1
Long ago the police and their contemporaries became my friends. Unpleasant as a TSA inspection is..for both the receiver and the TSA inspector, I submit that it is preferable to doing nothing at all. Think of the invasive procedures a physician has to perform, or the attorney or accountant or investment advisor must preform to do their jobs. Whatsa difference? I am hopeful with experience, additional analysis and review, and improved technologies, the TSA inspection procedures may be refined, perfected, and upgraded. In the meantime, we all may suffer a modest amount. Let's keep laughing in the face of terrorist's threats and demonstrate they may inconvenience us, but we shall overcome those minor travails and triumph in maintaining and improving our culture...with or without the TSA's help. Let us not fight among ourselves over trivial items...otherwise the terrorists may think they have succeeded at their evil deeds. They have not! With improvements, hopefully, the TSA's work is more accurate and the traveler is inconvenienced less than previous procedures. Let us all be thankful that most of us choose to work cooperatively, and we reduce the likelihood of nasty terrorists carrying out their evil deeds. And, we maintain a sense of humor, so we may laugh together in the face of potential dangers. He who laughs last laughs best. Fie on the evil doers...they may never enjoy the freedom and the fun of living among our fellow free citizens. "Perfect" we are not, but with hard work, cooperation, and incremental improvements, we shall all be "improved" in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. Cheers!
AWAAlum 1
Nice to see things put into perspective!
Martin Haisman 1
Laughable the billions spent on security at the main hubs then the lesser states and poorer countries can't spend more then baggage x-ray and a sniffer dog. Nothing can beat or supersede the huge funding and infiltration of people within the terrorist network.
paul weintraub 0
Is it theatre? Yes, of course. It is meant to dissuade potential attackers from trying based on the assumption that they will be caught. Same reason we lock our houses and our cars. If someone REALLY wants to get in, they can, but let's not make it too easy. Is it annoying...yes, but more so when there are long lines and groups of agents are not working but simply wasting their time until the end of their shift. Effective, yes...even in China on internal flights security is taken seriously. Necessary...unfortunately yes, but a good attitude can go far in minimizing the discomfort. Remember, the ONE thing you can change that will change everything about the way people react to you is YOUR attitude.
T Economou -3
Wow, I'm genuinely wide eyed at the cavalier comments I just read here. Those of you that are offended because an elderly lady or puppy eyed 8 month old babys bottle was checked out...might consider that those two are some of the best vehicles for smuggling explosives onto an airliner. For exactly this reason. So many (legal) immigrants to this country..from nations that have been victimized repeatedly by terrorists, suicide bomber etc., always tell me they are so grateful to be here..and what are we thinking when we co cavalierly criticize those that do what they can to keep us safe. They say we have had it too good for too long.(I think there may be something to that). We get what we pay for. And the agency that determines the level of security at airports..must decide between cost, and how loud the complaining howl of those citizens that feel they have been put upon when they are checked out. Could 8 ounces of nitro look a little like Apple Juice in a baby bottle? Does someone here have a wish to see what the inside of an explosion at 34,000 feet looks like? No doubt there have been instances of unecessary abruptness etc by TSA officers. Those should be complained about and dealt with. Its not as though they 're the only ones. IRS, NSA, anybody?


Don't have an account? Register now (free) for customized features, flight alerts, and more!
Did you know that FlightAware flight tracking is supported by advertising?
You can help us keep FlightAware free by allowing ads from We work hard to keep our advertising relevant and unobtrusive to create a great experience. It's quick and easy to whitelist ads on FlightAware or please consider our premium accounts.