Then it happens: a passenger reaches into her carryon, and -- oops -- discovers a couple of small knives she'd forgotten were in there. The TSA screeners missed them. So she notifies a flight attendant, and the party is over. The plane goes back to the gate at Newark for a precautionary sweep. And the hours tick by …
Welcome to the sometimes tedious, often frustrating world of the TSA.
Is there an agency in the world with a dicier reputation than the Transportation Security Administration? Probably not as far as air travelers are concerned. Is this fair? Not exactly.
Believe me, the people of the TSA are well aware of their reputation -- as one employee says, "We have become numb to it." Still, the TSA's Greg Soule reminds us to look at the numbers: these security folks screen about 2 million people every day.
"Our officers and air marshals know they have to get it right each and every day in order to keep the airways safe," said Soule, a TSA spokesman.
But face it: security can be a royal pain.
Geoff Harris, a screenwriter in Los Angeles -- and a decidedly non-threatening-looking fellow -- has nevertheless been singled out for special "wand time" more than once.
"It's frustrating," he says, but what really irks him is all that time lost, just waiting around. "The TSA sets up all these special lines to make you think you'll get through faster, but it's like the lines at Disneyland -- it still takes forever."
I know what he means. I've been there, and I know you have, too. But, there's a lot of conventional wisdom about the TSA that really shouldn't be taken at face value. Let's try to dispel a few of these security myths.
Myth #1: The TSA is a transient force composed of people who can't find work elsewhere.
Reality: According to the TSA, more than 40 percent of its work force has been with TSA since its inception following 9/11 and transportation security officers spend an average of four years with the agency. Employee backgrounds include veterans, law enforcement officers, teachers and businesspeople.
Myth #2: The TSA doesn't do standard profiling because it is "politically incorrect."
Reality: Again, according to the TSA, they don't profile because it is not effective. "It is bad for security," Soule said. "We know that terrorist groups recruit from various age groups and people with a wide range of physical appearances. They recruit people who don't fit stereotypical terrorist profiles."
Myth #3: The TSA never finds anything really dangerous, because there's nothing to find.
Reality: According to a March article in the New York Daily News, people "think nothing of trying to walk onto planes armed to the teeth" and that includes loaded guns, and more. A TSA spokesman was quoted as saying, "Someone even once tried to bring a fully gassed-up power chain saw through a checkpoint."
Unbelievable -- though not quite as weird as the man caught carrying two live pigeons inside his pants -- but, that's another column.