Six Little-Known Facts About TSA Screeners

PHOTO: A TSA agent waits for passengers to use the TSA PreCheck lane being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on Oct. 4, 2011 in Miami, Fla.

A man who stripped naked at a TSA security checkpoint in April to prove he wasn't carrying explosives was found not guilty of public indecency last week. The judge ruled the strip act was a protected form of protest.

The ruling was met with groans from TSA officers, but then, they're used to opinions going against them.

It's no secret there's a lot of anger directed at the 50,000 men and women employed by the TSA. Some of the criticism is justified and I'm thinking of those officers convicted of theft at JFK. Other stories may be little more than "noise" - may be - but when a fellow fed such as Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., refers to the TSA as Thousands Standing Around or as one of the nation's "most disliked agencies," you know you have problems.

It got me to wondering how officers handle their unofficial status as the internet's "most popular punching bag." Imagine performing a job day-in and day-out that, if done right (such as a pat-down) could result in name-calling or worse; do it wrong (by letting a weapon slip through) and the consequences could be cataclysmic.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com What follows is not particularly scientific. This is anecdotal evidence based on airport observations and casual conversation initiated by me or some of my colleagues, but it provides a glimpse of security officers in action and you might find some surprises.

1. Officers do get compliments

We know TSA officers get nasty comments, but many say the vast majority of passengers are perfectly nice and far more concerned about getting their shoes back on than engaging in either pleasant chit-chat or raging arguments.

But apparently compliments are not uncommon. An employee of mine saw this happen twice in a single security line not long ago. In the first instance, a stone-faced officer was told, "Thanks for the job you're doing, for keeping us safe," but he didn't react in the slightest. However, when another officer was complimented, he looked so startled he actually stopped what he was doing. Then he smiled.

2. Officers don't get a pass from security

If you think TSA screeners merely show government ID to be whisked through the security via some sort of "professional courtesy," think again. They go through the same procedures you and I endure every time they fly. And in case you're wondering - well, let's go to #3.

3. Officers sometimes make the same security mistakes passengers do

Back in August 2006, when British officials foiled a plot to blow up some planes, the TSA banned all liquids. A month later, it reverted to the 3.4 ounce limit we know today. Some security officers have privately complained passengers should know by now that water bottles are banned, but guess what? TSA employees screw this up, too. Even big shots like spokesman Nico Melendez who told me a while back, "Sometimes, you just forget." People are human.

4. Officers don't make up the rules they follow

From everything I can see, most TSA officers are hard-working and diligent, but I won't convince anyone who hates what they do. Remember, though, these officers don't make up the rules they follow; they just promise to uphold them. If you don't like the rules, speak to a supervisor, make a complaint, contact an elected official or maybe you too will want to take your clothes off in protest (though I don't recommend this). Or you can opt out of flying altogether.

5. Yes, there are bad officers - and bad passengers

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