I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that the TSA did not feel the urge to violate me (with gloved hands) for the sake of a false sense of safety.
The bad news is that I’m beginning to really hate the process of flying.
It used to be a thrill and a pleasure—all the stuff between being dropped off at the airport and feeling that gentle swoop in my stomach at liftoff was just that—stuff. Even when the lines at the check-in counter were always longer than the ones at security, even before all the modern “convenience” of online check-in, it was less stressful. I think because it was predictable. You knew how long it would take at the ticket counter; you knew how long it took to go through security (5 minutes, max, on a busy day), and so did most everybody else. So things flowed as nicely as they could in a place like that.
In the past nine years (especially in the past five), things have changed so much and so quickly that it’s impossible to bank on anything. Blame the threat of airborne terrorism, blame the TSA, blame whoever you please. But nothing’s for sure. I’ve spent a grand total of six minutes (yes I timed it) getting from the car to my gate. I’ve spent more than twelve times that doing the same thing. Both incidences occurred in the past two years. Y’all have y’all’s own horror stories, I’m sure. Feel free to share in the comments.
So what actually happened to me? Well, nothing life-alteringly scarring or newsworthy, so if you’re looking for a sensational story about how I got sexually assaulted by a stinking brutish TSA lout and I’m so psychologically damaged I’m suing TSA for weeks of intense therapy, then you can just pass this post on by. What occurred was less an event and more a source of deep irritation. But I do place most of the blame on the heightened regulations imposed on the process of flying by the TSA.
My fiancé and I awoke at the bright and gleaming hour of 4am so I could make my 5:50am flight. He graciously dropped me off at the airport at a shade before 5, both of us figuring that five minutes shy of an hour would be plenty of time since I had already checked in the night before and printed my boarding pass. All I had to do was drop my checked bag off and zip through security.
I noticed rather immediately that I wouldn’t be doing a lot of zipping. Most check-in counters nowadays have an express lane or similar, for those passengers wise enough to have taken advantage of advance check-in. JetBlue had no such check-in lane this morning. So I had to wait in line for 14 minutes (yes I timed it) just to drop my bag off. However, I did get a little reward from the ticket lady.
Me: “Hi. I’ve already checked in; I just need to drop my bag off. I’m on the 5:50 flight to JFK.”
Ticket lady (of middling age, way more cheerful than I was): “Oh, okay. Is this your first time flying alone, hon?”
Me, confused: “Uh. No. I’m twenty-four.”
Ticket lady, confused: “No you’re not. Are you sure? Can I see your ID?”
I handed her my driver’s license, with which she confirmed my age. She handed it back to me with the same expression with which a cow looks at an oncoming train. “You have such a babyface, hon!”
I thanked her with a genuine but sleepy smile and made use of my finely-tuned crowd-weaving skills to make it through the throng (there are always more people than you think that fly in the stupid hours of the morning) to the security checkpoint. I checked my watch again; it was 5:16. My flight started boarding in four minutes. No worries, though, I still had almost a half hour before they closed the gate. I gauged the length of the line and the number of checkpoints they had open, and by the slipshod, half-asleep breed of mathematics all veteran flyers possess, estimated I’d be through security in another ten minutes, barring unforeseen catastrophe.
I shouldn’t have jinxed it like that.
Even though I didn’t get fed through the naked machine or subjected to an “enhanced patdown” (aka Step Right Up and Get Violated by Your Government), I had the dubious pleasure of being pulled aside and verbally searched. I got through the metal detector fine. My shoes, laptop, cell phone and wallet got through the x-ray machine fine. But something about or in my backpack didn’t sit so well with the guy whose eyes were glued to the screen. He said he’d put it through again. I said okay. So far I was three minutes short of my ten; I could deal. The portly guy at the x-ray machine stopped the conveyor when my bag came around again. He squinched his eyes up and put his nose to the screen. Blinked. Backed the conveyor up. Moved it forward a few inches. Paused. Blinked again. Then my backpack came out of the scanner, and I thought I was clear to go. But the guy scooped it up again, handed it to another taller gentleman who just looked so in love with his job. This overly sanguine fellow pinned me to the wall with his eyes as the chubby x-ray operator pointed at me and mouthed the words “That’s her bag over there.” I was ushered unceremoniously to an out-of-the-way spot with a table and a stool. The thin gent told me (not asked me, told me) to empty my pockets and sit down. He commenced emptying my backpack. Which included: a book, a laptop, a power cord, two notebooks, a couple of pens and a granola bar. That was it. How he could turn that into a 4-minute process I will never know. Maybe he just did it to spite me. I really believe he just sat there with my laptop thinking “Maybe if I stare at this thing long enough it will turn into a bomb and we can arrest this bitch.” I could tell he even wanted to open my granola bar. You never know, I could be hiding plastic explosive in between those delicious crunchy clusters.
“Can I see your ID, miss,” he barked. Again, not a question. I gave it to him, making it very clear, nonverbally, that I did not appreciate his tone. He stared at my license for a while, then flicked his eyes up to me. Back to my license. Back to me.
“What is your full name, miss.”
I told him.
“Your date of birth.”
I gave it.
“Your current address.”
“It’s not on there,” I said, pointing to my license. “I moved.” Then I recited my address in Buffalo.
“When did you move and why?”
The words shot out before I could stop them. “Why is that your business?” I snapped my mouth shut so hard I heard my teeth click.
“What is your Social Security number, miss.”
Chagrined and confused, I recited it. Then added: “I don’t know why you need that either.”
“Wait here,” Mr Charming said, and put out his hand as if he was telling his dog to stay. He turned and left.
My thoughts ran thusly: Okay, I pissed him off.
He looks chronically pissed-off
He’s going to make the next few minutes very unpleasant for me.
I only have 20 minutes until my plane takes off. What if I don’t make it?
I will carve a smile onto this fucker’s face. Or maybe a more permanent frown. If that’s possible.
That will definitely get me arrested.
Wait, I don’t even have anything sharp to carve with.
Damn, maybe I should have packed some plastic explosives in my granola bar. I could feed it to him and then set it off. Play Gallagher with this asshole’s head.
I swear I do not normally think like this. Call it a situational mood disorder.
Mr Charming left me in stir for another five minutes or so (didn’t time this one; too busy letting my imagination run rampant with Mr Charming’s death). Upon his return, he asked to see my boarding pass. I handed him both the one to JFK and my connection to Charlotte. He stood there, looking dour, puzzling over my documents like a first-year lit student with War and Peace. The clock had left 5:30 in the dust and was rapidly hurtling toward 5:45. I told myself very insistently to make nice to him, to do whatever he said and not under any circumstances mouth off to him so I could get on my way as quick as I could. My wounded sense of self would heal.
Mr Charming handed me my documents and I braced myself for an “enhanced patdown”. At least, I thought to myself, he doesn’t look like the kind of man that would savor the experience any more than I would.
Instead, he asked me if I was aware that the new TSA regulations require all passengers to register their full name, gender, date of birth and social security number with the airline before departure?
“No,” I said honestly. “That’s news to me.”
“You should have been notified when you purchased your tickets and when you checked in, miss,” he spat. Clearly he’d done this before, and clearly he was none too happy about having to do it one more time.
“I did everything online, so maybe that’s…”
“There are notices on JetBlue’s website and posted signs in the check-in area. We make sure to inform all our customers of this new regulation. Is this your first time flying?”
Jesus pleezus, does everyone think I’m a sixteen-year-old virgin lamb?
“Nosir. I just haven’t flown since all the bullsh—er, stuff with TSA regulations. And stuff.”
Open mouth, insert both feet. For good measure.
“You still should have been notified. I went ahead and registered you.” But don’t fall on your knees and thank me or anything. It’s not like I did you a favor, his eyes said. “But if you fly a different airline next time, make sure you register your information with them.”
“But TSA has all my information now. Why do I have to re-register with each airline?”
“TSA is not allowed to store this information. So if you fly with a different airline you must re-register with your full name, gender, date of birth and Social Security number.”
I wanted to say: “For a bunch of folks who are so obsessed with the security and safety of their customers, you sure are playing fast and loose with their identities.”
I wanted to say: “I hope they have saved an incredibly uncomfortable place in hell for you.”
I wanted to say: “I call bullshit. Just grope me and let me the fuck go.”
I said: “Thanks for letting me know. Am I cool to leave?”
He said: “Yes. Enjoy your flight, miss.”
After that little interlude, a burned-out engine and a tailspin into the side of a mountain would be enjoyable.
More good news: I made my flight. With just a minute to spare.