The last three times I’ve flown I’ve had “TSA Pre-check” above my name on my airline ticket, which in my world makes me a rock star. In layman’s terms it means that when I reach the airport’s Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening checkpoint I get to keep my shoes and lightweight jacket ON and my computer and quart-sized bag of liquids stay safely tucked in my carryon. The TSA pre-check status is supposed to save the TSA time in processing patrons through airport security and it’s supposed to save me time and stress. After my passport is checked against my ticket, the seated TSA agent issues me a large golden-yellow ticket so the agents at the screening machines know I’m pre-cleared.
I breezed through the first checkpoint and got my golden ticket. Then I saw that Terminal B’s security clearance area did not have a separate scanning lane for rock stars with golden tickets like mine. With just the smallest of sighs, I queued up with the regular people. When I reached the screening area I saw an airport kiosk employee unload more than a dozen cases of drinks from a trolley onto the security conveyor belt. From the looks of it — and the shouts of the TSA agent who worked security on the opposite side of the plexiglass partition from the action — the employee had to do this every time he brought cases of drinks through to the “other side” of security. Weirdly enough, the shouting TSA agent, wasn’t assigned to the security detail that included the scanners, but she seemed to have a vested interest in the airport kiosk employee’s process anyway. She continued to shout instructions through the plexiglass at the employee as he calmly worked on.
The TSA agents who actually worked in the security area around the kiosk employee said nothing and did nothing to curb her ever-increasing rage at the kiosk employee. Amid the rapidly escalating decibel levels and detailed instructions — and with her voice now dripping with threats and sarcasm if he “didn’t listen to her” — the TSA agent motioned angrily to one of the other TSA agents to switch places with her, which he did. Then she marched up to the kiosk employee and shouted into his face, threatening him if he didn’t “comply with procedures.” The other TSA agents ignored the kiosk employee and their fellow TSA agent, who by this time had worked herself into a towering rage. We passengers who waited to walk through the scanner, however, didn’t missed a second of her tirade. Some of us glanced at each other in concern; others murmured to each other.
Finally, it was my turn to enter Liberty International’s own Checkpoint Charlie. I held my golden ticket out to the still-angry TSA agent. She ignored it and brushed by me. I walked through the scanner at the motion of another agent. And the machine went off like I’d won the penny slot jackpot in Atlantic City. Since I was wearing new boots — TSA screening virgins — I glanced down and idly wondered if they had set off the alarm. I can only assume that the near-hysterical-with-anger TSA agent must have seen me glance down.
She marched up to me and shouted, “If you KNOW something is gonna buzz TAKE IT OFF BEFORE you walk through the machine, people. Can I tell you? TAKE IT OFF! You are WASTING our time.”
I stared at her, shocked she was, as we say in New Jersey, so in my face. And I was silent as I thought about how best to get away from a TSA agent who thought I plotted against her personally and the entire United States and purposefully set off the scanner machine.
When I didn’t immediately respond, the TSA agent turned to the dozen or so people waiting behind me: “If you KNOW you’re wearing something that will set off the machine, REMOVE IT,” she shouted, the veins in her neck standing out. And she continued to gesture toward me: her living, breathing example of a willful security rule breaker and time waster of all.
No one said a word. Then, rather than risk getting ejected from the line or arrested for not following proper procedure, I said, “I was prescreened so I didn’t have to take off my boots.”
“I TOLD YOU,” she replied, her voice rising with every word (just in case the people behind me didn’t quite hear her), “that you should remove anything that buzzes. You WILL be sent back through the machine after you remove the item. YOU WILL.”
I opened my mouth to explain that I wasn’t knowingly harboring rogue boots, then I snapped my mouth shut, removed my boots, tossed them into a bin and reentered the machine. The TSA agent smirked at me as I walked past her. The alarm was silent and the angry TSA agent stared at me with what I can only describe as triumph, but over what?
I turned and handed my now-crumpled rock star golden pass to the other TSA agent and walked away. It was only 7 am and my day had already been hijacked by a nasty TSA agent.
I’ve been through TSA airport screening at many airports — in New Jersey, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona California, Texas, New York, Maine, St Maarten, Italy, Puerto Rico and more I can’t think of off the top of my head. No other airport TSA agents have ever treated me like that nor have I seen them treat other passengers with such contempt and anger. And for TSA coworkers to stand there and not intervene? That’s just as wrong, if you ask me. I truly believe that the TSA agents at Liberty International Airport are The. Worst.
Have you had a TSA agent experience like mine at your area airport? A better one? Worse? Care to share in the comments?