TSA Follies

The TSA (Transportation Stop Agency, as one person likes to call it) recently pronounced that since 5% of all security badges issued at the John Wayne Airport have been lost, they are revoking everyone’s credentials effective February 22nd. In order to gain access to the ramp, everyone who works there or uses the airport will have to re-apply for a new badge.

This might not strike the average person as outlandish, especially if they’re of the “safety at any cost!” ilk, but let’s look a bit more closely at the situation. First of all, 5% have not been lost. They simply weren’t physically returned to the airport administration once they expired. The TSA considers those badges “lost” even though, once expired, they are electronically deactivated and will no longer open gates or pass muster when inspected by the security guard prior to entry.

Even if they were somehow acquired by a person with mischief in mind, they would only be useful as a clothing accoutrement once admission to the airport ramp had already been gained. I could probably mock up a badge that would pass muster for that purpose in about 20 minutes.

The procedure for obtaining a badge involves an application, an employer approval, a driving test, fingerprinting, a background check, payment of fees, and more. Even a renewal requires most of those items. This isn’t a five minute procedure. The airport administration office has had to ramp up their staffing and hours in anticipation of the demand. Early mornings, nights, and weekends are now work times for the folks in that office. When I was there recently, the lady working the counter said the line had recently been out the door and all the way to the street. “It felt like taking orders at In-n-Out!”, she laughed.

Badges already expire on the owner’s birthday. Mine, for example, stopped working nearly a month ago. The next time I appeared at the gate, even though I was escorted by someone else, the security guard confiscated my old badge. One might wonder why that would be necessary if all the badges were about to be invalidated.

When I presented myself at the airport administration office to obtain a new badge a few weeks later, I was prepared: two forms of I.D., multiple forms of payment, paperwork signed and double-checked, and ready for the admittedly simple driving test. What I got instead was a 90 minute wait while they tried to figure out where my old badge was. I explained that it had been confiscated by the gate guard, but they responded that if that was the case, the badge should have been returned to the office and have been in their pile of expired credentials.

“What was the name of the guard who took it?”, they asked. Now how am I supposed to know that? I was able to provide them the exact date and time that it was taken by the guard, because I sent a text message to a friend immediately thereafter. More searching, more waiting. Time passes. Eventually they throw up their hands and state that it’ll have to be treated as “lost”. That means I get to pay a fine, fill out more paperwork, and provide an interview to a sheriff’s deputy.

I suppose it’s not the end of the world. But when you’re a pilot, it seems some organization is always demanding money and paperwork. First the passport expires, then the medical certificate needs renewal, then it’s recurrent training, then a CFI refresher, then it’s time to update your data with various insurance companies for the upcoming year. And let’s not forget about memberships with AOPA, EAA, IAC, NBAA, or any one of a dozen different organizations. Each of them seems mystified when anyone grouses about $50 for this or $75 for that. If they’d look at the larger picture, the total commitment of time and money would be more apparent.

Getting back to the badge situation, a far more serious affront was experienced by a fellow pilot who didn’t realize his badge had expired. He rolled up at the airport gate and when the guard saw the date printed on that little yellow card, rather than asking for the credential to be surrendered, he literally reached into the car to rip it right out of the pilot’s hand and then turned him away without the common courtesy he’d have received before his recent birthday.

Upon hearing his story, I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t a Soviet salute of some sort that could be used to complete the scene? “Papers, please!” These guys aren’t even sheriffs or deputies anymore. They’re “rent-a-cop” private security personnel hired by the county, undoubtedly via the lowest bid. The county may get what it pays for, but if a stranger reached into my vehicle without so much as a word and started grabbing at objects, he’d end up needing an ER visit and a cast. Driving onto the airport shouldn’t be a degrading process or involve the permission-less invasion of one’s vehicle or personal space.

One of the most senseless aspects of TSA airport security is that I’ve already obtained a pilot certificate, countless ratings, an instructor certificate, a U.S. government security clearance, a SENTRI “fast pass” for border crossings into the United States, a passport, Part 135 approval, type ratings, medical certification, and numerous other stamps of approval. Most of these already required an official background check of one sort or another by the federal government.

In an era where our medical, financial, and biometric information already seems to pass from one faceless bureaucratic entity to another at the speed of light, shouldn’t the onus of finding those clearances rest with them rather than us?

Just a thought.

  3 comments for “TSA Follies

  1. Colin Summers
    February 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Thousands Standing Around.

    It is nothing but security theater. Judge it the same way you judge the new Die Hard movie.

    • Ron
      February 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I think that would be judging the new Die Hard movie too harshly! 🙂

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