image source_bill alldredgeThere was a time when traveling, especially flying, was fun, something to be looked forward to.  Then things changed.

First came the terrorists from the PLO who took hijacking to a new level and then 9/11 elevating it to a degree never imagined.

In between was the Arab-inspired oil crises that gave birth to skyrocketing oil prices that affected auto and air travel, increasing fuel prices at levels unimaginable only a few years ago.  Along with that was the squeezing of passengers into ever diminishing spaces in seats that would hardly accommodate an infant.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in response to the attacks on aircraft in an effort to provide a high degree of confidence and safety for the millions who fly.

What has happened in too many cases is an agency where some of its employees have run amuck.  Instead of providing for security there are those wearing TSA badges and uniforms who themselves should be under scrutiny.

Example: On a recent multi-city trip to Texas requiring frequent flights a series of discomforting occurrences took place.

Let’s say at the outset that any flyer knows that TSA has every right in the world to open and check luggage.  And let’s also say that by far the greater majority of TSA agents are honest and hard working people.  It’s the minority that’s a problem.

Our checked luggage is always fitted with a TSA approved lock.  These locks have an opening into which TSA can insert a universal key and open them in order to inspect luggage in a random basis.

Flying out of McAllen, Texas to Dallas for a flight change, luggage was checked to the destination of Waco.  On arrival in Waco the first suitcase was pulled from the luggage belt and, interestingly, an electric razor that had been packed fell to the ground…followed by a number of business cards and paperwork.

TSA had opened the bag to inspect it and never closed it properly.  The bottom was open and small objects fell out.  The TSA approved lock was missing as well.

At the hotel when the suitcase was opened more items were found to be missing.  This was even more disturbing because at least one could not have fallen out.  A plastic bag containing five smaller bags with a variety of nuts purchased in McAllen for nearly $40 was missing.  It was simply too big to have fallen out as it was packed near the top of the suitcase.

Somewhere in Texas a TSA agent is enjoying a snack.

On the next leg of the trip, after landing in Amarillo, it was determined that TSA had once again spot checked the bags.  No problem there, except that now the second TSA approved lock was missing.

This is only the tip of what too often goes on in dealings with TSA.  Passengers are limited to carrying on board liquids in containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces.  They must all fit into a plastic bag no bigger than one quart and there may only be one such bag per passenger.

On one accession a fairly expensive bottle of wine was confiscated at the check point in West Palm Beach.  Interestingly it was not placed in the bin but was put atop the x-ray machine.

Somewhere in Florida a TSA agent was enjoying wine with dinner.

TSA does collect such wine bottles and keeps them in a bin.  They also deposit knives, cigarette lighters and other verboten items in similar bins for later disposal…unless they become the personal property of a TSA agent.

Now there are going to object and say that TSA is unfairly being criticized.  The truth of the matter is that these incidents were discussed with a former TSA agent who worked at an airport in the Northeast.  What he had to say was quite disconcerting.

According to the former agent many of the confiscated items left the airport in the pockets of TSA agents.  He himself had a drawer full of expensive pocket knives and a variety of other items.

Wine, he said, was no exception.  Some agents felt it was a shame to waste a good bottle of wine and were altruistic enough to make sure it was not destroyed.  Instead it was used to enhance their dinners.

This pales in comparison to his description of what went on during baggage checks in the bowels of the airport. Rarely, he said, was any large item taken, but it was not unknown for cash, jewelry and small electronic devices.

He said some agents were quite adept at pocketing such items without being picked up by security devices.  Why didn’t he report any of this?  It was, he said, very difficult to prove and you would be labeled as a “rat” and shunned by other TSA agents.

Again, just to reiterate, by far the greater majority of TSA agents are honest and hard working men and women.  There is a minority really giving the rest of them a major black eye.  Most of the losses are small…a TSA approved lock at about $7; bags of nuts costing $40 and such.  But even the loss of a pencil is one pencil too many.

If they are going to open suitcases for inspection, only contraband should be removed and immediately turned over to proper authority. If a bag is unlocked, it should be properly closed and relocked.  Nothing less is acceptable.

Reported with Sandy Nesoff

Image source: Flickr/Bill Alldredge