Before this week, I had never experienced any complications with air travel. All my encounters with the TSA were completely acceptable. No harassment, no theft, no groping. But I had, until this week, gone through the x-ray machine without complaint (I don’t see them as a health risk). However, I was curious, after reading stories across the internet about TSA’s abuses of power, to see if these situations were really that common. I feel that I should point out that I’m 18 (an agent refers to me as “kid” at point).
I was returning home from Minneapolis on Thursday and arrived at the Minneapolis Airport about two-and-a-half hours before my flight was set to board. With all that time, I decided to opt-out of the x-ray machine and see what happened.
When I reached the front of the security line, I requested not to go through the machine. Here is how the conversation progressed:
Me: I would rather not go through the x-ray machine. Is there an alternative process?
TSA: The x-rays are mandatory.
Me: No, they aren’t.
TSA: All passengers are required to go through the screening.
Me: I can opt out of the x-rays if I want. There has to be an alternative process.
TSA: Stand over there, sir. (She indicated an area about ten feet away.)
The TSA lady called over another agent and had a rather long (probably about a minute-long) conversation with him, after which they come over to me:
TSA (man): Sir, the screening process is mandatory.
Me: Okay, but I don’t want to go through the x-rays.
TSA (woman): Stay here, please, sir.
They both left again and moved back over to the woman’s podium, where they called over a man who looked like a supervisor. This supervisor came over:
Supervisor: Please come this way, sir. (He leads me to a side area of the checkpoint.)
TSA (woman): It’ll be a minute before an agent can pat you down.
After about seven-ish minutes, I walked over to the woman TSA agent:
Me: Excuse, me? How long will this take?
TSA: Please stand back, sir.
Me: I’ve been waiting for an agent for more than five minutes. How much longer?
TSA: Go back over there, sir. He’ll be here soon.
I went back to the “designated area” to continue waiting. After ten more minutes, I went back up to the podium, where the original woman had been replaced by a man:
Me: Excuse me, sir. I’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes for a pat down over there.
Me: I’ve been waiting for a patdown for fifteen minutes.
Me: I opted out of the x-rays. Another agent took me over there and told me to wait. That was fifteen minutes ago.
TSA: Just a minute. (He got up and walked over to another agent and I went back to the side area.)
TSA: (a minute later): Why don’t you want to go through the screening?
Me: I just would rather not.
TSA: You don’t have a reason?
Me: Excuse me? I don’t think that’s any of your business.
TSA: You need to give a reason.
Me: No, I actually don’t. You need to provide an alternate option if I don’t want to go through the x-ray.
TSA: Stay here. We’ll get to you eventually.
The agent walked away after saying that last bit in the most condescending, rude tone I’d ever heard from a TSA agent. I was taken aback by how he said it and didn’t reply. After ten more minutes, I went up to the same male agent and asked for a supervisor, to which he replied “He’s busy.”
Me: What did you just say?
TSA: He’s busy.
Me: I’ve been waiting for half an hour. That is unacceptable. I want to speak with a supervisor.
TSA: Just go back over there. I’ll call an agent over.
Me: And what exactly have you been doing for the past fifteen minutes?
TSA: Sir, you need to go back over there now.
Me: I want to talk to your supervisor now.
After this, I went back to the side area of the checkpoint. I was considering just going through the x-ray machine, but I felt like that would be like giving up, so I just stood there and waited. After a few minutes, two agents came over to me:
TSA: You were yelling at the agent over there?
TSA: Disrupting the screening process is a federal offense. When is your flight?
Me (I actually laughed I was so frustrated): Hardly. Why? So you can make me miss it?
TSA: Kid, lay off the attitude.
Me: “Kid”? Did you actually just say that? Where is your supervisor?
Me (this kind of just slipped out): Doing what? Groping a few six year-olds? I’ve been waiting almost forty-five minutes! I want to speak with him now.
TSA: Do you want to miss your flight?
I don’t know how long this could have gone on, but the manager miraculously appeared just after I loudly mentioned groping six year-olds. He seemed much more ready to assist me than the other agents and listened to all my complaints and frustrations calmly. After explaining that all I did was opt out of the machines, he asked one of the agents to go get another agent for a patdown and that agent arrived in less than thirty seconds (wasn’t that difficult?). The patdown (which was entirely non-intrusive or inappropriate) took less than thirty seconds with the manager observing.
I then watched as the manager disciplined three of the agents involved for “abusing a passenger” (me). One of them even apologized. I filed a complaint online, with a complaint card and over the phone. Except for that manager, I have lost a great deal of my respect for the TSA. I think that this whole ordeal may have been in part because the agents considered me a “kid” and so didn’t take me as seriously as they would an older man or woman, but that excuse is pathetic.
I’m still not sure if I’ll opt out in the future, was it worth the effort and frustration?
By: Cole S.