Sunday, January 30, 2011

The TSA Pulling More Pranks at Philadelphia's Airport

Another day, another Philadelphia International TSA agent throwing around his authority for cheap laughs. Last time it was the budding comedian who pranked a college student by planting fake drugs in her luggage, reducing her to tears. This time it's a local sports fan who thinks that pulling aside mothers for wearing Cowboys jerseys is a charming local idiosyncrasy. Now there are two sides to every story and you have to judge individual accusations based on whether they ring true. This kind of rings true:

A Dallas Cowboys fan believes it was her jersey, not security, that led TSA screeners to pull her out of line for additional searches at Philadelphia International Airport... Galen, a mother of three, was on her way to Florida with her husband following the death of a family member. However, she found herself being patted in a plexiglass area in full view of other passengers. The biggest shock for Galen, who never asked TSA officials why she was being singled out, came when a screener walked up to her as she was putting her shoes back on to resume her trip. 'He walked up to me and said "how's it feel to be a Cowboys fan in Philadelphia?" I did tell him "wow,"' Galen said.

It almost sounds like TSA workers decided to get a few chuckles by waylaying a Cowboys fan, just like they decided last month to plant drugs on that college student. Charming. Of course our random screening procedures are designed to give checkpoint agents wide discretion, which for some reason we thought would decrease the risk of arbitrary harassment. Apparently not when that harassment is supposed to be funny.

As always we want to be very precise about this: TSA doesn't have a hiring problem, they have a firing problem. There are plenty of good people in the agency. But just as with every other organization, a few bad apples inevitably slip through. For some reason, though, TSA seems to have issues with shedding their problem workers. And that's particularly problematic because TSA agents wield enormous legal power over citizens who, because they're trying to catch a flight, don't have time to stand up to overbearing bureaucrats. So when TSA says, as they did after this incident, that concerned travelers should ask for a supervisor at the checkpoint—it's difficult to take them seriously.