TSA Employees Need Better Customer Service Skills
I sat next to a young woman recently. She was bulging with a 7 month old baby (a.k.a. "fetus"), and happy to whip out her cellphone and share all the latest photos. Now that they're 3D (as opposed to the standard sonogram type we had in my era) the little girl really 'came to life' on screen. That is, with the exception of one unfortunate shot that made her look like Skeletor. I was quick to point that out and we had a laugh. But then the conversation turned serious.
The young mother-to-be told me that she'd been up against a TSA employee who kept insisting that she had to go through the scanner and she kept telling him that she couldn't because she was pregnant. "Oh nonsense," he scoffed. "That won't hurt the baby." Incredulous she asked for the supervisor, who allowed her to avoid the machine altogether. "But can you imagine what would've happened if he'd been talking to a young mother who didn't know any better?!" she said to me. Yup. Everyone would've had a chance to see Baby Skeletor. But, as it turns out, it probably would've been harmless to the baby. To read more about this, please see Jim's correction at the very bottom. If the TSA agents had taken the time to explain this to the young woman, she might still have opted out, but she wouldn't be spreading this as a tale of potential disaster.
And in the small airport of backwater Little Rock, Arkansas, I had a young woman sit down next to me with the tiniest dog in her lap. Being a dog lover, I felt that I'd died and gone to heaven. I had just been subjected to intense scrutiny because I had a laptop and metal rivets on the pockets of my jeans. Another woman had the agents pull out every tiny bottle she had in her luggage and painstakingly swab each bottle. We were joking about how they were all in training and feeling that power rush when "Emily" shared her story. Her dog ChiChi is a service dog that alerts when she has seizures. The little dog goes with her everywhere. When she came up to the agents in Little Rock, they stopped her and told her that the dog had to be in a carrier. "No," she explained patiently. "It's a service dog."
They acted like they'd never heard of a service dog before. "Well you still have to have her in a carrier," the agent said imperiously. "No, I don't," Emily said patiently. She is a softspoken little thing. They went round and round for a while and finally she asked for a supervisor. She handed over the documentation to the supervisor but "I felt as if they were just play acting, you know, like if you give a toddler a book to read and they pretend to read it but it's upside down," she said. Eventually they gave up and waved her through. Without a patdown. Without residue screening. So let's hope no terrorists have service dogs in Arkansas.
The Snotty Baby
Most people tell me that when it comes to seat companions they have two fears: 1) They'll get someone obese who should've bought two seats but is cheap enough to try to squeeze into one and lap over into their neighbors, or, 2) they'll get a screaming baby.
I got the screaming baby, complete with, I am only guessing here...Ebola. OK, I'm exaggerating a wee bit, but this child was a mess. It also was completely undisciplined, so it was allowed to stagger about, whining and screaming, wiping copious amounts of snot everywhere, while the mother would speak coyly to him. She would loudly say things like "Oh come on, Dantainerius. No one wants to hear THAT," and then would look about the cabin for approval, as if to say "Oh isn't he PRECIOUS?!" Everyone would steadfastly avoid eye contact.
In between us sat a young man that could put Adonis to shame. My friend and co-worker, "Amber", was sitting in the next row in front of me and she kept gesturing to Adonis, who calmly put his headphones in, pulled his cap over his eyes, and appeared to sleep throughout the chaos as the little monster repeatedly snotted all over his knee caps.
It was a two hour trip. It felt like four.
My friend "Marcie" flies with me. She's wracked up so many frequent flier miles she could probably travel the world for free. Twice. She's a gorgeous older woman in her late 60s with an ebullient personality, and madly in love with her husband. As I'm single, she gave me hope one day: "Don't worry, honey," she said. "You won't be single for long. You may not be looking for anyone, but there isn't a time that goes by that I'm not asked out by some guy I just met in the airport."
Don't forget I told you this story: Some day there may be a sequel.
My friend, Jim, is an expert. He writes:
The body scanners don't use x-rays. The TSA agent was right, the woman is misinformed. The scanners use radio wave frequencies, somewhere between cell phones and infra-red. X-rays are above ultra violet. Visible light is above infrared and below ultraviolet. So nowhere close to X-ray.
Oh another thing - you are exposed to about 50 times more "radiation" in one hour inside that metal tube flying at 35,000 feet. But nobody seems too worried about that.
The supervisor was also right. Anyone can opt out of the body scanners because various people made such a big deal out of "naked scanners". Also a lot of people don't understand the difference in ionizing radiation and light. Both are actually radiation, but one is not harmful. So they think that radio waves and cosmic rays are the same. Well they sort of are, in the regards that both have a frequency and wavelength.
Anyway you can request to opt out and the TSA is supposed to say "ok", then send you to the "machine alert" line for a physical pat-down and/or hand held metal detector screening. Which is slower and more intrusive, thus the push to get people to use the machine. It is faster for everybody involved.
But the passenger was still ill informed. But whatever the case, anyone can request to not use the machine.
If you fly often apply for global entry. It gets you into pre-check.