Over the Christmas holiday, I flew to Los Angeles for a family wedding. I was, of course, glad to escape–if only for a couple of days–the cold weather afflicting us here in Chicago, and I was certainly glad to celebrate with family. But I was also curious to see what my encounters with the TSA would be like both at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and at LAX. I don’t need to recount for readers the ongoing controversies regarding the new TSA security procedures, in which passengers either receive a very intrusive physical patdown, or get X-rayed by the Rapiscan (who thought that name up?) backscatter machine, whose pictures leave little to the imagination. But I was interested in seeing how the TSA would handle travel on Christmas, and in the immediate aftermath of the holiday. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but for what it’s worth, my experience was as follows:
I flew out to LA on Christmas day. At O’Hare, the TSA checkpoint I went to had two backscatter machines. None of them were being used; both were cordoned off, and I don’t think that they were even activated. There were two separate lines of passengers. One line had a patdown, though from what I saw, the TSA officials appeared to be careful to ensure that in the course of their patdowns, they did not encounter any variety of resistance from passengers. The other line–my line–didn’t feature any kind of patdown from what I saw; after having placed all of my earthly possessions on the conveyor belt, I was simply motioned to walk through. I should add that despite these minimal security provisions, it took about half an hour to get through O’Hare’s TSA checkpoint.
I flew back on December 27. The good news is that took less than five minutes to get through the checkpoint. The weird news is that there were no backscatter machines in site, and once again, from what I saw, no one was getting any kind of patdown whatsoever.
I am glad not to have had to go through the backscatter machines. I am glad not to have experienced a patdown. I am not a terrorist. I know I am not a terrorist. And I know that I would have been significantly annoyed to have had to endure either an excessively revealing picture-taking session, or a gropefest to confirm that I am not a terrorist.
But supposedly, incidents like the attempted Christmas bombing last year made clear–according to the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Obama Administration in general–that these intrusive inspections of our persons are necessary to ensure airport and airplane security. If that is the case, then one would expect that on the first Christmas after the attempted Christmas bombing, the TSA would be particularly vigilant in taking pictures of, and patting down airline passengers to ensure that no terrorist events took place.
Instead . . . nothing. At least nothing from my little corner of the world of travel. I’d like to think that the lack of inspections means that the TSA has found a smarter way to make sure that terrorists don’t get on planes. But I am betting that as with the Thanksgiving holiday, backscatter machine sessions, and gropefests were dispensed with so that the TSA would not have angry passengers causing it public relations problems.
If there is another explanation for what I encountered–and again, I know that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”–I would be delighted to know what that explanation is. But from where I sit, there are yet more reasons to be concerned about the arbitrary and capricious nature of the TSA’s implementation of its security procedures, and more reasons to believe that the TSA is not doing all that it should be doing in order to prevent airport and airline-related terrorism.