I have spent a good deal of time in this blog writing about and making fun of other people's idiotic actions and dumbass mistakes. In fact, you might say I have built a reputation around highlighting both absurdity and ignorance. Therefore, it is only fair that, when I do something that is colossally ill-advised, inappropriate and injudicious, that I take a few minutes to simply make fun of myself. If I didn't, I would be a hypocrite.
If you have not yet realized it, this would be one such moment.
I am probably a bit of a “traveling snob.” I fly a great deal, have a Known Traveler Number for TSA Pre-Check, and pride myself on my ability to get through airport security swiftly and without concern. I also privately roll my eyes and get frustrated when working around passengers who clearly don't know what they are doing. This is most prominent in the pre-check area, where sometimes hapless and inexperienced travelers strip to their underwear only to learn they should have left everything on. Or, they leave everything on, including 38 pounds of metal jewelry, and are bewildered as to why the metal detector doesn't seem to like them.
One time I was going through security, and while it was not a tremendous wait it was moving slowly. There were a number of obviously inexperienced travelers in the line, and it had been a bit chaotic for them as they got through the system. As we waited for our bags to emerge from the x-ray machine, the woman behind me started griping, saying “Why is this line so slow?” I responded, simply, by saying, “It's because they let idiots who don't know what they are doing into the pre-check line.” I had no sooner uttered that phrase when a TSA agent pulled a bag off the line and asked the woman if it was hers. She responded affirmatively as he reached inside and pulled out an enormous bottle of water, which is, of course, prohibited. I winced slightly as both this woman and I realized I had just called her an idiot.
I have also often scoffed with incredulity at stories of people who are caught taking prohibited items through TSA checkpoints. What do you mean you forgot your gun was in the bag? That massive hunting knife slipped your mind? And the grenade? You didn't remember you were carrying a grenade? I could never understand how people could just simply forget that they had prohibited contraband in their carryon luggage.
I actually still don't understand, even though it just happened to me. But I'm a heck of a lot humbler about it now, I assure you. A much humbler idiot, indeed.
I was headed to Las Vegas, for the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference. I had arrived at the Tampa airport a bit early, and was pleased to see no line at the security area. I had my ID checked, and proceeded to the screening tables. I placed my carryon bag and computer bag on the x-ray conveyor, and slipped through the metal detector without issue. As I waited on the other side for my bags to emerge, I realized it was taking a bit longer than I expected. A woman who had been just ahead of me, and who was also waiting for her bag, said, “There seems to be a problem with a bag.” She might as well have said, “They let an idiot through pre-check,” because as she said it, a recent memory formed in my head.
It was a memory of just the day before, when I noticed something in my computer bag, and said to my wife, “I have to remember to take these out before I fly tomorrow.” Too bad I hadn't thought of it again until now.
There were two people looking at the x-ray video monitor. Then there were three. Then four. Then five. The fifth person, the one with the most bars on his TSA uniform, stood there shaking his head, and appeared to be thinking, “We let an idiot through pre-check.” Mentally, I was scrambling to find some sort of rewind button, where we could back up and try this all again. But alas, no such button exists. We were now committed.
He removed my computer bag, verified it was mine, and led me to the examination table at the end of the screening area. He asked me to “not touch the bag at all,” while he opened the front pocket and began searching. At this point I saw no benefit in making him work more than he had to. I apologized to him, and noted I remembered what was in the bag. I pointed him directly to the pocket where he would find what he was looking for. He unzipped the compartment, reached in, and pulled out 3 fully loaded magazines that are for my personal carry firearm. I knew the gun was, fortunately, not in the bag, or this story would be a whole lot worse than it is.
Probably wasn't a good time to mention I was headed to Mandalay Bay, either.
The entire ordeal delayed me less than 10 minutes at the checkpoint, and I must emphasize that the TSA agents I dealt with were extremely professional and very polite. I was embarrassed by my situation, but very impressed with their comportment.
I really did not know what to expect. Several distinct scenes from the movie “Midnight Express” flashed through my mind. In reality, the agent took my driver's license, and asked me how much time I had until my flight. He asked me to sit in the post screening area where people reassemble their belongings after security, while he went to complete his paperwork. After a few minutes, a supervisor popped out and asked if I had a concealed weapons permit. I confirmed I did and he asked to see it as well. I took the opportunity to apologize to him for the trouble, and he said, “You would be surprised how often this happens.”
Apparently they let a lot of idiots fly.
Finally, they asked for my phone number and email address. With that, we were done. There was nothing I was expected to sign. They returned my ID's and the now empty magazines and asked if I wished to surrender them, or put them in my bag and check it as luggage. This was Tampa (the best airport in the world), which meant I was parked nearby. I told them I had time, and would prefer to walk them out to my car and leave them there. The agent walked me out of security and told me “you now have a story to tell.”
Little did he know how likely I was to tell it.
So, what happens now? This was considered a civil, rather than criminal violation. I have an attorney friend who had a similar experience several months ago, and from research and discussions with him, I expect that within a couple months I will receive a “Notice of Violation” from TSA that will contain a fine, likely in the area of $200 to $300. The other aspect, which pains me more than the potential fine, is that I could face the loss of my pre-check status for some period of time.
That means there may be one less idiot in pre-check.
While that does not sound like much to many, for me it does represent a significant change. I have noted before that I have sleep apnea, and I travel with a portable CPAP unit. Additionally, I carry a fair amount of electronic devices, laptop, iPad, etc. Current standards mean all of that, CPAP included, must come out of the bag when not in pre-check. The CPAP occasionally has to go for secondary screening. When you spend a fair amount of time in airports, this represents a significant process. But I have no one to blame for this but myself.
People have asked me, why did you have 3 mags in the bag? I suppose I could tell them that I am not a very good shot, and expect that if I ever have to use a gun in self-defense that I would be dependent on quantity over quality. The reality is that my wife and I had taken a road trip to Hilton Head, SC a couple weeks prior, and the gun and magazines went with me in the bag.
I simply failed to remove the magazines when I took out the gun. Oops. I've learned from this, and will change some of the ways I do things to prevent a repeat occurrence.
But the good news is, that TSA, an agency that is oft maligned and criticized, was on the job and performed as expected. They were polite and professional, and I earned a new respect for what they have to deal with on a day to day basis.
What they have to deal with is dumbass idiots, and catching their ridiculous mistakes.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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Bob is an accomplished speaker for the workers' compensation industry. He is available for conferences, corporate events, children's birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. You may access his Speakers Brief here.