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September 11, 2012

Air travel, theft from baggage, bad security
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM * 223 comments

This is primarily a collection of news stories I’ve been accumulating on theft and related problems in the air travel industry, the inadequacy and complicity of the TSA, and what this tells us about the real state of airline and airport security. The main data stash is behind the fold, so if you want to start there, click on the link at the bottom of this entry.

Some themes to watch for as you read:

Thefts by TSA employees during security inspections. Other harassment.

Rate of theft by airline baggage handlers exacerbated by TSA ban on decent luggage locks; also, collusion between TSA scanners and baggage handlers; also, increased difficulty in tracking theft when more than one entity has control of checked luggage.

Theft in consequence of non-negotiable last-minute gateside check for carry-ons. (Idea: take real locks with you to put on your carry-on luggage after you go through security.)

TSA’s perpetual insistance that they have “zero tolerance for theft” when they’re doing squat to combat it. TSA’s perpetual attempts to downplay problems, minimize statistics, and deny that these are anything but isolated incidents: “There is no problem, and the problem is getting better.” TSA’s truthlessness in general.

Huge budgets and hierarchies in support of an airport security system that never catches terrorists. The tendency over time to shift priorities and procedures in ways that serve the needs of airlines and airports, rather than addressing security issues.

Crooked employees misroute luggage to obfuscate theft. Airlines combine theft and lost luggage data to obfuscate the extent of the problem. I recommend cultivating the habit of automatically doubting anyone who talks about what a tiny percentage of suitcases or travelers get robbed.

Thefts from luggage, bribe-taking, and drug trafficking as indications of bad security. Systems set up to facilitate one criminal activity can be used to facilitate others.

Thefts from baggage carousels. Personnel who used to check baggage claim checks were pulled off and reassigned elsewhere to save money. Results: predictable.

Deluxe luggage attracts thieves. Anonymous black proletarian luggage also attracts thieves. No luggage is proof against thieves if a baggage scanner has spotted something that he or she wants.

Recovery strategies that occasionally work: involving local law enforcement agencies; watching eBay and Craigslist; setting up tracking systems on eligible devices.

No airline will reimburse you for lost electronics. All airlines will try to get out of reimbursing you for anything. Options: buy insurance. Ship your luggage via FedEx.


We should all stop telling the victims that it’s their fault they were ripped off — they should have known not to put their valuables in their checked luggage. No one deserves to be robbed.

Not everyone is a savvy traveler. For those that aren’t, the semiotics of air travel don’t say “danger”. When they check their baggage, they’re dealing with someone in a natty airline uniform. They have to show ID. There’s paperwork and receipts. Immediately after that, they have to go through a security check conducted by federal employees. They take all those things as signals that they and their checked luggage are safe.

The air travel industry couldn’t function if some customers weren’t willing to check their luggage. TSA security checks wouldn’t work, or wouldn’t run smoothly, if travelers demanded that their belongings remain in line of sight at all times.

Those who depend on a system’s working in a certain way, and who perpetuate it, have no right to criticize the victims who get caught in it.

Instances of theft, and related events:

Theft by security worker at Logan. 19 April 2002.

Actual law enforcement got involved. State trooper had them replay security video footage. Thief identified; wallet returned. Yay.
TSA under pressure to stop baggage theft. Washington Post, 29 July 2003.

TSA screeners stealing from baggage. Multiple incidents, most notably Denver, Jul 12, 2004.

TSA Under Fire for Rising Theft by Baggage Screeners. 19 November 2004.

More than 60 TSA screeners have been arrested for theft at 30 different airports, both large and small. Some have been caught going through bags in full view of airport security cameras — one is even seen on tape pocketing a gold bracelet.

The TSA has settled 15,000 passenger claims filed over theft by screeners and has paid out $1.5 million in damages. …

But executives in the airline industry and local police officials say the problem is not small at all. ABC News has learned that at New York’s three major airports — John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International and LaGuardia — 400 of the first 2,000 screeners hired had criminal records. In some cases, it seemed that the TSA hired screeners without first completing background checks. In others, screeners were apparently subjected to basic background checks, without detailed follow-up investigations.

Fox News: Is Baggage Theft at Airports Growing? 19 May 2005. Cum grano salis.
David Stempler, President, Air Travelers Association:

The problem is really at the TSA side, the Transportation Security Administration (search), who basically refused to deal with this problem right from the beginning. We warned them when you start opening bags out of the view of passengers, you’re going to be subjected to all kinds of claims and all kinds of problems, and you’d better be ready for that.

They promised that there would be video cameras watching these people, but they’ve never done it. …

Bill O’Reilly: Now, I’m telling everybody, don’t check anything valuable. Because the airline is not going to help you. They’re basically going to say you’re on your own. Look at the contract. We don’t have to help you. That’s correct, right?

Stempler: Well, no. They have a requirement under the Department of Transportation (search) to pay up to $2,800 per passenger. Internationally, it’s now about $1,500.

O’Reilly: Not Jet Blue. They have in their contract that if you put in a camera or a computer, they do not have to reimburse.

Stempler: Right. You never put anything that’s valuable, that you can’t do without, that if you lost it would be a significant loss.

O’Reilly: And I understand the only way you get reimbursed on the other side is if the airline actually loses your luggage, not if you say something was stolen.

Stempler: Right. The other big problem here is that the care, custody and control is turned over by the passenger over to the airline. The airline puts it on that conveyor belt behind the ticket counter, it goes down to the room. They then have to turn it over to the TSA…

O’Reilly: Right.

Stempler: … who checks for explosives. Then it goes back to the airline. So if there’s something lost, you get all this finger pointing. The airline points at the TSA.

O’Reilly: Oh, yes.

Stempler: The TSA…

O’Reilly: That’s what Jet Blue did. They said, “It wasn’t our guys.”

Stempler: Right.

O’Reilly: “Because we have cameras on our guys and we can see what they do. It was the feds, because they don’t have any cameras. And they’re stealing stuff, and we hear it all the time. And we can’t do anything about it.”

And you’re right, now they can say, “It’s them. No, it’s not us. It must be them.” …

Stempler: But really, the real problem here, if you’re looking at this luggage thing, it’s with the TSA. They’re very slow on taking claims. They’ve only settled about, we understand, about 26 percent of the claims that are compiled…

O’Reilly: Forget it! If you’re going to go after the feds. And how can you prove it? You can’t prove they stole it.

Stempler: And guess what we’re finding out, Bill? They’ve only settled claims at about $200 per claim. The average at the airlines, we know, is between $400 and $500.

San Diego: theft and misconduct by TSA employees. 07 February 2007.

Boing Boing: $31 million worth of valuables disappeared from aviation system over last three years. 01 March 2008.

Tips to ensure the TSA doesn’t swipe your stuff. 4-21-2008.

Las Vegas: Airport thieves get left holding bag, September 28, 2008; updated 09 April 2012.

Thiefhunters in Paradise: Laptops Lost in Airports. November 2008.

Pythias Brown: The One-Man Crime Wave

Boing Boing: TSA screener ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics from passengers, TSA itself didn’t notice. 13 November 2008.

Boing Boing: Long comment by me on the Pythias Brown story. Assorted links to evidence of the TSA’s bad security habits, plus informative sites.

If the TSA were adequately monitoring theft and smuggling among TSA employees, Pythias Brown’s thefts should have stuck out like a sore thumb. They’re not owning up to the inadequacy of their procedures. Instead, they’re doing what the TSA always does: lying about it. Here’s a fairly complete version of the story. See if you can spot the TSA’s impossible assertion about Mr. Brown’s one-man crime wave.
Boing Boing: me again, with a long comment demonstrating that the TSA was misrepresenting the extent of the problem.
So no one took me up on the challenge? I was looking forward to someone else noticing that, contrary to the TSA’s estimate that Mr. Brown could have stolen upwards of one hundred items from travelers going through Newark, the number of items police seized from Brown’s house adds up to 186; and when you throw in his eBay auctions, it’s 449.

Of course, we don’t have all the information on his auctions if they happened more than 90 days ago, but you can make a good case for the proposition that most of them were items stolen from travelers. Purchaser reviews stay up forever on eBay. Some of them mention the specific item. Other imply a specific item (viz., it’s scratched, and the flash doesn’t work), or at least indicate the class of objects: it works just fine, but it’s missing its instruction manual.

I scanned through all of the reviews from Pythias Brown’s customers. In very nearly every case where a specific item was mentioned, or where the review indicated the kind of object being sold, it was a piece of consumer electronic gear. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the unspecified items were the same. Also, the mix is the same as in his recent auction listings, and in the gear seized from Brown’s house: a lot of cameras, plus the occasional phone, game system, GPS unit, laptop, CD player, et cetera.

Of course, when you get to the recent auctions, you can see exactly what he was doing…

(Snipped: eBay’s listing of Brown’s auctions in the preceding 90 days.)

The other thing that’s strongly suggested by the reviews is that Brown didn’t start stealing things and selling them on eBay in September 2007. That may be the starting point he admits to, and the one the TSA is citing; but it sure looks like he got started around November 2006, and hit his stride in January of 2007.

As I said in an earlier comment, if the TSA had been making reasonable efforts to follow up on complaints about thefts, Brown would have shown up bright and clear on their radar. … It’s not like he was some kind of criminal mastermind. He was mailing customers their purchases using his own home as the return address, and using his own credit cards rather than cash to pay the postage. The TSA didn’t notice a thing. What cracked this case was HBO CNN spotting their stolen camera on eBay, then working with the local police in New Jersey.

Back to the normal everyday luggage thefts:

St. Louis: Eight contract baggage handlers (Huntleigh) stole more than 900 items over a year. 20 March 2009.

Philadelphia: Baggage crew chief arrested after $550 in new designer clothing, missing from passenger’s bag, gets returned to Nordstrom’s @King of Prussia mall. 03 April 2009.

Portland: Police bag PDX airline baggage theft suspects. Tuesday, April 28, 2009.

Boing Boing: TSA officer and JFK baggage handler caught stealing laptops from luggage. 15 July 2009.

San Francisco: 3 Delta baggage handlers arrested in sting operation following theft of retired police sergeant’s gun from his luggage. 31 July 2009.

Thiefhunters in Paradise: Why airport luggage thieves steal black bags. November 2009.

Earlier this year, a man was arrested at Dallas Fort Worth airport. He admitted taking over 400 bags, and police linked him to at least 600. He also “worked” at airports in Houston and Tulsa, allegedly stealing a number of suitcases every day. And long before that, a Las Vegas man regularly supplied a second-hand clothing store with the stuff from bags stolen off McCarran’s baggage belt.

After 9/11, airports moved security staff from arrivals to departures. With no bag tag checkers, anyone can saunter out with anything.

Phoenix: Police discover nearly 1,000 stolen suitcases. 04 November 2009. And: Police sort through belongings of stolen bags; Locked safes, medical equipment, guns, piles of clothes among items. 06 November 2009. And: Luggage theft in Phoenix nets at least a thousand bags. 08 November 2009. And: Luggage thief to serve 3.5-year prison term. 24 August 2010.

WSJ: Latest Airport Hassle: Carousel Crooks. 18 December 2009.

Hartford CT: Delta Air Lines baggage handlers were caught rifling through suitcases, pocketing laptops, cameras, iPods, GPS units, jewelry, watches and earrings.

St. Louis: Authorities broke up a ring of airline thieves in St. Louis who were targeting soldier’s bags that were shipping off to war. Baggage handlers pulled soldiers’ duffels off a conveyor belt in a tunnel. … Among the stolen items recovered: laptops, electronic game systems, cameras, cigarettes, battery chargers, sunglasses and firearms.

Baggage-theft arrests have been made this year in cities around the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Adelaide, Australia.

AZ: In Phoenix, a couple was found with 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage and belongings piled floor-to-ceiling in their home. The pair had been lifting bags off carousels at the airport.

Portland: Baggage theft reports up nearly 50% this year. Northwest Airlines baggage handlers were caught stealing items and posting them for sale on eBay from a supervisor’s airline-owned computer. Portland airport police have received 195 reports of baggage theft this year through October, compared with 132 reports in the same period of 2008. At least 43 of the reports this year relate to the ring at Northwest.

Airlines say baggage theft is rare among the millions of passengers who fly each year, but law-enforcement officials say it has been growing significantly. “There’s been a tremendous increase in the last five years. It’s pretty bad—a lot is getting stolen every day,” said a prosecutor in the Queens County district attorney’s office, which handles airport theft cases in New York.

Cost-cutting at airlines and police departments has reduced patrols and enforcement, officials say.

JFK: Two Kennedy Airport baggage handlers working for AMR Corp.’s American Airlines were charged with stealing a bag of jewelry worth $280,000. One of the men was a crew chief.

Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration … often are slow to respond to reports and in most cases deny any responsibility. Airline ticket rules—the “contract of carriage”—exclude liability for any valuables in luggage, such as computers, cameras, electronic equipment, jewelry, business documents, artwork or similar valuable items.

Amanda Slaver flew from Rochester, N.Y., to Las Vegas in February and found that her jewelry bag had been unzipped. The good stuff—gold, diamond and sapphire family heirlooms—had been taken and the plastic, glass and metal jewelry remained. For the next seven months she argued with Delta over a $3,000 claim. The airline said it wasn’t liable because its contract of carriage excludes valuables from the airline’s responsibility. Delta offered her a $100 voucher toward a future ticket. A Delta spokeswoman says the airline does offer compensation to customers “within the limits of our contract of carriage.”

Both airline workers and TSA screeners have access to checked luggage, and it’s often impossible to tell who is responsible unless a thief is caught red-handed. Airlines say they try to avoid finger-pointing with TSA over blame. Law-enforcement officials say TSA thefts, though they got lots of attention in past years, account for a relatively small portion of all baggage theft and have been declining.

In 2005, TSA paid out more than $3 million in claims for theft and baggage damage, but by 2008, that dropped to $813,000. Through October this year, TSA has paid out only $446,000 in baggage claims, a spokeswoman said.

TSA has reduced baggage theft as it has moved from opening bags and searching by hand to running them through scanning machines on conveyor belts, limiting the number of bags handled by screeners. The agency says it has also added more surveillance cameras to baggage-screening areas.

A total of 330 TSA officers have been fired for theft since the agency’s inception, a spokeswoman said.

[Other calculations put it higher. They might be wrong, but the TSA is habitually untruthful.]

Complaints filed with TSA about property losses—which include theft—have also dropped, down 26% this year through October compared with the same period of 2008.

Airlines say they look for patterns in theft claims filed by customers and work with police to catch thieves. Arrests in Portland, Hartford, St. Louis and New York all included Delta employees or contractors, for example, and Delta says that’s because it initiated most of the investigations. In New York, for example, Delta and TSA planted a bag stuffed with electronics in the JFK baggage system and two men working together, one a TSA screener and the other a baggage handler, were videotaped swiping a computer and cellphone, then switching the luggage tags to help cover their tracks.

Since it’s hard to pin down at which airport items were stolen, airport police chiefs have launched a new reporting system that tracks the itinerary of a stolen bag, alerts airports along the route and tries to spot patterns, says Chief Mason in St. Louis, who is also president of Airports Law Enforcement Agencies Network, an association of police chiefs. In its first six months, the system has already identified one airport that might be having a problem, he said.

Airlines don’t report statistics on baggage theft, and often never know if a bag was simply lost or if it was stolen. Carriers say they do have surveillance cameras in some locations, and they do conduct spot checks at baggage carousels to match tags on bags with claim checks. Theft of an entire bag, while rare, they say, is most often traced back to someone stealing from a baggage-claim carousel, as with the Phoenix couple.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun new random luggage checks and increased video camera surveillance and patrols in baggage-claim areas. Other airports say they patrol baggage areas, watch baggage handlers and sometimes send officers in civilian clothes to monitor activity in claim areas. But baggage theft hasn’t been a high priority amid all the other airport security concerns.

It’s the lack of responsibility for theft that leaves many customers fuming.

AZ: Police say woman stole 30 bags of luggage from Sky Harbor Airport. February 11, 2010.
Zotter was suspected of stealing luggage during the past seven months but after police interviews, she told authorities she had been taking luggage for the past two years, according to the document.

Zotter was recorded on airport security cameras with another woman taking luggage from Terminal 4 since August, police said. This was during the same time a Waddell couple was accused of stealing around 1,000 pieces of luggage over the span of two years.

Keith King, 61, and Stacy Legg King, 38, were arrested in November after being recorded stealing luggage from the airport. They were indicted on 45 criminal counts including theft, burglary and trafficking stolen property.

Police do not believe Zotter and the King’s couple worked together. But while investigating the King case, police said they saw evidence that Zotter and another woman were apparently doing the same thing. Surveillance cameras throughout the airport showed two women carrying the luggage to a rental pick-up truck driven by another woman, Detective James Holmes said.

AZ: More Airport Luggage Theft (Sabrina Zotter). February 19, 2010.

JFK: four Glocks stolen from Netanyahu’s bodyguards’ luggage. 07 July 2010.

Newark: TSA screener stole up to $700/day; colluded with another employee; targeted women traveling to or from India. 20 October 2010.

DOT fines Delta $100,000 for pamphlet telling passengers their liability limit is $125/bag, not the actual $3,300 in federal regulations. 01 November 2010.

Philadelphia: TSA officer gets three years’ probation for swiping laptops from luggage. 12/27/2010.

Daily News: Two TSA agents arrested for stealing $39,000 from pax luggage; they admit to stealing $160,000. 16 February 2011.

USA Today/Travel: Guilty plea: Newark security screener (Michael Arato) stole thousands from fliers. 17 Feb 2011.

JFK: TSA screeners stole over $200K from fliers’ baggage. 17 February 2011.

Las Vegas: TSA screener gets 3 years’ probation for stealing $2000 from lost and found. 19 April 2011.

Honolulu: TSA supervisor pleads guilty to stealing $200 from undercover officer — sting operation mounted after Japanese tourists complained to TSA about missing money from carry-on bags. 4-23-2011.

New York Press: To Serve, to Protect, and to Steal. 11 May 2011.

Newark busts, and a good survey of other cases.
CBS LA: LAX ranks high in claims of stolen or missing luggage. 19 May 2011.

LAX Worst Airport in Nation for Stolen Luggage: Is TSA to Blame? 20 May 2011.

Arato gets 30 months for thefts, taking kickbacks. 08 June 2011.

TSA admits Newark airport has major security problems. 08 June 2011.

Houston, Miami: TSA theft of passengers’ valuables a major problems. 20 June 2011.

Fort Lauderdale: TSA employee caught stealing iPad from luggage. 07 July 2011. And: Consumerist account of same.

Over the past six months, Santiago-Serrano told authorities he stole $50,000 worth of computers, GPS devices and other electronics from luggage he screened, took pictures of them to post for sale online and sold the items often by the time his shift ended.
Portland, St. Louis, JFK: Magnolia’s Travel News: Theft from travelers and their Luggage. 21 July 2011.

Midway: Southwest baggage handler Salvador Johnson busted for numerous thefts of computers from luggage. 11 August 2012.

Former TSA officer sentenced for Newark bag thefts. (Al Raimi gets off with probation!) 9/22/2011.

Another Huffington Post roundup of TSA thefts. 1-23-2012.

Pujol-Salazar thefts in Miami. 24 January 2012.

Travel and Leisure: How to Avoid Luggage Theft. February 2012.

For the past decade, airline reports of “mishandled” luggage have hovered at around five complaints for every 1,000 domestic passengers, a figure that buries actual theft reports in a category that also includes loss, damage, and delay. Nevertheless, a series of recent high-profile arrests demonstrates that, no matter the number of reports, the boldness of thieves has increased, leaving both law enforcement and passengers on high alert.

Last February two TSA agents at JFK International airport were arrested on charges of stealing nearly $160,000 in cash from passenger luggage. In 2009 eight baggage handlers contracted by Delta at St. Louis’s Lambert airport were arrested for going through hundreds of bags and taking more than 900 items over the course of a year. Also that year, a Continental employee from Houston told ABC News that she regularly sees her co-workers searching luggage for valuables.

And it’s not just checked baggage that’s at risk. Scott Mayerowitz, airlines reporter for the Associated Press, says, “I won’t step through the metal detector until I see my bag enter the X-ray machine.” It’s good advice—sticky-fingered TSA agents are rare, but they have been known to pocket items from carry-ons and purses in the screening area.

JFK: TSA employee Alexandra Schmid arrested for stealing $5,000 from passenger’s coat pocket during security check. 2-2-2012. And: TSA agent’s theft the latest in a string of blunders.

TSA trainer suspended with pay after pleading guilty to taking $200 to take employee’s annual certification exam. 28 February 2012. And: Seven TSA employees fired in wake of testing scandal (three others had already resigned). 15 June 2012.

Boston: Two arrested for stealing from checked luggage at Logan Airport. February 29, 2012.

JFK: More than 200 items stolen every DAY from checked baggage at JFK. 27 March 2012.

CBS: law enforcement says 200 items per day being stolen from baggage at JFK; airlines write it off as lost luggage. 26 March 2012.

Airliners forum, discussing 200/day JFK story. March 2012. How the scam works, according to the dozens of GRU/Sao Paulo baggage handlers recently arrested:

1- Get random bags from international flights and x-ray them, if they saw something cool they’d drop on the national flights belt in instead of the international one
2- obviously the bag would be there rolling alone on the carousel
3- the airline employee would get the bag and state it was a rush bag
4- the employee used to bring the bag until the airline lost luggage department, steal and then manifest the bag as “lost” or “forgotten”.
DFW: TSA inspector Clayton Keith Dovel caught with 8 stolen iPads. 14 April 2012.

San Diego: TSA steals $300 from 95-year-old retired Air Force Major during screening. 04-19-2012.

LAX: TSA screeners arrested on narcotics trafficking and bribery charges for letting suitcases full of dope, speed, and coke go through. 25 April 2012.

Ft. Lauderdale: Couple Charged in Airport Luggage Thefts. 2012/05/22.

Conde Nast Traveler: Why Do 26 Million Checked Bags Go Missing Every Year? July 2012.

NY/JFK: Frederick McDonald pleads guilty to thefts from passengers in JFK terminals. July 19, 2012.

I may be on United’s sh*t list (long story):

Official TSA policy says photos are only a problem at checkpoints, if taking them delays processing.

United flight returns to gate, incurs 2.5 hr. delay, for “suspicious behavior”: photography. 25 April 2011.

United says photographing staff can get you on a no-fly list; Continental says you deserve an apology for being hassled about it. 28 July 2011.

Not unusual, unfortunately:

The American Airlines carrier contract. Stuff you can’t get reimbursed for, i.e. practically everything.

American does not accept in or as checked baggage any of the following items: antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, items carried in the passenger compartment of the aircraft, liquids, medicines, money, orthotics, surgical supports, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items. American does not accept these items in or as checked baggage and assumes no responsibility or liability for such items, regardless of whether American knew or should have known of the presence of such items in checked or transferred baggage. If any such items are lost, damaged or delayed, you will not be entitled to any reimbursement under American’s standard baggage liability, or under any declared excess valuation. Do not attempt to check these items. Carry them with you in the passenger cabin (subject to carryon baggage limitations).
Further reading:

The Civil Aviation Forum: lots of useful material. Perhaps better searched than browsed.

FlyerTalk Forum’s Travel Safety/Security Forum: good moderation and a great deal of resident expertise gives it a good signal-to-noise ratio.

The FlyerTalk Travel Safety/Security Forum Glossary is a useful mixture of official terminology and profound cynicism.

And finally, a.sig line spotted in a FlyerTalk security/TSA thread: Pour discourager les huitres.

Comments on Air travel, theft from baggage, bad security:
#1 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 12:37 AM:


It isn't paranoia.

Good to know for sure.

#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 12:39 AM:

What I've taken to doing (after someone rifled one of my bags, but took nothing), is putting a green twist-tie (from a gardening spool) on my zippers.

I make it long, twist it up, fold it over, and twist it again.

It also seems to reduce the tagged instances of my bags being tossed.

It's a bit of social engineering. They have to do something which is obvious to get into my bag, so I am going to know, as soon as I see it, that I need to check it over.

And my camera, computer, GPS, etc. only go on as carry one, even if I have to raise a huge stink at the counter. Telling them I will only check it if they will accept liabilty, in writing, has always managed to convince them to let me carry it on.

#3 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:04 AM:

Given the Kafkaesque nature of their job, I regularly expect the worst when approaching a security line. On the rare occasion that the herd is progressing quickly, the agents quietly performing their functions without lewd cross-talk, gross ineptitude, or outright malice, I always take care to compliment them for their efficiency.

Travel tip - stow your wallet and cell phone in your carry-on bag when you remove your computer (keep your license and ticket in hand or pockets) Swap again while unloading the conveyor belt.

Travel tip 2 - slip-on shoes, or sandals with socks

#4 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:04 AM:

I no longer travel by airplane, mostly because I am poor, but also because of things like this in air travel.

Having worked in the security field it does not surprise me that this kind of thing happens and there is denial about it happening on the part of management, but it disappoints me. Though I do not travel I would consider it a trust, a point of honor, to make sure that people got all their things to their destination safely.

#5 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:17 AM:

My own "oh, no..." moment with TSA happened right after the shoe bomber incident. As it happened, a few months previously, I'd been to the Holocaust Museum. As a self-pronounced WWII buff, I was mostly okay, there . . . until I got to the room full of shoes.

Standing in that security line, required to surrender my shoes to a conveyor belt, watching all the befuddled and distressed people around me who'd surrendered their shoes and, in some cases, their eye-glasses, I had a moment of very real -- albeit silent -- despair.

I've never entirely shaken that feeling, since.

#6 ::: MacAllister's been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:18 AM:

Links, I expect.

I offer chocolate ice cream and coffee with amaretto to our hard-working gnomes.

#7 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:21 AM:

Don't travel with Chanel parfum in your checked baggage. It will disappear.

So will manuscript photographs of Codex Sinaiticus and Cotton Nero A.x.

I can't help but wonder what whomever removed the photographs thought they were photographs of, and I hope they like Chanel 19.

#8 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:32 AM:

This is making me feel a lot better about my mislaid luggage being found intact (After vanishing between Frankfurt and Toronto). On the other hand, even the newly purchased jewellery was in fact more along the lines of pretty costume pieces, not actual expensive stuff. (I always speculated that it was the breast pump that made it vanish - someone could not for the life of them figure out what it was by the scanners).

I wonder what the Canuckistanian stats are like? On the one hand, no TSA, on the other, all the other opportunities seem similar.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:34 AM:

Redeeming gnomed comments is unearthly slow.

#10 ::: Mark Gritter ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:58 AM:

...books and documents? Can't tell you how many times I've violated that one. That's just ridiculous. My suit or leather coat could exceed the value of a book by an order of magnitude. (Or two, for a nice suit.)

Delta's current rules prohibit items that are "fragile, perishable, or precious" but don't include books in their examples.

#11 ::: dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:10 AM:

There is also carelessness, in addition to malice. My husband lost a hat and gloves from a suitcase on an international flight (Netherlands -> Taiwan, I think). This was a bigger loss than it sounds like, because I had knitted both items. The reason he thinks the items were just accidentally left out when they repacked his suitcase after a search, is that only one glove went missing. So either it wasn't theft, or it was an incompetent thief, or it was a thief with only one hand.

#12 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:23 AM:

They're only 90% evil: one of my students left a laptop at a TSA screening station in LAX, and they contacted her by email. She couldn't get to LAX, so they arranged for it to be FedExed (at her expense, but still).

#13 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:34 AM:

I wear a compression sleeve on my left arm due to lymphaedema, and that arm is visibly larger than the other. I rarely fly, but on a recent trip the TSA inspector decided it was a padded sleeve. In spite of my offer to demonstrate the excess was all me, they pulled me aside to swab my arm, testing for explosives I suppose. Annoying enough, but what else can you expect these days.

What really bothered me, though, was they left all my belongings on the conveyor belt while this was going on. There was nothing to stop someone from casually picking up my purse, laptop, etc. as they passed through. Fortunately, everything was still there when the swab came up negative and they let me leave.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:53 AM:

One of my friends, who also makes jewelry to sell at cons, made the mistake of putting her dealer inventory in her checked baggage once. Every single piece of finished jewelry was stolen, and I don't think she ever got reimbursed. Since then, if she's going further than she can drive, she ships her inventory via FedEx.

There is a possibility that I may be going to the London Worldcon, and I'm already considering how best to make sure that everything gets there and back with me. Right now what I'm considering is this: (1) My carry-on bag will contain everything of even moderate resale value, plus a change or two of clothing. (2) My checked bag will have everything packed inside a clear plastic garbage bag, sealed with clear packing tape, and a complete inventory of contents taped to the outside of the bag. (3) If I buy more things of value than I can fit in my carry-on for the trip home, the excess will be shipped (and I could use advice about which shipping service to use for an international package).

I can't prevent someone from rifling my checked bag, but perhaps I can convince them that this one isn't low-hanging fruit -- that someone is going to notice if shit goes missing, and raise a fuss. My partner says that if the scan doesn't show anything interesting, they're not going to bother opening it. I think he's being naive.

Terry, #2: I like your idea with the twist-ties. Would plastic zip-ties work the same way? Anyone with a knife, or even fingernail-clippers, can defeat them, so they're not locks -- but it's also impossible, once they've been cut, for even the most anal thief to re-fasten them. Extras can go in my carry-on for the trip back.

#15 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 04:04 AM:

Lee @ #14 - a word about twist-ties in carry-on luggage: I'd innocently forgotten some plastic tie binders in the bottom of my purse (1), and tried to get through airport security in Rotterdam. Luckily for me, the security folks were friendly, calm and not crazy-busy, so we mostly had a good laugh at my naïveté. And after a gentle but firm "request" to hand over the binders for disposal, they explained to me how they (and I am imagining also wire twist-ties) could be used to restrain free movement of the airline personnel.

Crazy(and keeping tabs while interjecting with a data-point)Soph

(1) the sort of thing you spend a euro for a bunch, but only need one or two, and stuff the remainder someplace whereupon one forgets immediately that they existed.

#16 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 09:05 AM:

I was particularly taken by the notice that you can't check strollers or carseats, considering that (a) those items can't be taken into the cabin and (b) it is pretty much impossible for the employee affixing a baggage tag to such an item not to know what it is.

#17 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:32 AM:

Strollers and carseats are generally "gate-checked." You take them through security, then get tags for them at the gate. You then roll/carry the items down the jetway (or along the tarmac) and leave them right outside the plane's door (or right next to the steps).

If you are a trusting soul, you then walk away from the items and onto the plane.

If you are me, you stand there until the baggage guy comes, and then you thank him (it has always been a him) for taking care of your stuff.

Then your stuff goes into the belly of the plane and you get on the plane.

When you get off the plane at the other end, you wait by the door (or stairs) while the baggage guys unload the gate-checked items, and then reclaim yours.

Once, I gate-checked a stroller--following my usual pattern--and it did not reappear on the arrival end. I got the usual "nothing we can do about that" and began to raise an increasing fuss (not yelling, but not leaving either, and standing there with my baby in my arms) and simply refused to leave the jetway, which began to mess with the plane's schedule.

The pilot came out to see what was going on. I explained the situation and he gave everyone a disgusted look and went out the jetway door. It took him less than a minute to find my stroller.

I thanked him profusely and fled. I expect he was pissed.

Coming back from DC earlier this summer, our luggage was opened by the TSA (we found one of those little forms in it when we unpacked), though we can't think what attracted their attention.

#18 ::: Nickp ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:32 AM:

I must lead a charmed life. In 35 years of flying, I don't recall ever having a bag rifled-through, stolen, or permanently lost. I have had a hotel room burglarized, though.

Paul @16: American's list doesn't match my recent experience with Southwest and Continental/United. My wife and I routinely check carseats now that the kids are old enough to sit in the airline seat but still require the carseat at destination. When they were young enough to use carseats in the cabin, we usually took them on board. I admit, I haven't checked whether the airline is liable for damage to checked carseats, but the ticket agents don't bat an eye while bagging and tagging the carseat. IIRC, they have specific policies in place so that carseats can be checked without charge.

#19 ::: Nickp Gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:34 AM:

The gnomes are rifling through my posting.

#20 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:40 AM:

When we flew back from the worldcon, I expected to find my suitcase messed up, what with its containing a box with, in it, two screwdrivers, a wrench, plus some nuts and bolts. Nope. I'm almost disappointed.

#21 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:46 AM:

TSA went through my wife's luggage on the way back from Mexico City this week. I think they were trying to find out what a bottle was (turned out to be a cactus liqueur). They opened the wrapping, then re-packed it well enough not to break on the last leg of the flight. They didn't mess anything up and left a slip to notify us the bag had been tossed.

It seemed innocent at the time, though now I wonder what would have happened if it had been something "fancy"... Certainly, we're both experienced enough travelers not to pack anything of significant value in our suitcases, but sometimes (especially with alcohol) you don't have a choice.

Also, while there are many incidents of this kind of theft, there are literally millions of people who fly each year. So while there may be a lot of bad eggs and specific problems at specific airports, I wouldn't cast shade on the entire staff of the TSA. A lot of them are just underpaid working stiffs doing a very draining (if not particularly difficult) job.

#22 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 10:51 AM:

I should amend that. What the TSA people are asked to do is very difficult in some ways, notably: dealing with irate air travelers; enforcing rules, many of which are known to be ineffective; dealing with the knowledge that if those rules do turn out to be ineffective they will take the blame (even if there's nothing they could have actually done to stop a terrorist attack).

#23 ::: robin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 11:07 AM:

I stopped all commercial air travel in 2009 when TSA started loading up on scanners and getting to touchy feely. I hear stories all the time of people getting things stolen. I have often thought IF (and that's a big if) I will take fishing line and connect EVERY single item in my bag somehow. Even all items in my purse! It would take them an eternity to untagle everything....they would for sure be noticed doing so. Plus, they couldn't hardly try to get sneaky and stick the goods down the front of their pants when I'm not would be a whole dang wad. I've even heard of passengers having a box of chocolates stolen! Got a solution for that. I have a bevy of cats that are very "generous" in the litter box! Wouldn't bother me a bit to dip some "turds" in melted chocolate and put them in some fancy looking candy box. I'd even wrap them in fancy gold paper. LET EM STEAL IT AND BON APPETITE! LOL

#24 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 11:43 AM:

I've also heard of cases of vandalism rather than theft: David Friedman posted to Usenet about a case where he tried to transport some sourdough, and on the other end found it had been poured out over his stuff. Here's the article, on his blog.

#25 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:45 PM:

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#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 01:58 PM:

Years ago, I met a chap who contended that customs and immigration officers (this was the 1980s when the TSA had not been thought of) was where all the kids who had been bullied in high school went to get revenge. If so, then the TSA is that in spades.

#27 ::: Werehatrack ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:04 PM:

And for all that there are plenty of horror stories, the number of people who experience theft per flight is less than one for the majority of airlines, flights, and US points of departure/arrival. Yes, there most certainly are problem zones - and Houston Intercontinental has been one of them in the past. (I have no data about the current situation there, and prefer not to need to. Houston Hobby, with its dominance by Southwest, seems to have little such - and it also has a much shorter and more direct baggage handling process than Intercontinental.)

But the reality is that the safest thing to do is not take anything irreplaceable (particularly on an international flight) if at all possible, keep all valuables in carry-on or ship them ahead (the latter being impractical internationally), insist on a written acceptance of liability if they want to compel a gate-check on that high-value carry-on, and have an inventory (with values). Note: This can be a complete waste of time, as they won't sign anything because they aren't permitted to do so on the airline's behalf, but it puts them on notice that you know there's a problem, and that they need to find someone else to compel to surrender excess carry-on.

On an international flight, my understanding is that if they kick you off, they have to unload the baggage and find yours before they can depart, so they are unlikely to do that once you get to the point of actually boarding. (This is apparently NOT true for domestic flights. Go figure.) And perhaps most important, check in online as early as the process permits so that your boarding pass number is low, choose a seat in the *middle* of the cabin so that you are not at the end of the boarding process regardless of whether they go front-to-back or back-to-front, and arrive early - because the last people let aboard are the most likely to get hassled about carry-on. Oh, and make sure your carry-on really does fit in the test box at baggage check-in. The fewer things that could raise your profile (or that of your baggage) in transit, the lower the probability that bad things will happen. But there is no known way for a civilian to reduce this to zero on an international flight, and even before the TSA existed, baggage theft, rifling, and simple loss was a problem - but now TSA gets blamed (often justifiably!) for pretty much all of it - and without a doubt, the prevalence of intrusive multi-step and long-time-in-process handling has facilitated the thefts of a great many items. Would we be as safe without those factors? The Lockerbie incident (whose facts caused procedural changes long before TSA existed) demonstrated that at least some of them really are needed. But the so-called "safety" agencies have utterly failed to accept the full responsibility for *proper* handling of this matter, and unless enough of the populace demands accountability, it's never going to change for the better from the current situation.

N.B.: It has been reported that on US domestic flights, having an unloaded starter's pistol or unloaded flare gun in your checked baggage - and declaring its presence - will engage a special baggage-handling process that vastly increases the item's security - but I would not want to bet that this will not result in *you* from getting scrutinized all the more as a result. Both of these items are legal to possess just about everywhere in the US, and are reportedly still legal to transport in checked baggage - but I have never tested this technique, and prefer to avoid the risk of waking the dragon by doing so.

#28 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:16 PM:

Lee @14 - my husband travels a lot, and he does use plastic zip-ties to fasten the zippers on his checked bags. If you don't snug them tight - just pull the tab through a little bit - you can clip them off and reuse them later. (Just clip the correct end!). He leaves one small outer pocket unsecured, and leaves extra zip ties and a pair of nail clippers in it, so he can undo it easily on the other end. He's never had an issue with TSA about it - there have been times when his bags were opened and checked, but it was always obvious when it was done.

#29 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:17 PM:

We should all stop telling the victims that it’s their fault they were ripped off — they should have known not to put their valuables in their checked luggage. No one deserves to be robbed.

Indeed. We expect better from UPS and FedEx employees -- heck, we expect better from the USPS. The air travel system needs to maintain at least those standards.

(I hypothesize that the biggest difference between FedEx and the TSA/baggage handlers is that FedEx packages are handled by fewer, better-paid and -treated people.)

#30 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:32 PM:

At this point, we lay out everything we're going to pack, photograph it, and pack it in zip-lock bags. So far, we've not had a problem with things disappearing.

I, too, have a problem with the "let's just walk away from all your belongings while we wand you/swab your bag/etc.". Not all TSA agents are thieves, but not all passengers are angels, either. For a "security" apparatus, they don't think very much about security at all.

#31 ::: Werehatrack ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 02:48 PM:

Reading American Airline's list of "not checkable" items leads me to the conclusion that a close reading of many airlines' restrictions would probably produce a useful tactic if confronted for gate-check; simply arrange to have two or three smallish examples of the not-checkable-but-legal items in the bag, and state "Your airline does not permit these in checked baggage. Sorry, I have to take it aboard. It's your rule, not mine."

#32 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:08 PM:

crazysoph, #15: There are different sizes of zip-ties. For the purpose of fastening zipper tags together, you only need the smallest. If they think I could "restrain airline personnel" with 4" zip-ties, I want some of what they're smoking.

#33 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:20 PM:

My brother tells a story of losing a crate on a flight. He was traveling to a medical conference and the crate contained exhibit materials. After more than an hour of pestering the airline staff at the baggage check area and the oversized baggage desk, he finally explained what was in the crate.

They rushed him back of the desk and onto one of the little buggies and drove out onto the tarmac, where they found his crate, in which were several very upset members of the Crotalus horridus species (Eastern Timber Rattlesnake). He was lecturing, you see, on envenomation, and the importance of properly identifying the snake that bit the victim.

So, yeah, they don't always lose your stuff: sometimes they just can't be bothered to find it.

#34 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:22 PM:

Kevin Riggle @ 29

FedEx packages are handled by fewer, better-paid and -treated people.

I doubt it. I worked for FedEx loading delivery trucks part of one summer (2000, Charlotte NC); it was made very clear that it was a zero-tolerance workplace that would prosecute any theft[1], and it was a thorough pat-down search on the way in and on the way out, every day[2]. The pace of work was extremely fast, in a non-air-conditioned warehouse; the pay was OK (about what I earned as a banquet waiter), but the average tenure of the employees was probably less than 3 months and there were no benefits.

1) Of the 3-hour orientation, that took at least 2 hours.
2) Of course, waiting to go through security was off the clock.

#35 ::: SamChevre has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:24 PM:

Maybe because I mentioned a shipper?

[Three spaces in a row. —Idumea Novakoski Irwinton, Duty Gnome]

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:25 PM:

Some good tips and tricks here, though anything that requires me to argue with either airline staff or TSA employees is as likely to get me thrown off of a flight as it is to make my trip smoother.

What bugs me is that air passengers shouldn't need good tips and tricks for dealing with a recalcitrant, unaccountable and unresponsive bureaucracy staffed by underpaid jobsworths of intermittent reliability.

#37 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:30 PM:

abi @ 36... a recalcitrant, unaccountable and unresponsive bureaucracy

If I were an editor, I'd remove some of the words as redundant.
- recalcitrant
- unaccountable
- and
- unresponsive

#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:41 PM:

Lee @14: Back when I was still willing to put my necklaces in my checked bag, I'd take a sturdy length of steel curb chain and lace it through them several times, then fasten it all together in several places with some small brass-and-steel padlocks I'm no longer allowed to use on my bags. Then I'd tie it to my suitcase with my luggage straps. The idea was to make it impossible to just steal one or two of them, and to make it impossible to steal them quickly. That was still taking a chance I wouldn't take today.

#39 ::: David Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 03:43 PM:

Hmmm. Most weeks I fly twice a week, there and back again. I can't recall having anything stolen or vandalized from my own stuff (although they've opened the bag and I've gotten those little "we looked at your stuff" notes in my suitcase a few times, and pretty much every time in my guitar case). I also don't travel with stuff that's too valuable. The one exception is my pocket watch, which lives in a zippered pouch in the bottom of my carryon until I'm well through security.

When my younger son got to Chicon, he realized that his Scout knife was still in the daypack he used as a carry-on.

#40 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 04:01 PM:

Like Terry @2 I have been using small twist-ties - the coated-wire kind, mostly from various electronics packaging because those accumulate and spontaneously generate in our house - on suitcases for some years now.

You know how most suitcases have twin zipper pulls on the same track, so you can bring the two zipper pulls together? You string the twist-tie through the holes in the zipper pulls, keeping them from being pulled apart. If anyone calls me on it, I just say it's to keep the suitcase from accidentally coming open (which would not be a lie).

I also twist them in a peculiar fashion, so I can see instantly if someone has undone it and then retwisted it. To date no one ever has, so perhaps it has some value as a deterrent measure, but I also must factor in my refusal to carry anything more valuable than a small Leatherman tool in my checked bags. (Can't get that past security.)

#41 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 04:32 PM:

Colfax @ 33--OMG, the proverbial Snakes on a Plane!

#42 ::: colin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 04:41 PM:

"For discouraging the oysters"?

#43 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 05:36 PM:

There's a canonical way to travel with expensive items in checked baggage in the US, which is to use a hard-sided lockable case that meets all the airline and TSA rules for transporting firearms, and bring a firearm (starter pistols are enough to trigger the firearm transportation rules without being Real Guns), and follow all the procedures for transporting firearms. Basically the TSA inspects the case with you present, then locks and seals it and does a lot of paperwork, and at the destination you pick it up from them and they unlock it and do more paperwork. (Not sure if it's your lock, theirs, or both.) The airline and intermediate handlers can't casually open it, it gets tracked a lot better, and the TSA people all know that if anybody messes with it, the TSA will go seriously ballistic and actually investigate.

It's a slow and tedious process, but friends of mine have used it to ship multi-$K camera and computer equipment that's too big to bring as carry-on.

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 05:50 PM:

CrazySoph @15, what I find weird about that is that lots of U.S. travelers use those same plastic ties to secure their luggage. It's a standard piece of advice for travelers.

Serge @20: My luggage didn't get messed with on the return flight, and I had a machete in it.

Even more fun: when I first got to the convention, I found I'd absentmindedly traveled with a full-size pair of scissors in my carry-on backpack.

David Fried @21-22:

...[W]hile there may be a lot of bad eggs and specific problems at specific airports, I wouldn't cast shade on the entire staff of the TSA. A lot of them are just underpaid working stiffs doing a very draining (if not particularly difficult) job.

22: I should amend that. What the TSA people are asked to do is very difficult in some ways, notably: dealing with irate air travelers; enforcing rules, many of which are known to be ineffective; dealing with the knowledge that if those rules do turn out to be ineffective they will take the blame (even if there's nothing they could have actually done to stop a terrorist attack).

I don't blame all the frontline TSA people; it's a very tough job. I do blame person or persons unknown, higher up in the TSA hierarchy, who've ignored warnings, denied that there's a problem, and failed to systematically track the incoming data and diagnose problems as they develop.

That's why the Pythias Brown case bothers me so much. The number of losses should have stood out. Once the case broke, there was information easily available on the web that showed he'd been stealing far more and doing it far longer than the TSA said.

The TSA has plunged into boondoggles like its Behavior Detection program, which was set in motion without stopping to check whether the program had any scientific basis. It's had problems, to put it mildly:

Bruce Schneier: TSA Behavioral Detection Statistics. 20 April 2012.
Base-rate fallacy dooms TSA's risk-based screening. 28 May 2012.
NYTimes: Racial profiling rife at Logan Airport (BDOs targeting nonwhites). 12 August 2012.
TechDirt: TSA Racial Profiling May Hide Larger Constitutional Problem. 13 August 2012.

What they have not done, as far as I can tell, is basic law enforcement work -- for instance, checking theft reports against listings on eBay and Craigslist. Rocket science was not called for. Nelson Santiago-Serrano in Ft. Lauderdale was selling stolen electronics online during the same shift in which he stole them. Pythias Brown wasn't much slower, and he was sending items to purchasers from the airport mailing facilities, paying postage with his own credit cards. The ring of baggage handlers in Portland were uploading auction listings from their supervisor's computer at the airport.

We may need an agency that does some of the things the TSA does, but we should burn the existing one down to the ground and start over.

Jim @25: You're leaving out a step. Lbh'q unir gb vqragvsl na rzcyblrr jub jnf nyernql vaibyirq va qeht genssvpxvat orsber lbh cnvq uvz gb trg na harknzvarq obzo chg ba n cynar. But why bother?

USA Today: Most fake bombs missed by screeners. 18 October 2007.
Ars Technica: Imaging specialists: TSA scanners can miss underwear bombs. 14 December 2010.
TSA Misses Guns, Bombs In Tests. 20 December 2010.
ABC News: Gaping Holes in Airline Security: Loaded Gun Slips Past TSA Screeners. 16 December 2010.

According to one report, undercover TSA agents testing security at a Newark airport terminal on one day in 2006 found that TSA screeners failed to detect concealed bombs and guns 20 out of 22 times. A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today revealed that undercover agents were successful slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles's LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago's O'Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times.
Gannet: Florida airport security chief among those suspended from TSA. 08 June 2012.
WASHINGTON - The head of federal security at Southwest Florida International Airport was one of the 42 Transportation Security Administration workers disciplined last week after an internal investigation found hundreds of random screenings were not performed last year.

The director of TSA at the airport, his deputy, and a manager "who had the oversight of the situation" have all been disciplined ...

Zl vzcerffvba vf gung gur qeht genssvpxref ng WSX jrer fcbggrq orpnhfr bssvpref jrer jbexvat haqrepbire jvgu gur pevzvany betnavmngvbaf gung jrer hfvat gurz. Lbh zvtug or orggre bss whfg fraqvat 'rz guebhtu va purpxrq yhttntr.

Cofax @33: Your brother actually took snakes on a plane?

Sorry. It's going to take a while before that stops sounding weird to me.

Serge again @37: I've been a bureaucrat, and I was good at it. So were my co-workers. We used "bureaucratic" to signify high praise for coming up with an especially clever solution to a problem.

Any honest work can be done well or badly. In my experience, if there are chronic problems on the front line, it usually traces back to bad management.

#45 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 06:34 PM:

Your brother actually took snakes on a plane?

Yes, in a very secure crate, clearly labeled, and with an appropriate supply of the proper antivenin on hand. You need a special permit to keep poisonous reptiles, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

#46 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 07:55 PM:

Serge Broom @37: Y'know, I've actually interacted with several bureaucracies that were--at least in my case, and thus supplied as anecdotal evidence--helpful, efficient, friendly, speedy, skilled, and willing to provide documentation of the whole process.

While I realize you're joking, I don't think it's very helpful to cast bureaucracy as inevitably full of Doom and Despair and Unhelpful Nasty People Being Mean. It's not inevitable that this be so, and it's not inherent to bureaucracies. It also makes it harder to work for changing problems if everyone assumes the problems are natural and automatic.

(I actually can't remember the last time I ran into an unhelpful bureaucrat, but I am perfectly willing to believe that this may be a combination of my not dealing with bureaucrats very often, and falling, through no virtue of my own, into a few categories that tend to give bonuses to default reaction rolls with strangers.)

#47 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 08:02 PM:

If they can slip stuff out that easily...What can they slip in? The passengers don't bother me; other passengers have repeatedly shown they will cheerfully beat down any moron who tries to light his shoes on fire. The TSA, however, saw fit to search and send my Reserve unit through the scanners when we first hit American soil on the way back from the sandbox, wanting to make sure we hadn't picked up any toothpicks or dangerous stuff like that. We were on our way back to the most heavily-armed plane in the US, and we were made to take off our belts, our boots, and our overblouses. They wanted to take our sole black member into a small room and interrogate a man who'd been in the Army twenty years, and a US citizen longer than most of them had been alive. (Most of us were interrogators.) At least one guy got waved through with his holster still on his belt. I also got DVDs stolen from my bag on the way home, with sand still on my duffle. That's a special person right there.

#48 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 08:21 PM:

Last time I flew, out of Oakland, CA, something in my hand luggage set off the alarm. A very polite woman took me aside and took everything out of my bag. Nothing in it was obviously problematic; she finally decided it was the wrapped blue gel pack that had set off a sensor. I was on my way to spend a week in New York, training in martial arts, and it seemed wise to take a cold pack with me. This time I forgot it until the last minute, and I thrust it into my carry on bag rather than putting it in the larger checked bag. She considered confiscating it, but decided to let me take it on the plane; however, she cautioned me that I had better put it in the checked bag on the return trip, since I would be flying out of JFK.

I try always to put "valuables," for example, my eyeglasses, either in my carry on bag or on my person.

#49 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2012, 11:31 PM:

A friend had military uniforms stolen from his baggage. He did a version of Melissa's just-don't-leave thing and funny, they turned up.

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:42 AM:

"Just don't leave" is a good strategy in a lot of circumstances. It disrupts the local script, and tires people out with wondering what else you might decide to do.

#51 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:58 AM:

Fragano @ 26: Compared to TSA, most of the Customs officers I've dealt with during the last 3+ decades have been on another (and much higher) plane. Most of the Customs folks (both US and elsewhere) seem to be at least reasonably competent and professional, and the relatively few deliberately obnoxious ones tend to be looked down upon by their colleagues.

TSA, conversely, seems to attract the kinds of people who either can't stand up to the intellectual rigors of working the counter at a fast food chain establishment, or quickly get tagged by observant supervisors as "Do not ever let this person volunteer to work security again, under ANY circumstances" -- or both.

#52 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:42 AM:

re cable ties: They are much more likely to be something a thief might carry. Were I such a thief I'd keep some on hand, because replacing them would give the appearance of a bag not rifled, which would delay the time to reporting a theft.

As to the issue crazysoph mentions, the twisties have never been noticed in my bag. To the screener they are just a very thin bit of noise in the mess of everything else in my bag. I don't know that I've ever had the spares in a carry on bag, but the image footprints in my bags are such that suspect they'd be missed.

Don't even get me started on the ways I know to get weapons onto a plane.

Re "secondary screening". I wear clothes that set off metal detectors, e.g. kilts. I warn them I will set of the magnetometer. Now what I get, instead of a "wanding" is to be patted down (I give them an 85/100 for thoroughness), and then the gloves the screener is wearing are "bomb-checked" for nitrates.


#53 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:43 AM:

ginmar @47

There's a long history of soldiers returning home with illicit nasties. Maybe not a high percentage, but it adds up.

But I would expect that to be something Customs would be responsible for, not TSA.

Here in the UK, there is a certain rivalry between the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marine Commandos, and the legend has it that the Paras once arranged to have Customs & Excise waiting on the beach for the Commandos, during a training exercise.

#54 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:45 AM:

In the Portland airport, on my way to Chicon, I was directed to the new scanner. I refused, saying that I didn't do unnecessary radiation. I yelled to my husband, to tell him where I was and let him know he needed to gather up my belongings. I didn't enjoy the pat down, but I figure that it takes much longer and requires more staffing. If a lot of people refused to go through those scanners, airports would grind to a halt and they might actually re-think? Maybe?

I waited about 3 minutes for a woman to show up to do the search. She asked if I wanted to go to a private area, and I said no. The idea frightened me a bit (sad to say), plus I wanted travelers passing by to be uncomfortable with the level of searching going on. She was perfectly professional. I was amused at the carefully worded, obviously memorized, explanation of the process — especially the phrase "where your legs meet your torso."

In Chicago, the train from the airport into the city also had a lot of guards and massive gates. I got mad. The travel experience reminded me of when I was a kid and traveled in eastern Europe, back when the USSR owned Czechoslovakia and Hungary. If you'd told my parents then that they'd face more guards, with more intrusive searches, in the USA, they'd never have believed it.

#55 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:56 AM:

On the subject of TSA screeners missing bombs and guns: of course they do! It doesn't mean they are slacking, or not trained. People doing visual inspections miss things. Ask anyone who works in manufacturing about how they do quality assurance, and you'll hear that visual inspection is not the way to go in order to achieve quality.

Our brains just don't do hour after hour after hour of looking at similar things and then spot an anomaly. Which is one of the reasons why going through those TSA lines is such a massive waste of time and money.

#56 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 05:29 AM:

In June 2011 36 TSA workers in Honolulu including the director were fired for not screening checked baggage for explosives. 12 more were suspended.

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 06:50 AM:

I've spent more time than I should thinking about ways to distribute harmless powdered nitrates in places where it will come in contact with air travelers.

Speaking of false positives, Germany declined to buy any of our whole-body scanners because they generate too many of them.

#58 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 07:13 AM:

Dave Bell #53- apparently after the Falklands the returning troop ships were met by customs and excise (And no doubt some military police). Allegedly an awful lot of souvenirs ended up going off the ship through portholes...

I got to Ireland and back with a used blank cartridge case, 7.62mm I think, in the small pocket of my rucsac. Didn't notice until I got home and found it. You'd think such an item might show up as a little suspicious on the x-ray but apparently not. Or as Janetl points out, they can't view things well after a long period on the machine.

#59 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 07:33 AM:

I know someone who, some years ago, accidentally flew from the UK to the USA with several (loaded) shotgun shells in a coat pocket. Having realised they were there, this person then had to find someone safe to give them to before flying back home...

Last time I flew through Heathrow I discovered they've changed the regs again and it's now permissible once more to have a small pocketknife or scissors on you - maximum blade length 6 cm.

Both bows and arrows are still prohibited. I'd love to see somebody try to use a longbow within the confines of an airplane passenger cabin.

#60 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 07:49 AM:

When the police-abuse sidebar came by, I noted on the site that any time someone says "it's just a few bad apples", they're abusing the original metaphor: "One bad apple spoils the whole barrel". That's true for decaying fruit, and it's also true for corrupt humans: If you don't look for and remove the decay, it spreads.

And the TSA has rotten roots -- they were hired and deployed en masse, at breakneck pace in the wake of 9/11, by one of the most corrupt administrations in our nation's history. (ISTR a prior thread here wasn't sure if Shrub was the most corrupt, but generally agreed he was in the top three.)

As for comparing the TSA to Customs: AIUI, Customs officers are screened and trained as law-enforcement. Customs and Border Patrol dates from the beginning of the country, and until the Homeland era was responsible to the Treasury Department. TSA are not and never have been properly screened, and their training is woeful. They're responsible to... well, nobody, really. They're nominally part of the DHS, but their governance is hopelessly broken, as seen in multiple scandals as in the OP.

#61 ::: Dave Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 07:58 AM:

unsure why.

#62 ::: Dave Harmon has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 08:22 AM:

unsure why.

[Three spaces in row. Moric Quxeix, Duty Gnome]

#63 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 08:31 AM:

I refuse the naked-view scanners on principle: they make it possible for people to ignore the fact that we're consenting to basically BEING STRIP-SEARCHED in order to get on a plane. I (when I am not flying with my child; when I am, she's my problem, and she gets the regular magnetometer, so so do I) choose the pat-down instead, and do it where I am visible, to make it clear that this is an uncomfortable, wrong thing we are doing, and it SHOULD make people uncomfortable, IMHO.

Your Morals May Vary. :->

#64 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 09:43 AM:

dcb, I recently flew across the country carrying my *skateboard* as a carryon item.

Baseball bats are forbidden. Clubs are forbidden. But skateboards are allowed.

And yet ... I could club someone over the head just as easily with my board as I could with a baseball bat. Sure, I might break the board. But the trucks would do a lot of damage if they hit someone in the skull.

#65 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:06 PM:

I found the body scanners convenient this last trip. My fake hip usually sets off the metal detector (resulting in a patdown), but I go right through the body scanner like a normal person.

But it occurs to me that the unnecessary radiation might not be so good, especially for someone who's already had cancer once. And I find the "make them do it in public" argument pretty compelling. Maybe I'll go back to getting a patdown every time.

Since the search regimen is wholly ineffective at finding actual bombs, we're back to the initial impression: it's there to remind us that, Constitution to the contrary, we really have no rights against whatever the government (or some stooge of the government with real or imagined powers) chooses to do to us. All they have to do is say "it's to prevent terrorism" and everyone just rolls over and plays dead.

I'm waiting for them to say they have to billet troops in our homes without the permission of the householder to prevent terrorism. Third Amendment activists, wake up!

And Robert, G. Gordon Liddy published a book back in the 70s that explains how to kill someone with a ballpoint pen, but they know they can't get away with outlawing those. But someone here a few years ago reported losing their circular (as in, a circle with points facing each other) knitting needles. They're pointy, you see, even though less so and less dangerously than a ballpoint pen.

It's all pure bullshit.

#66 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Adding to my post at #48: the very polite TSA screener who went through my bag also did a pat-down. It was tolerable. Up until that time I had, sheep-like, consented to stepping through their d***ned machines, but after this most recent experience (in June this year) I am considering requesting a pat-down when I fly. (I am not particularly touch-phobic when I have agreed to the procedure, and know what's coming. Strangers who put their hands on me without permission will not like my response.) I don't fly a great deal, but who needs extra radiation in their lives?

#67 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:23 PM:

Xopher @ 65... someone here a few years ago reported losing their circular (as in, a circle with points facing each other) knitting needles. They're pointy, you see, even though less so and less dangerously than a ballpoint pen.

But, as TexAnne has said before, you then can't get the blood out of the wool.

#68 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:25 PM:

Xopher @#65: A friend of mine who has had cancer did a little research and discovered that you probably get more rads from the flight itself than from the scanner doohicky. Still, the scanner rads are avoidable and the flight rads are not, so.

#69 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:26 PM:

#65 ::: Xopher HalfTongue It's all pure bullshit.

And you know that any TSA employee with an active brain cell has figured that out by their second day on the job at the very latest.

#70 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:33 PM:

Serge Broom @67: As someone recently posted on a 'you know you knit too much when ...' thread on Ravelry, You Know You're A Committed Knitter When ... you're out at a bar with several (also-knitter) friends, and someone accidentally spills their red wine all over you. You rush to the bathroom to immediately rinse out ... your knitting. Your friend dashes into the bathroom with a big glass of soda water for ... your knitting. Your shirt? Who CARES about the SHIRT? :->

#71 ::: Tracey C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:39 PM:

I fly on a regular basis (once/month, on average, sometimes a bit more). One of the mot irritating things is that every airport has their own way of doing things and interpreting the regulations, and each will swear that it's going by the regs.

LIT, when I refuse to go through the scanner, says they're required to tell me (inaccurately) all about how their scanners are safe and don't use radiation. They also claim (inaccurately) that there's no requirement for them to keep my belongings within sight at all times while I'm getting my pat-down. I've talked to supervisors, who will agree with me that these aren't the regs and promise to do more training, but every month, same thing.

When I flew into ORD for Chicon, I got to the baggage claim area just as the first few bags (including ours) started coming out. Someone started picking luggage off the carousel (including ours) and setting it down on the floor - when I confronted him, he showed me a supposed airport security badge (it didn't clearly identify him as anything other than an employer for some company I've never heard of), and spoke only in broken English. I retrieved my bags and left, but I wonder if he wasn't just stealing bags right from the bag claim. It was very fishy.

#72 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:49 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @57: I've spent more time than I should thinking about ways to distribute harmless powdered nitrates in places where it will come in contact with air travelers.

I once got held back because the licky-thing kept coming up positive on my pack. I later speculated that it was the Cornhusker's lotion—glycerin based.

#73 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 12:57 PM:

Searches don't have to be 100% accurate to be effective. If a terrorist wants to sneak Something Nasty onto a plane, what's the chance s/he will be caught? Is this an acceptable risk for the terrorist? My guess is that, most of the time, it is not. If there is, say, a 70% chance of detecting the Nasty, then seven out of ten Bad Guys would simply get a quick trip to the lockup. Not good odds; after a couple of failures, the detection rate would go 'way up as folks start doing their jobs a lot more enthusiastically.

#74 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:11 PM:

lightning, they're willing to die in plane crashes. You don't think 7 of them would be willing to go to prison to blow up 3 planes?

#75 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:22 PM:

The thing that bothers me about the full-body scanners is that they're operated by amateurs with no accountability.

The tech at my dentist's office has been carefully trained in the use of the X-ray equipment. More importantly: If there's a foul-up and I get a dangerous overdose of radiation, it's my dentist who's getting sued. She's got the capability and every incentive to buy safe equipment, maintain it carefully, and use it correctly.

Some TSA grunt has what kind of incentives and training, exactly? I'd be surprised if they had more than a quick briefing about how to operate the equipment and deliver the spiel. Nobody involved with this process, from people who buy the equipment to the ones who install it or operate it or supervise the operators has any reason to imagine that they're in any way personally accountable for the safety of the people who are exposed to their work. Not one of them has a patch of skin in the game.

I figure TSA people can probably do a pat-down without inflicting grievous injury. I'm not yet convinced that I can expect anything more than that from them.

#76 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 01:33 PM:

Xopher @ 75

That doesn't seem so clear. Martyrdom's a very particular thing. The prospect of being an unsuccesful martyr seems unlikely to be as motivating.

#77 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 02:16 PM:

I guess I'm just too suspicious. When flying, I've never put anything in my checked luggage that I wasn't willing to loose. Since the airlines have started charging for checked luggage, I only do carry on now.

I have no preference on scanner vs. pat down. I've had both and they're equally annoying in different ways. I will note that when my hair pins and/or comb used to put my long hair up in a french twist got me both scanned and patted down. No one, however, asked me to take my hair down so they could examine those items for potential weaponizing.

#78 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 02:40 PM:

lightning #73: there's also the Carnival Booth strategy to consider... basically, they can keep sending drones with dummy packages until they locate a gap in the coverage.

Jacque #72: Glycerin isn't a nitrated compound. It's also in A Lot Of Stuff, so I'd be very surprised if they're testing for it. (AIUI, It does get used in explosives, but there it's just serving as a convenient organic compound, a solvent and/or fuel.)

#79 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 02:41 PM:

What bothers me is, is the zero tolerance for terrorism the same zero tolerance for theft?

#80 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 02:53 PM:

My, "favorite" of the, "RULES!, we don't need no STINKING RULES" is at JFK. They have huge signs talking about the ability to use "Butterfly" bags for one's computer. They have these signs right in front of the screening machines, where the bins are located.

And they very strenuously prohibit you from doing what the posted regulation says is acceptable.

#81 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 03:15 PM:

TNH @57 (and Jacque @720 -- I got swabbed and nitrates detected on my shoes when I was flying on less than 24 hours notice. After some discussion, they figured it was either from fireworks (this was in early July) or from someone fertilizing a lawn I walked on.

#82 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 03:39 PM:

Anyone have information about how much radiation the guards get exposed to?

#83 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 03:54 PM:

Xopher @65: I think the idea with confiscating the circs is that they can be used as a garrote. I don't knit (crocheter/tatter) so I can't testify as to the possibility of that claim.

#84 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 04:05 PM:


I do knit on circular needles and some of the longer ones would make a great garrotte - once the knitting is taken off. The needles/ends would make great handles, but the knitted object would either pad the cable too much or give the victim leverage to yank the garotte free.

One of my sisters was asked to check her key ring while flying. She had a 3 inch long adjustable wrench of our father's as a key ring ornament (long story). She was told it was a security risk. Other than disassembling the plane mid-flight, we couldn't figure out how it was a danger.

#85 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 04:29 PM:

Is it my imagination or do the TSA's 'precautions' assume we'll just sit there while all this garroting is going on?

#86 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 04:37 PM:

I can't wait to see the escalation after someone with martial arts training goes a bit wacko on a plane.

Which will we see first, all nude passengers on planes... or all passengers tied hand and foot?

#87 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 05:08 PM:


I don't claim any deep insight into the mental processes of would-be suicide bombers, but I'm pretty skeptical that a moderate probability of detection is all that big a bar. Let's assume the probability of detection is 50%. It seems to me that the suicide bomber is already taking chances of that magnitude to get there in the first place.

The bigger problem is that preventing someone getting a bomb on a plane isn't actually preventing a devastating attack. Terrorists who can build a bomb without scoring an own-goal have dozens of easy targets to choose from. Airports have long lines of densely-packed people outside security at busy times, so a terrorist who wants to blow up people in an airport can probably kill as many as he could blowing up his plane, without the hassle of having to get the bomb past security or figuring out how to light a fuse sticking out of his underwear. But airports are far from the only such places, and the many terrorists who have no hope of building a bomb without turning their home into a crater can always go for mass-shootings. (Note that the Norway mass-shooter killed a hell of a lot more people with his guns than with his car bomb.)

The world isn't hardened for constant attack, both because doing that is extremely hard, and because the threat we face doesn't remotely justify it. Which means that putting tons of expensive and intrusive security around planes doesn't really make sense, and wouldn't even if that security were effective.

And that leads to the still bigger problem: The threat from terrorist attack doesn't really match up with the kind of security we see. From media reports, there have been two attempts to actually blow up a plane since 9/11--the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber. Both got past the TSA, and failed to set off their bombs because of interference from the other passengers, as well as incompetence. (The triggering mechanism is that you light your underpants on fire? What genius came up with that design?)

I'm very far from being an expert, but as I understand it, there are two models that make sense for terrorist attacks:

a. There's some low but persistent background level of low-end terrorist attacks, of the kind that might kill 10-100 people. Inside the US, that level is extremely low. Most of the terrorists caught by the FBI in the US are only able to gather up the competence to plot an attack because the FBI furnishes the money, plan, and (fake) bombs[1]. The best evidence for this lack of threat is that things aren't blowing up all the time, nor are the TSA stopping people with bombs trying to blow up planes. Given the threat posed by these guys, spending a lot of money and time and inconvenience trying to prevent these attacks is certainly a big waste. Nor, in our two available examples, was TSA able to prevent the terrorists boarding airplanes with their bombs. (Though their bombs may have been more effective if there had been less security.)

b. There's always the possibility of a huge and devastating terrorist attacks, like 9/11 or the Oklaholma City Bombing or the bombing and mass-shooting in Norway a year ago. However, the kind of half-assed security we get from TSA seems extremely unlikely to stop this kind of attack. Look at the 9/11 attacks: None of them were carrying anything forbidden on the plane at the time. They understood and exploited the existing procedures for dealing with hijackings. If someone with this level of planning and competence tries to attack us, the TSA's airport security regime is not remotely up to the challenge of stopping it. Nor is it all that likely they'll target airplanes.

So my sense is that what we're getting from TSA is the worst of both worlds: expensive, intrusive security that doesn't do a very good job of protecting us from the threats we face.

[1] I believe most of the terrorism-related arrests have nothing to do with any terrorist plot, and instead involve raising money or otherwise providing support for terrorist groups.

#88 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 05:34 PM:

One of the reasons why 9/11's terrorist attacks worked is that passengers assumed this was a 'normal' hijacking à la "Take us to Cuba". Who's going to make that mistake again? People will stop them even if it means plowing themselves to bits into a field.

#89 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 05:57 PM:

And it's important that people be permitted to use cell phones in flight. If it hadn't been for cell phones, flight 93 would have been crashed in DC.

#90 ::: dreampod ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 06:01 PM:


I'm not sure that terrorists don't focus on planes rather than vastly easier attacks because of the mental draw airplanes have on the imagination and all the (largely irrational) fears already associated with them. Many people already have fears or insecurities about air travel so it is much easier to amplify them by attacking there rather than a mall or bus which people are so accustomed to that a single incident isn't going to create the fear and disruption they desire. The other thing is that planes are really, really easy to break even with minimal explosives because cabin pressurization and wind velocity tend to rip them apart and let gravity take care of the rest. Building a bomb that will actually kill large numbers of people even if they are close together is surprisingly hard.

#91 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 06:29 PM:

True, Serge. Pre-9/11, the accepted wisdom was that it was best to cooperate, because hijackers wanted transportation or hostages...not because they were going to use the plane as a weapon. Now it's all different. I don't think there will be any successful hijackings of planes anymore. They will all be crashes.

And I've been saying that since October 2001.

#92 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 06:29 PM:

I seldom travel. But I opted for the patdown the last time I did. The screener said something like it may seem I'm touching you in a bad way (can't exactly recall, wasn't really listening and really don't care much about being touched). But I looked at her and said, "Lady, I'm a doctor. I stick fingers into openings that you would far rather I didn't." Made her blush and say yuck.

But on the way home, they wanted to confiscate my shoe horn. It's nice and long with a padded handle and a rounded metal tip. When I asked why on earth? they said it might intimidate a flight attendant. I told them if true they needed a tougher bunch of flight attendants. Bunch of people around me started laughing, so the TSA guy gave me my shoehorn back.

The only bad encounter was years ago, before the World Trade attacks. A security guard at the airport told me to make my beeper beep. I kept it on vibrate only, and my kids had to set it up for me, so I didn't know how to make it beep. That fool reached for his holster and unsnapped his gun. I went after him, yelling at him, telling him if he shot a doctor over her beeper, he'd never hear the end of it. He started backing away, resnapped his holster, put his hands up in the classic pax sign.

The two women working with him were laughing hysterically. They had to lean on the scanners.

#93 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 09:05 PM:

I find the green twist ties found in produce departments work fine for my checked luggage. Since I have soft sided stuff, I've always known if someone wants to get in it, a lock sure isn't going to stop them. I use twist ties for two reasons, to keep the zipper from being rubbed/snagged open, and also to tell if someone has frisked my luggage. I had one occasion where I could tell immediately that my luggage had been searched: the twist tie was tied differently.

One time I forgot the twist tie, I found the top layer of my luggage tossed, and the usual "we tossed things" note in it. I had the fiendish hope that only the first layer was tossed because the TSA examiner realized he/she/it wouldn't be able to get everything back in, given how I wedge things in.

I like the idea of photographing and inventorying everything. I'm about to make another trip from upstate NY to San Diego, this time moving books and fabric from my mother's place back to my current place of residence. Southwest still has "2 bags free" policy, and I intend to take advantage of it.

#94 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 09:25 PM:

David Harmon @ 60,

I have a friend who is ICE, and was trained at the same training center as the FBI uses. I watered her plants while she was away.

#95 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 09:49 PM:

A few weeks ago I flew into Miami from Kingston. For some reason I was sent to secondary customs inspection. That caused me to miss my connecting flight. Also to miss the next flight. By the time I rebooked, I could only get a flight that would put me back home in Atlanta by near midnight. I do not, at the moment, have a very high opinion of customs officers.

#96 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2012, 11:11 PM:

There are these Priva-Seals from Magellan's:

Pricey little versions of twist ties that 1) can't be retied and 2) have numbers you can memorize or use in series, so pilferers can't replace them.

Used them both ways on two checked bags for recent trip to/from Chicago Worldcon. (Hello again, Elliott M!) On the way out, both bags and seals arrived intact. On the way back, one Priva-Seal was gone, so checked that bag immediately. Found TSA note inside. Nothing missing.

Faute de mieux, I guess. Hey (unplanned digression), do y'all know the Dorothy Parker poem of that name? “Travel, trouble, music, art, / A kiss, a frock, a rhyme -- / I never said they feed my heart, / But still they pass my time.”

#97 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:38 AM:

Fragano, that is too bad. And. Were you at Worldcon? If so, I think I thought I spotted you and then went. 'no, I'm not sure."

At any rate I have not been much bothered by airline security, but I am guessing that I have an new physical appliance (leg prosthetic) I'm guessing I will attract more attention.

#98 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 02:12 AM:

Fragano @95: Is that "for some reason" the usual reason?


One of my favorite TSA/airport stories, from late July 2007.

Phoenix: Serious Security Questions at Sky Harbor Airport.

By Investigator Lisa Fletcher,

It’s what you have to do when you fly – use X-ray machines, metal detectors, and deal with liquid restrictions in your carry-on luggage. You know the drill.

Security checkpoints are just part of travel these days. They’re supposed to keep us safe, so we use them – but not all of us and not all the time.

We’ve discovered a 4.5 hour time frame each night when virtually anything can be brought into the secure side of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. There’s no metal detector, no X-ray machine, and it’s apparently not a problem.

Afraid to show her face, one long time Sky Harbor employee talks about the security most people don’t see.

Lisa Fletcher: “You’re telling me Sky Harbor’s not safe?”

Employee: “I’m telling you Sky Harbor’s not safe and hasn’t been for a long time.”

It’s what we discovered in the middle of the night – TSA agents going away, and security guards taking over. It’s 4.5 hours – every night – when an employee badge becomes an all-access pass.

Night after night, our hidden cameras captured what security experts tell us is a disaster waiting to happen.

The X-ray machines were off, the metal detectors were closed, and bags with unknown contents were carried to the secure side of the airport where the planes are.

We watched as a security guard let people with purses, coolers and suitcases walk right through – bags unchecked.

I've never found out how long this was going on, but realio trulio, Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix had a 4.5-hour period every night when the TSA shut down operations and no one took over for them. You could have gotten a howitzer through there.

#99 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:39 AM:

Paula Helm Murray: Yes, I was at Worldcon. I'm sorry we didn't get to meet.

#100 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:45 AM:

TNH #98: Gail thinks it was. She thinks that if I'd been with her I might not have had the hassle. As it was, since I was carrying no drugs, bombs, or anything out of the ordinary except for my usual extra weight of books and a bottle of pimento dram I don't appear to have posed a threat to the security of the United States.

#101 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:13 AM:

dreampod @ #90
I'm not sure that terrorists don't focus on planes rather than vastly easier attacks because of the mental draw airplanes have on the imagination and all the (largely irrational) fears already associated with them.

Personally, I think it's a case where "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." The original incident involved using legal carry-on items to turn the passenger plane into a guided missile. The ultimate kamikaze. I also note that when most people reference the results of 9/11 they focus on NY and the twin towers, with the field in Pennsylvania coming second and the Pentagon a distant third. I figure it had to do with the type and number of lives lost.

#102 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:30 AM:

Fragano @ 100...

Sorry to hear you went thru that crap on the way back from Kingston.
Regarding Gail... Please tell her it was a pleasure to meet her.

#103 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:29 AM:

Fragano Ledgister@100:

I guess it's fortunate that they didn't appreciate the power of pimento dram in the wrong hands.

Lovely stuff, but a little goes a long way.

#104 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:56 AM:

Nangleator @86: Which will we see first, all nude passengers on planes... or all passengers tied hand and foot?

There was speculation, back when this whole silly business began, that the ultimate outcome would be passengers loaded into the plane shrink-wrapped naked to their seats.

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:11 PM:

Serge #102: Thanks. I shall convey your good wishes.

#106 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:13 PM:

David Wald #103: Wray & Nephew's stuff is not as good as what my father used to make. That was divine.

#107 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:14 PM:

Victoria #101: One reason is, I think, that Flight 93 provides us with a narrative of ordinary people's heroism ("let's roll!") to set against the horror of the day.

#108 ::: David Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:36 PM:

Victoria @ 77: That gets done at a lot of airports when there are many flights coming in at the same time. Otherwise, the bags just stack up on the carousel and nobody can get at them. Usually, the employee doing it has a visible badge, though.

#109 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Throwmearope @92: The two women working with him were laughing hysterically. They had to lean on the scanners.

You clearly should be on a no-fly list for deploying that most devastating of weapons: withering scorn!

#110 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 01:23 PM:

Connecting through Amsterdam this spring, I found myself in the scanner and then patted down. Then, arriving in Atlanta, the same thing. I'm used to being singled out for extra scrutiny because I'm a gray haired white lady, and they can use my example to show that they're not profiling by gender, age, race, or (apparent) national origin or religion. Yeah, right.

I should knock wood now, but I've always had good experiences with TSA, even when traveling with harps. When I last took a harp to Ireland, I wanted to gate check it. The Delta agents seemed unsure, and called for a TSA agent to come talk with me. The problem, as it turned out, was that they weren't sure the flight case would fit through the x-ray machine, and TSA would then have to examine the case and harp by hand. They assumed I would freak out at this, but I assured them it would be okay, and they all heaved a visible sigh of relief. Turned out it did fit those machines. As the image appeared, I said the usual: "It's a little harp, like the angels play," because they always want to know, and most people have seen pictures of angels playing small harps, so they can relate. The TSA agent asked, "Yeah, but what do they play in the 'other' place?" "Accordions!" said I, and everyone laughed. I like to think I did a little bit to lighten them up for subsequent passengers. And the Delta flight attendants ended up putting the harp in an unused crew luggage closet on board. But I still get the impression that sometimes I fly in an alternate reality.

I take my smaller medieval harp as a carry-on, and use the zipped pocket for my tickets, passport, wallet, etc. my meds and anything else irreplaceable go in the body of the case. I put the spare strings in my checked luggage (garrotes, you know) and if asked, call my tuning wrench a key (because wrench=OMG tool! A spare wrench and the electronic tuner get checked.)

TSA allows certain musical instruments as carry ons in addition to a regular carry on and a personal item. Note that this does not require the airline to accommodate your carry on instrument, but I've never had a problem. Even with Air France.

#111 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 01:28 PM:

#104 ::: Jacque:

Naked, shrink wrapped, and sedated.

I'm inclined to think that nothing comparable to 9/11 has happened is "What do you do for an encore?" Nothing less than nukes would be enough, and nukes are hard to get.

Fortunately, small terrorist attacks seem to be beneath AQ's dignity.

Alternatively, the US really did manage to destroy enough of AQ's structure and resources that such a big attack became too difficult for them.

And (while no one noticed because so much else was going on) GWB complied with one of bin Laden's major demands-- getting US bases out of Saudi Arabia.

#112 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 02:15 PM:

I just want y'all to know that this thread was part of the deciding factor for me in the "two days of trains, or flying?" dilemma for my upcoming trip to the Portland area.

In favor of flying: it's the LONG half of the California Zephyr. It's a 9 hour layover in Sacramento. And the Sirens Conference are running an airport shuttle to the lodge.

In favor of trains: it's the PRETTY half of the California Zephyr! The 9 hour layover helps ensure my connection, and maybe I can wander around town. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before! It has wifi! Also, EVERYTHING IN THIS THREAD. GAH.

I am extremely fortunate that I am free to choose to adding 2 days to either end of a trip. I wish everyone had that option. More: I wish we had actual high-speed rail, and more social value placed on rail. But I suppose if we did, rail would probably be less free of TSA shenanigans.

#77 ::: Victoria ::: I will note that when my hair pins and/or comb used to put my long hair up in a french twist got me both scanned and patted down. No one, however, asked me to take my hair down so they could examine those items for potential weaponizing.

That's a useful datapoint. When I flew from Denver to San Diego for WFC last year, the TSA full-body-scanner attendant had me bend slightly over so she could look at my wooden hair stabbity stick. It was my first time flying in several years, and the first time I'd been through the full-body-scanner, and the first time anyone had even noticed my hair stick.

She just visually confirmed that it was indeed being used to hold up my hair, and let me go on through. No warnings about "check it next time." I even reflexively said, "You want me to take it out so you can see?" *facepalm* She said, "No, that's cool," and waved me through.

I was wondering whether that experience was typical of the New Now, or whether I just got lucky. Increasing data points to 2 isn't conclusive, but it makes me feel better.

Re: Knitting - seems like just after 9/11, the local knitting circle's common experience was that double-pointers and straights would get confiscated, wooden/bamboo would get ignored by the scanner, and circulars were totally A-OK every time. These days clearly wood gets caught by the new scanners -- see above -- and circulars are assumed garottes? Eesh. I use the 40" ones for two-at-a-time magic-loop socks. I'm screwed.

Tracie @110: As the image appeared, I said the usual: "It's a little harp, like the angels play," because they always want to know, and most people have seen pictures of angels playing small harps, so they can relate. The TSA agent asked, "Yeah, but what do they play in the 'other' place?" "Accordions!" said I, and everyone laughed.

I love that old Far Side strip. "Welcome to Heaven. Here's your harp." "Welcome to Hell. Here's your accordion."

(We fans of polka, zydeco, and They Might Be Giants know differently, of course. But I stilll find it funny.)

Throwmearope is now my hero and my TSA-facing role model. I can only hope my own scorn can be as quick on the draw and as effectively expressed when next it is needed.

#113 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 02:30 PM:

I took one of these on a trip to California. It's a bladeless Swiss army knife. It has a scissors which will barely cut paper.

The guard didn't like the looks of it on the way out, so I opened it and showed that there was no blade. The guard was amused, said he'd never seen one like it before, and called another guard over to look at it.

I was actually a little disappointed that no one got any entertainment out of it on the return trip. On the other hand, I *was* allowed to keep it.

Hypothesis: I was at the beginning of a shift on the way out, and at the end of a shift on the way back.

#114 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 02:36 PM:

Last year we flew to Atlanta and back with a large plastic hammer in carry-on (for the teen's Ramon cosplay at Dragon*Con).

Immense TSA amusement at both ends; we nearly lost it in NYC to an eager agent who grabbed it and went around bopping the other agents with it.

#115 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 03:03 PM:

So, I fly a lot for work. A lot, as in "I have 700,000 of the miles necessary to get to milion miler status on my airline." A lot, as in, "71,000 miles so far this year, with at least 4 more round trips to go."

I spend a LOT of time with the TSA.

Here are some observations.

1. I've never had trouble, in all those miles, with any kind of knitting needle being taken from me, though I do generally bring bamboo circs, and I have learned to say, "Those are my knitting needles. Do you need me to check them?" in a few languages.

2. The TSA jokes with me, but I am not allowed to joke with them. This is a reprehensible and vile power dynamic. It is NOT okay with me if a TSA agent thinks its funny to ask me--when I'm 6 months pregnant and traveling--"Is that a bomb you've got under there?"

3. I have seen the TSA require a priest to remove his shirt. In public.

4. A TSA agent at the international terminal in JFK terrified and harassed a non-English speaking Frenchwoman because she had committed the dangerous action of putting her carry on bag into a plastic bin. He screamed at her endlessly until I was able to translate the nature of the problem for her. Seems like the international terminal might be a place where the TSA, if they gave a frak, might train their hooligans not to assume that everyone speaks English.

5. Accidentally leaving government issued currency or documents in your pocket while going through a scanner makes government employees extremely nervous. You will get extra special attention.

6. If you have never had the super-snuggly patdown that was introduced a while back, I suggest you opt-out of the scanners, just once. It is a very distressing experience, and allows the TSA to touch you more intimately than either of my first two boyfriends were allowed to do. It may well change your point of view about the TSA, or at least...clarify it.

7. I like my political protests with whimsy. I keep a large stash of stickers (made at in my purse that read "The TSA touched me here." I apply them when warranted, and pass them out to fellow passengers with abandon.

#116 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 03:05 PM:

I have been gnomed! It's my first time. Be gentle.

(I must have done something truly shocking, as there were no links, even, and if I used a word of power I'd be astonied!)

[Mentioning raised a question in the minds of the first-reader goblins. -- Eiox Blisstien, Duty Gnome]

#117 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 03:49 PM:

I fly several times a year, and I'm pretty familiar with the TSA routine. My sense is that most of them know that a lot of the rules they get stuck enforcing are silly, but that's the job, so they do it. Most of the time, the TSA guys I deal with are either neutral or friendly in a light banter sort of way. Every now and then, they're surly, though I've never had more problems than annoyance from them.

My qualm is that they are unnecessary. There are places where you need intrusive security, and in those places, it's annoying but necessary. My sense is that 90% of the TSA security song-and-dance we go through is pointless, and that most everyone who is paying attention knows it. But eliminating that unneccessary and expensive hassle would be a political loser, even if it would be the right thing to do.

#118 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 04:29 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @106. I don't suppose the recipe survives. I wonder if the freshness of the allspice was a part of that quality.

#119 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 04:59 PM:

fidelio #118: Ripe allspice berries are essential, not dried allspice. The allspice that you buy is made from nearly ripe ("fit" in Jamaican Creole) rather than fully ripe berries. Pimento dram is made by fermenting ripe berries with sugar, cinnamon, and lime juice (sadly, I don't know the quantities) and then stopping the fermentation with overproof (190 proof is best) rum (I do know the quantity of that,* and I do know from whom to obtain it, I went to school with him, but I haven't seen him in 39 years). Then steeping the resulting liquor for a couple of weeks, filtering, and bottling. Storing in a cool cellar.

* One demi-john.

#120 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 05:15 PM:

Every so often I get into an argument with someone wherein they say that the security measures for air travel, whatever they may be, are justified if they increase their safety. I've tried to get them to see the absurdity of this. "What about if, before you can fly, you're strip searched, including a body cavity search, enema and purgative, then held for 24 hours, naked, before being handcuffed and anaesthetised for the duration of the flight? Would that be okay, so long as the airlines/TSA say that it's necessary to improve your safety?" They usually say I'm being absurd. To which I reply "possibly, but at what point are you willing to say "that's enough, that's unreasonable?"

#121 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 05:30 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz #111: I tend toward Bruce Schneier's view that the reason there hasn't been another major terrorist attack is, there's no point. The terrorists won, with a payoff far beyond any strictly military objectives -- never mind the loss of life, they convinced us to throw away our international reputation and goodwill, endless amounts of money, and of course our people's liberties. We have been well and truly terrorized.

At this point, all a terrorist group needs is to maintain their visibility, and we tie up our own resources for them. That includes amorphous pseudo-groups like "white male power", "God over State", and the increasingly-popular "untreated psychosis".

#122 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 05:35 PM:

PS: Notice, I said "tie up" resources, not use them effectively. We could deal with the psychotics, or even the bigots, for far less than what we now have to spend trying to make everything crazyproof.

#123 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 06:04 PM:

David Harmon @ 122... make everything crazyproof

I wonder how the Federation handles this.

#124 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 06:12 PM:

On my most recent flight, my checked baggage consisted of several katanas in multiple layers of wrapping, in a cardboard box carefully sized to fall below the oversized-baggage limit.

On the trip out, the box was opened by TSA, and I found the standard note just inside the outermost layer of wrapping. They apparently opened that one, saw how much work it would be to finish the job, and gave up.

I added another layer for the return trip.


#125 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:09 PM:

Serge Broom #123: M(1) Universal medical treatment... including early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. (2) Widespread military discipline, (3) Public insurrection gets met with phasers on stunn, after which see (1) and (2).

Cynical, me? ;-)

#126 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:39 PM:

I fly very seldom, but this August I took two trips, one to Worldcon, so I was on more planes than I think I ever have been in my life. The last time I'd flown had been in 2007, and before that 1996. Things sure have changed.

On my way back from my trip to Alaska, I was with my brother, sister-in-law, and three nephews; we were taking different planes out, but we went through security together. I didn't realize that families with kids get to go through a faster security process that doesn't require those awful scanners. I was RIGHT behind them, keep in mind, and obviously with them. One TSA agent waved me to the metal detector after my nephews, but a second agent physically barred my way--as if I might rush through anyway--and said, "The kids are through. She can't go this way," to the first guy. Then I had to go through the scanner. Because I guess if the kids aren't physically yours, you're a potential terrorist, whereas if the kids are yours, obviously you're 100% safe.

I was surprised, on my way home from Chicago, that I didn't have to go through the scanner at all. They just sent me through the metal detector. There was an issue with my carry-on bag, but the TSA agent in this case was very polite, reasonable, and made sure I was there to watch while he looked for the offending object (my Mini Cooper key, as it turned out). He also apologized for my delay. I wonder if agents at large airports (like Chicago) are less jumpy than ones at small airports (like Anchorage) or if it's all about who's on shift at any given time and how they feel.

#127 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:45 PM:

Dave Harmon @ 125... What about Barclay?

#128 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:54 PM:

I had a TSA agent actually laugh in a friendly way at a comment I made. He asked if I had any liquids, and I said something to the effect of "just the drops of water remaining in the humidifier section of my CPAP machine". And he laughed, and said that if it was perfectly DRY, well, THEN he might be a bit suspicious!

All in all (knock wood) I've never yet had a bad experience with the TSA. Even though I ask for the pat-down instead of the backscatter. I've also never had a bad experience with Customs/Immigration, though I've been with people who've had terrible experiences with them, like being repeatedly asked if they were coming to Canada just to get married, or how they planned to support themselves for the whole weekend they planned to be in Canada, and not accepting "I have credit cards" for an answer.

Apparently, when they ask why you're visiting such-and-such a country, saying "a vacation" is much better than telling them you're there for a convention.

#129 ::: Mishalak ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 07:58 PM:

Dave Harmon @ #121
I tend toward Bruce Schneier's view that the reason there hasn't been another major terrorist attack is, there's no point. The terrorists won, with a payoff far beyond any strictly military objectives -- never mind the loss of life, they convinced us to throw away our international reputation and goodwill, endless amounts of money, and of course our people's liberties. We have been well and truly terrorized.

Except that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda lost as well. This is not to claim that the US somehow won in the end, it is just that both sides lost in this "war". America spent money it could not afford and Al Qaeda lost its good will and influence as well. They have been passed over by history, left behind. The Arab Spring happened without them.

In the end I think the winners of the "war on terrorism" will be the states that managed to mostly stay out of it or manipulate events without actually getting sucked in. Like Iran.

#130 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 08:16 PM:

Cally Soukup @128: When I go to Farthing Party, I tell customs I'm there to visit friends -- which is not a lie, after all, just a slightly simplified version of the truth. Once I got asked who, and I showed them Jo's name and address in my PDA. In 2009 I did say I was there for the Worldcon. (That didn't seem to cause any problem.)

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 08:24 PM:

Serge, #123: They employ a lot of full-blooded Betazoids. There's no reason to do security theater when you've got a mind-reader on staff to spot the genuinely dangerous ones.

Also, what Dave H. says @125 about universal medical care -- including mental-health care.

#132 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 08:51 PM:

J. Greely: I have a katana (actual, not modern) which needs to have the tsuka re-wrapped. Know anyone you think does a good job?

#133 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 09:20 PM:

Cally Soukup ::: #128 ::: Any advice on flying with a CPAP? Now that the husband's got one I'm curious. I looked up the official TSA rules, but more info never hurts.

#134 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 09:39 PM:

Persephone @133

I've asked various TSA people as well as flight attendants on several airlines. The upshot is this: no matter what the official signs say, you may bring your CPAP in its case or bag onto the plane without it counting as carry-on or "personal" luggage. It's a freebie. I've asked this while standing directly in front of Large Signs that say "ONLY ONE PIECE OF CARRY-ON LUGGAGE ALLOWED", and been told that as a piece of medical equipment, I can still carry it on and it won't count against my allowance.

In theory, this is supposed to apply mostly to the battery-operated ones so you can use it on the plane, but in practice, they don't inspect for batteries: they just let you carry it on.

The nice thing is that, if your CPAP bag is anything like mine, there's enough room to throw at least a spare shirt and underwear in there, in case of luggage emergencies.

If the CPAP has a humidifier, the usual rules about carrying on liquids apply; plan on buying distilled water at your destination. Or do what I did when I first got mine; I took an old 1 liter Pepsi bottle that I'd washed out carefully, and I packed that in my luggage filled with distilled water. (And labeled it "DISTILLED WATER" in large friendly letters.) It's a much better grade of plastic than the usual water bottle, not that you can buy distilled water in sizes other than a gallon anyway.

Once your husband has his CPAP for 6 months or a year (depending on insurance) they'll probably send him a new mask, hose, and (if applicable) humidifier chamber. I designated an old humidifier chamber as the travel one, and that way I just use regular tap water and don't worry much about calcium build-up.

I hope this is helpful.

#135 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:09 PM:

Persephone (133): You do have to take the CPAP out of its bag and send it through the scanner by itself. You can put it in a clear plastic bag, but they may want to check it for radiation, which means taking it out of the plastic, too. One word of caution: apparently if you do throw anything extra into your CPAP bag, even just a pair of socks, it suddenly becomes an extra bag, not just medical equipment. You might not always have a problem but you can. So far, I've always managed to get my CPAP into my regular carry-on, rather than having a third item.

#136 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:23 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @119--All the recipes I've seen online treat it as a maceration process, and use the dried berries--I can see how your father's method (and the fresh, ripe berries) would make an immense difference in the end product.

#137 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:28 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 135

I've never had to send the CPAP through in a plastic bag; I suppose this might be another instance of my luck with TSA agents. I have had to open the case to show them that it was, in fact a CPAP (about 50% of the time); and once, to take the individual parts out and then put them back. Mostly I've just sent it through the scanner like any other carryon. Nor have I had a problem with the underwear I pack with it; it's possible they've simply never noticed.

#138 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:32 PM:

Terry Karney @ 132: I'll ask the senior instructors at this weekend's seminar.


#139 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 10:46 PM:

My usual routine when TSA checkers are looking unfriendly is to be alert, very earnest, and hard of hearing. That is: giving me a hard time won't be much fun, but it will take a tedious amount of time, which will irritate their co-workers who have to take up the slack. Meanwhile, if they open my backpack, which has many odd objects in it, the first thing they have to deal with is my teddy bear.

The message isn't "This woman can't possibly be a terrorist." It's "This is gonna get fractal."

#140 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:19 PM:

I watched the towers go down on the television at my daughter's house. I was visiting her as a safety measure while her husband was away, and she was (maybe) recovering from surgery for ovarian cancer. I returned home by train. Nothing was flying, but the train trip was very normal. A few weeks later, I went back for her funeral. Of course, by then the machinery was in place to search me, and selected other passengers. It was not yet universal. One of my co-travelers said "Why would they search you? You don't look like a terrorist." I said, "Obviously, they need me to make the averages come out right. I am an elderly, female, obviously white, obviously American, so I can balance several young, male, not-so-white, not so American-looking travelers, who supposedly do look like terrorists"

I traveled once more with a couple of family members and it was really unpleasant, the lines, the searches, having to take off my shoes while standing up and leaning on a cane; since then I haven't gone anywhere I can't drive to. It seems ridiculous, especially since it clearly doesn't make travelers any safer.

#141 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:27 PM:

#82Nancy Lebovitz

Anyone have information about how much radiation the guards get exposed to?

Last I saw, some of the guards wanted to get film dosimeters at their own expense (they're cheap) to see exactly how much radiation they were getting. They were specifically forbidden, on pain of firing, from doing so.

#142 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:35 PM:

#74 Xopher HalfTongue

lightning, they're willing to die in plane crashes. You don't think 7 of them would be willing to go to prison to blow up 3 planes

No. Going out in a blaze of glory is a lot more attractive than life in prison. Also, when the first one was detected, all the TSA guys will suddenly be wide awake ...

I am not an expert on terrorist/suicide bomber psychology. I suspect that nobody else is either. The writings I have seen on the subject are about as convincing as "they hate us for our freedoms". (WTF does that mean, anyway??) The scariest thing I've seen is that suicide bombers seem to be *completely normal*.

#143 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:44 PM:

lightening: I don't think (from my experience with such things) that any extra vigilance would carry over. Also, if they co-ordinated the attempts, it wouldn't matter.

Plan twenty attacks, get somewhere between 6-20. "Win" all around.

#144 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2012, 11:53 PM:

Older, #140: Wanna really break brains? The next time you get asked that question, say, "They need me to make up their quota numbers." Which is exactly what you said originally, but with the nastiness right out in plain sight.

#145 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 12:38 AM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @139: Meanwhile, if they open my backpack, which has many odd objects in it, the first thing they have to deal with is my teddy bear.

The message isn't "This woman can't possibly be a terrorist." It's "This is gonna get fractal."

Back in more innocent days, a friend helped with a cross-border move from NY State to Toronto. I shoe-horned everything into his truck, including a few boxes in the front seats.

Crossing the border, a custom agent asked for a manifest. "I don't have a manifest." They wanted to unpack the truck. "Are you nuts, it took hours to pack." They started with the boxes in the front seat. After the first box, a layer or two down when they found the plaster teeth, it was go... get outta here.

#146 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 08:55 AM:

Teresa (139)/Rob Rusick (145): In 1989, I moved from Wyoming to New York, driving cross-country and detouring through Canada to visit my brother overnight. My car was packed to the gills with household stuff, with my teddy bear on top of the pile. Entering Canada from Detroit, the Customs agent briefly questioned what I was bringing with me. "Household stuff. I'm moving to New York--and it's *all* going with me; I'm not leaving anything in Canada." (My brother had warned me about that bit.) "Not even a present for your brother?" "Nope." He waved me through without even checking my driver's license.

#147 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 09:52 AM:

lightning #142 I want to unpack the Carnival Booth strategy for you a bit, which Dave Harmon mentioned at #78. I don't know why the name, but basically, any time we have fixed rules which focus our attention on one set of conditions/people over another, the enemy can do dummy "dry runs" enough to learn what gets you in which category, and then arrange their "live" runs to fit the less watched category.

It's like the opposite of your accurate point that foiling a bomber would put everyone on alert, for days or weeks. This way pulling yet another brown person aside for tedious questioning or searching which turns up negative just gives the baddies an extra data point. They're not risking serious-but-sub-martyrdom consequences cos they're not involved in any crime, just learning your defences.

Note, as has been mentioned, the 9/11 attacks themselves used quite sophisticated social engineering of just this sort.

lightning #141 that's horrible.

#148 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 10:32 AM:

fidelio #136: Ripe allspice berries are edible, of course, and tasty in moderate quantity. The berries should be crushed in the fermentation process.

You have to understand that it is decades since I saw my father make pimento dram, so I can recall the ingredients but not the exact quantities.

Now, I wonder if owning a plot of land with a couple of pimento trees on it would be worthwhile just to be able to make my own pimento dram.

#149 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 10:34 AM:

Shane/lightning: Here is the paper on Carnival Booth: An Algorithm for Defeating the Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening System

We call this the “Carnival Booth Effect” since, like a carnie, it entices terrorists to “Step Right Up! See if you’re a winner!” In this case, the terrorist can step right up and see if he’s been flagged.

#150 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 12:25 PM:

While I've never had any bad TSA experiences, I can't help but feel ill-at-ease as I wait with hundreds of other people packed in the snaking lines and spilling out into the corridors, all yet to be checked for explosives, weapons, etc.

#151 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 12:51 PM:

This is why the REAL efforts to prevent terrorist attacks stop the terrorists before they build the bomb. They are law-enforcement activities and seldom, if ever, made public. (I'm not counting the stupid entrapment scams that are designed to make good PR at the expense of people who never would have attacked anyone until some UC coaxed them along.)

#152 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 02:41 PM:


Perhaps, but it's hard to have much notion of how effective any of that stuff is when it's kept secret. Most parts of our war on terror which are at all open to public scrutiny look pretty badly run and ineffective. No doubt, there are some well-run, effective things being done, too, but my default assumption is that that's the exception, rather than the rule.

#153 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 03:00 PM:

Kate Shaw at #126
On my way back from my trip to Alaska, I was with my brother, sister-in-law, and three nephews; we were taking different planes out, but we went through security together. I didn't realize that families with kids get to go through a faster security process that doesn't require those awful scanners.

You want fast? Fly with an elderly person needing physical assistance. I flew a couple of years ago with my elderly mother who needs a cane to stand and a wheel chair to navigate the airports. It was fast and smooth and the TSA agents were downright deferential. Of course, she chose to go through the scanner sans cane, and I think they were expecting her loose her balance and fall into the machine because they looked ready to lunge. Watching her straighten up enough to get a reading was painful for all observers. I and my two siblings (all who took turns herding Mom/pushing the wheel chair/and handling luggage) were expedited through the screening process.

#154 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 04:30 PM:

Cally Soukup and Mary Aileen, thanks, that's very helpful!

#155 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 10:48 PM:

Re the "Carnival Booth" algorithm -- that's why You Don't Do That. Bruce Schneier has been bashing on this for years. Random really is better -- and nobody says that you can't hide Nasty Stuff in Granny's diaper or Junior's stroller.

TSA would have to be complete idiots* not to assume that potential terrorists are testing the system all the time, trying to figure out exactly a "really innocent" person looks like.

* I know, I know.

#156 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 03:47 AM:

Persephone@133ff, on flying with CPAPs - The only rule that's consistent is that, when the TSA changes the procedures at any airport, they'll claim that whatever they're doing has always been the rule and you should have known it. However, they do seem to have made a change about a year ago, that has affected me in multiple airports. It used to be they wanted you to leave the CPAP machine in the bag, and they'd swab it with their little nitrate-checking swab.

The current process is that they make you take the CPAP out of the bag, and put it in the trays that everybody puts their shoes in, and when you insist to them that they shouldn't make a change that treats the medical equipment you use to breathe with in such an unsanitary way without warning you and ask them what they're going to do about it, they eventually figure out that they've got some paper towels they can put in the tray for now. And when the TSA kid at the airport for the return trip tries to tell you that it wouldn't have made sense for them to have used the procedure that they'd used before because that wouldn't have provided enough security, you stifle the urge to tell him how much else doesn't make sense and tell him to get some paper towels.

My CPAP disassembles into parts that fit in gallon baggies, so since that trip I've always packed them that way and bring a couple of spare baggies. So far they've never felt like messing with the hoses or mask, just the machinery.

#157 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 03:54 AM:

Persephone@133 - Sorry, tried to edit that after previewing, but it escaped. Short version:

Put all the parts you can in clear plastic gallon baggies. They'll usually let you leave them in the baggies, and usually they're going to make you take the machine out of the bag and put it in the shoe-trays like a laptop to run through the xrays.

#158 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 10:27 AM:

I flew last month with my CPAP, and ran it through closed in Chicago and in Vancouver. I flew seven months ago, and ran it through closed in Chicago, and had to open the bag but not take anything out in Ft. Lauderdale.

I suspect that the differences are as much differences between airports as differences between TSA agents. Chicago sees a LOT of CPAPs.

In Chicago there was a holdup, but not because of the CPAP; they inspected my purse, because, with the shoes-off thing, I'd put a metal shoehorn in my purse. (I couldn't find a plastic one). I said "I bet it's the shoehorn", and when they gave me back my purse they said "You were right".

#159 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 11:00 AM:

#155 ("carnival booth" probing) and #156 (inconsistent procedures) combine in an unfortunate way: the TSA apparently uses the threat of probing to justify inconsistent implementation of constantly-changing rules. That's an argument that's exactly as believable as the TSA itself: if you consider the TSA trustworthy and competent then it's a (possibly unbalanced) security tradeoff; if you consider the TSA incompetent and untrustworthy then it's a transparent excuse to avoid dealing with inadequate training and oversight.

#160 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 12:25 PM:

The system was really bad ca 2001-2005. I was travelling a lot, for the Army; so I was on orders.

The selecting algorithms happened to flag short purchase one-way flights. All Army flights are one way (you get two one way tickets, it's the way the GSA built the contracts. Purportedly this makes them easier to change. I've probably had about ten percent of my orders changed during the mission, but I digress).

They are usually short purchase.

So I was very used to seeing a long line of SSSSSSS on the bottom of my ticket, which meant I was flagged for secondary screening. As of 2002 anyone travelling on orders, was exempted from having to actually undergo the screening (which was it's own massive hole... orders aren't that hard to fake, and I'll bet an ID card good enough to pass isn't hard to manage either, all things being equal).

But... the percentage of screenings wasn't based on screenings performed; the count was done when the boarding pass was flagged with that line of SSSSSS.

One of the things I have noticed is that the actual secondary inspections are now much less reliable than they were in 1999. I won't detail the ways in which things I routinely carry have gotten easier to use for smuggling things onto airplanes, nor the ways in which other things I routinely carry have become good distractors if I were to smuggle things.

#161 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 12:43 PM:

The basic problem is that when the American public was asked, "Who here's willing to risk dying for liberty?" the answer was "Not me!"

#162 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 12:54 PM:

Jim, that's the question they made us all think they were asking. The real question was "who's willing to take a teeny little barely noticeable risk of dying to avoid a gigantic curtailment of personal liberties?"

I think they could have asked the question just as phrased above, and 90% of Americans would have answered it the same way.

#163 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 03:33 PM:

Nicole @ 112

Total aside but: How structured a wander are you looking for in Sac?

#164 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 05:36 PM:

This is off topic, but I was looking up fracking for a patient who asked me how dangerous was it for her elderly mother who has one of those taps where you can light your water on fire.

My state department of PUBLIC HEALTH*, not PUBLIC MISCHIEF, mind you, said that I could only make the inquiry if I signed a no disclosure form and that disclosure could result in criminal charges and/or loss of licensure.

I thought they were kidding and told them so. Like Queen Victoria, they were not amused.

So I told my patient, it might be worse than we think, but I couldn't tell her even if I managed to find out.

Sometimes, I think we live in a world created by the Onion.

*Not that I ever thought they cared much about the health of the public, but still, seemed a bit extreme.

#165 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 06:02 PM:

Some state governments seem to be owned by the gas and oil companies.
Some of the chemicals involved are, in fact, dangerous. Science News had a story about fracking in their September 8 issue. It's pretty good.

#166 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 06:26 PM:

@PJ, #165

Oil and gas are huge in Colorado, it's true. One of my acquaintances calls our governor Frackenlooper for telling us all how safe the chemicals used in fracking are.


I'll look for the article in Science News, thanks.

#167 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 06:38 PM:

Throwmearope, #164: My immediate reaction to that is "file a FOIA request". But they've probably done something to make that impossible, too.

#168 ::: Throwmearope either got gnomed or forgot to hit post ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 07:09 PM:

@Lee, #167

Not sure about the FOIA. The threats I received were directed at doctors. Maybe a member of the public. . .

#169 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 07:17 PM:

Throwmearope @164

Take the tapwater to a private chemical analysis company and have it analyzed? Nobody can swear you to secrecy about your own privately-obtained test results, after all.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea how much money that would cost. I just did a quick websearch, and it looks like any reasonably thorough mail-order test will go for $150-$200, but I'm not expert enough to tell which are the "reasonably thorough" ones. "e water test. com" (3 spaces added to prevent googlejuice) claims there are a lot of companies out there that are just going through the motions.

You could ask the fire marshal about the flammable tapwater, but the danger there is that he might just red-tag the house as a fire hazard.

#170 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 08:02 PM:

Xopher #162:

Right. People are lousy about figuring odds.

Death-by-terrorism, even in our worst year, was below death by bee sting. Way, way below death by bee sting.

You didn't see the Department of Defense getting called on to drop bunker-busters on any apiaries, though, or the FBI putting undercover agents into the Bit-O-Honey factory.

#171 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 08:14 PM:

What they've done is make the chemicals "proprietary trade secrets". FIOA won't get it, because it's not a gov't agency.

#172 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 09:28 PM:

Jim @170, or maybe you're dangerously close to uncovering the secret truth behind colony collapse disorder!

#173 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 11:26 PM:

Avram @172: Unfortunately, the secret truth behind colony collapse disorder is looking like Monsanto . . . .

#174 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2012, 11:50 PM:

KayTei@163 Total aside but: How structured a wander are you looking for in Sac?

Not so much really. Can't guarantee I'll arrive on time and have the whole 9 hours, after all. Random's good.

Did you have a suggestion?

#175 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 12:54 AM:

Victoria #153:

Flying with a person in a wheel chair is pretty quick, as far as the TSA roadshow is concerned. My wife has crippling arthritis. She can walk, but not far, so we use wheelchairs or her scooter when we fly. The first time we flew after 9/11, I was pushing my wife in a wheelchair. On the return trip, I despaired at the security lines in San Jose, so I made sure we got to the airport extra early. Then the airport Wheelchair Pushing Person got us into the front of the line and through security in about 5 minutes flat. Afterwards, I joked to my wife that I was gonna get a fake cast for the next time I had to travel alone. I still consider doing that from time to time.

#176 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 02:36 AM:

Nicole @ 174

Totally fair call.

If you think you might be feeling extroverted, I'd personally be happy to meet for dinner or coffee or whatever (I admit, I have a curiosity). But I also know that some trips, that's just not the mood I'm in, so definitely take it as an offer rather than an imposition.

(If you're feeling introverted and wandery, I can recommend the Crocker Art Museum - YMMV, but it's one of the more consistently playful art museums I've ever frequented. I'd go there or to old sac; I find downtown less interesting and slightly sketchy, especially in the evening.)

#177 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 09:55 AM:

When I was travelling with a cast, it was a mix. Head of the checkpoint line, about half the time, extra attention at the magnetometer.

But boarding with 1st class, so I had no worries about the overhead.

#178 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 10:22 AM:

The simplest boil-down: If it's that easy to steal stuff from luggage it's just as easy to add stuff to luggage.

#179 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 04:50 PM:

Cally Soukup @169: The flammable gases aren't water-soluble, so they won't show up in a water analysis. Other stuff might.

#180 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 06:03 PM:

Teresa @139
After I stopping laughing, I shared with jan. He suggested that underneath the teddy bear should be lace undies and a box of tampons.

Friendly/courteous TSA agents are random. I found smaller airports had more courteous agents: Albuquerque, Albany, San Diego. As I told a friend later, there were a couple of agents at the Albuquerque airport I wouldn't have minded getting a closer inspection from.

LAX: North terminals are friendlier. TSA for Southwest and others are quite polite. South terminal has someone I know far too well who is now a second line manager, and the TSA agents seem to reflect his personality. Rick the Pr-ck is the kind of sniveling, back-stabbing, empire-building cretin who would drive out any decent sort of person, leaving behind the kind of TSA agents that had me chanting "I'm small and unworthy of notice" over and over to myself as I went thru the lines for American Airlines. I won't go thru there unless there is both critical need and a high powered government backup person to fish me out of lockdown. Rick's the kind of person who would sequester me just because he can. (Many years prior, we worked at the same company. He used to humiliate himself in email to various people in the company by trying to point out my errors, but only pointed out he hadn't read the memo.)

#181 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 06:04 PM:

Gnomed. No links, so I must have used a Word of Power. I am amusing, really.

Sourdough banana bread is available to appease.

#182 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:03 PM:

Cally Soukup @158, Bill Stewart @156, etc: Airports with higher throughput have significantly streamlined procedures than lower-volume airports, who will be SERIOUSLY sticklerish at you.

I discovered this on a trip from Chicago to Sacramento. I had designated Airport Clothes, and we were there long enough to let me launder it and wear it, precisely the same, on the return leg. At that point I favored a particular pair of overalls, because they had a chest pocket where I could stick my boarding pass and ID and know I could find them, even if half-asleep and overtired from traveling.

At ORD? No problem, right through the lines, no muss, no fuss.

At SAC? The magnetometer started beeping like it thought I was bringing through a Colt 45. I got wanded, and it turns out what set it off were the tiny wire-loop fittings at the ends of my overall straps, the ones that go over the shoulder rivets on the 'bib' and hold the whole doohickey up.

The agent gave me a serious stink-eye and said in an "I'm talking to a defective or a child" voice that I should know better than to wear metal through a security line. I, wide-eyed and surprised, blurted that I wore the same thing through O'Hare the preceding Friday and it didn't cause a problem. They insisted it could not possibly be so, it was FAAAR too much metal and would set off ANY TSA magnetometer.

The thing is, if O'Hare had to deal with amounts of metal that small setting off their magnetometers, they'd triple or quadruple their security-checkpoint latency. Which they can't afford. So they raise the beep threshold and just ignore it.
If you want to fly with anything questionable, use the biggest airport you can find, I guess …

Terry Karney @160: While I was working at O'Hare, one of the jobs I got to do was stand in front of the security lines and make sure everyone has a boarding pass (a) with a name that matches the ID you're shown (b) for travel on the date you're standing there, (c) secondarily warn them about having the right number of carry-ons, that laptops would have to be sent through separately, etc.

This was shortly after the rollout/announcement of the new "get a background check first and whiz through security" frequent-traveller card. However, we did not yet have swipe things of any sort to put the cards INTO, so they were just another form of photo ID.

I was told day one of this job that I had to check the ID for an expiration date, and not only did it have to not be expired, it had to HAVE an expiration date, or else I had to automatically send them to screening. There are lots of ID-forms that don't have expiration dates, as it happens, including the new expedited-traveller-with-background-check card, firearm-owner ID cards, and a military ID card I got shown my third day on the job.

Policy when shown a no-expiration card was to tell the passenger, "I'm sorry, I need to see an expiration date or I have to send you for extra screening. Do you have another ID I can see?" The military person in question (who was not in uniform at the time, not that that matters) didn't have another form of government-issued photo ID on them, so it hung up the line a little. A roving supervisor came by to see what was causing the clog, and instantly TOLD ME OFF for saying WORD ONE to anyone using a Military ID! Apparently I was supposed to pass them through instantly without even reading their boarding pass, though nobody told me so in the training.

We also got exactly zero training in detecting fakeness of ID, and had to deal with state driver's licenses as variable as Rhode Eyestrain (appx 2pt Arial in medium royal blue on a navy-blue background with a picture of a lighthouse in it) and Arizona (where they take a photo of you at 16 when you get the license and that's STILL the picture on your license 45 years later when you have more wrinkles and less hair).

#183 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:33 PM:

Elliot Mason @182:

I think that the smaller the airport the worse the security theater is true only up to a point. In my experience it's the third tier airports you have to worry about. My father's side of the family is scattered all over the mountain west which gives me lots of opportunities to try out a whole range of airports. The larger airports (Denver, Salt Lake City) have long lines but move efficiently enough, and tend not to bother you, especially if you do your best to dress and act like a bored business traveler. The really small airports (Grand Junction, Aspen, Rapid City) airports are extremely relaxed. It's the middle ones (Anchorage, Boise) where I've always had the worst experiences.

My theory is that they're big and busy enough to make the security personnel feel like they're doing a very important job, but not big enough for it to be imperative that they do that job quickly and efficiently.

#184 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:41 PM:

I had to medevac with a toddler. It took three hours. Getting home again took three days. I almost missed one flight once due to the people at baggage check-in having a completely different idea of what I was supposed to do than the people at the security gate, then almost missed another due to the attendant at the jetway having a completely different idea of what could be carried on than the attendant at baggage check-in at that airport. Luckily, the staff at both airports took a look at my "I haven't had more than three hours of sleep in the past 24" expression and my toddler with his hospital bracelet and pajamas and let us board. I guess we were too grimy and exhausted to fake. Also we're white and I have that accent that is generally called a non-accent.

But I still wish that the staff at any given airport had been able to come up with a consistent answer to my questions.

#185 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:48 PM:

Given the premise of "never allow anything possibly dangerous through a checkpoint ever", a lot of the stuff the TSA gets criticized for does make at least some sort of sense. The idea that there are "trustworthy" people who should get less or no screening means you assume that not only are they not bad people themselves, but can't be tricked, bribed, or blackmailed into taking something through.

"Take this box through, grandma, or you won't see your grandkids again." "As a regional pilot you only make $25K a year. Take this box of drugs through (really, it's just drugs) and you can earn a lot more." "Always glad to see a veteran, Mr. McVeigh. Obviously we don't need to check your bag."

And this isn't just theoretical. NEXUS cardholders (a program for "trusted" people crossing the land borders from Canada and Mexico) have been targeted by smugglers. They hide a package on the vehicle and retrieve it once the cardholder crosses the border.

And searches: given the premise that you can hide contraband in your crotch, the only way to positively tell is to check your crotch, either by the nude-o-scope or by feeling around there. If a pat down doesn't make you uncomfortable, they aren't doing it right.

The ultimate problem, though, is with the premise. They're looking for a needle in a hundred million haystacks, and it's just not possible to screen to that level of precision. And that's why allowing "trusted" people less screening doesn't cause much risk -- the risk is so small to begin with that even if everybody got the reduced screening it wouldn't matter.

We're spending enormous resources on a very small risk, and it's still not enough to eliminate that risk. There are certain things that could be used as weapons on board that are ignored because of the huge screening burden it would cause. But if someone does try it, watch out. I really dread the day someone sets off something in a lavatory (goodbye privacy in there), or has an internal explosive (body cavity or surgically implanted).

Use of a plane as a missile stopped being effective as early as UA 93. Crews and passengers will not cooperate any more, so the primary risk is to a single aircraft. It's still not that big a risk, but you'll still see someone afraid of flying who drives while texting with one hand and eating a burger with the other.

#186 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2012, 11:50 PM:

@Chris W. no. 183: Yes. My tiny local airport: no problem. Part of this was that I knew most of the people in the uniforms and part was that if one of them didn't know the answer to my question they just yelled over to the person who did. Bada bing bada boom, done. The TSA theater at the monster airport in Seattle was quick and relatively painless; the problem there was that I could not for the life of me find a skycap or even a cart for rent to get me to the damn security line in the first place. Anchorage was staffed with jerks who found eye contact to onerous to attempt and pretended I was a stray chair. Luckily for me they were afraid of crying fat lady cooties, so they got me on the plane in order to get rid of me.

#187 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:17 AM:

I noticed your link to Ursula Vernon, and I have a question: When will Tor be giving her a giant advance so she'll finish the Elf vs. Orc story about Celadon Toadstool and Sings-To-Trees for all of us?

#188 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:20 AM:

KayTei @176 - I am intrigued by your suggestion and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Please to send it to me via the Contact Me form at my website? (i.e. let's scheme and plan via email!)

#189 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 02:11 AM:

Jim, #178: If it's that easy to steal stuff from luggage it's just as easy to add stuff to luggage.

Excellent point. And if your personnel are unethical enough to steal from luggage, what guarantee do you have that they aren't unethical enough to take a bribe (or a dare!) to slip something in?

Lin, #180: My partner does drag. When we were going to TorCon in 2003, we got pulled aside at Canadian Customs for a random search. The first bin they opened was the one with his red patent-leather thigh boots with the 5" spike heels. Right on top, and very obviously too big to be mine. They closed the bin, put it back in the car, and sent us on our way.

#190 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 03:14 AM:


You can usefully do profiling as long as it is far from deterministic. That is, if there is some subgroup of people that you think are higher risk, you search them with probability that is higher than for everyone else, but still much less than 100%.

I saw an analysis by someone sensible (I think it was linked to either by Ross Anderson or Bruce Schneier) that suggested if you had a numeric estimate of risk for each person (even subjectively), you should sample for screening proportional to the square root of the estimated risk. So, if you think ⟨target group⟩ are four times as likely to be terrorists/deadbeat dads/carrying good toys you should screen them only twice as often. This strategy makes the Carnival Booth defense much less useful, but still uses what data you have.

#191 ::: dreampod ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 04:13 AM:

thomas, What is the Carnival Booth defense? I'm not familiar with the term and my Googlefu is failing me.

#192 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 08:05 AM:

Ah, risk. I deal with that in my speciality, particularly in housing mice or rats in barrier facilities.

Back in the old days, we tested random individual mice, and had to calculate very carefully exactly how many should be sampled to (1) increase our chances of finding true positives without (2) increasing the false positives to a blinding level, and (3) not overlooking or misreading the false negatives. We had to use incidence rates, probabilities, and other arcane terms of higher math, and we still missed infections.

Then one day, a brilliant mind came up with the approach we use now. Instead of wasting time checking individual animals, and worrying about whether we've screened the right number, we put a sample of their dirty bedding into a sentinel cage. All the cages on the same side of a rack donate a scoop of dirty bedding into that cage, which is staffed by three to four sentinels. Those animals get tested on a regular basis, and if one shows a positive, then we test all the cages on that same side.

It's greatly reduced the time and effort, while at the same time it's greatly increased our sensitivity to those less common organisms. We can find a single positive animal on a rack of 160 cages. At night, upside down, with one hand tied behind our backs.

As I see the security theater industry toiling away in efforts that mainly serve to justify their own existence without actual protection of the public, I cannot help but wonder when we will benefit from a proper risk-assessment approach.

Screening is only as good as the screeners, and the underlying math used to generate the algorithm. What we have demonstrated before us is the smoke-and-mirrors approach, but it can't hold up to scrutiny.

#193 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 09:05 AM:

dreampod @ #191: What is the Carnival Booth defense? I'm not familiar with the term and my Googlefu is failing me.

From one Googlefu practitioner to another, may I suggest that your Googlefu could profit from a step 0? Namely, before you resort to Google for an answer, give another look at the page that prompted you to ask the question.

(In this case, you might be interested in comments #147 & #149.)

#194 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 01:15 PM:

I think it's more the carnival booth attack--the purpose is to probe the defenses without much cost. Basically, I find innocent items that are similar enough to dangerous ones to use them to probe your baggage search. The probes get to hide in the huge rate of false positives (since almost nobody actually wants to blow up or hijack a plane they're flying on, but lots of people carry pocketknives, or smell like gasoline, or whatever).

The numbers here are *horrible* in terms of false positives. There are almost no terrorists--less than one person in every billion flying is actually trying to do any harm to his plane, while the false positive rates for any screening worth anything at all is going to be like 1/100. To a first approximation, your screeners will never see a true positive in an entire career of searching passengers according to *any* algorithm.

#196 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 10:23 PM:

Reading threads like this makes me angry and then depressed. Is there any action we can take to make things better?

#197 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:28 PM:

Terry Karney @ 132: back from the seminar, and the recommended online sources for replacement tsukamaki for a good katana were montanairon (David McDonald of Sidney, Montana) and japanese-swords (Fred Lohman of Portland, Oregon). Both of them also do complete replacement handles, if the wooden core or the rayskin is damaged.

I have no personal experience with either, but I did briefly meet Mr. McDonald at the recent San Francisco Token Kai. Several dealers there were trusting him to rewrap very nice swords, and the results looked great.


#198 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:41 PM:

My recent airport ID check/screening experiences have been about as varied as they can possibly get. I think there's something to Chris W.'s theory in #183.

At one terminal in BOS, there's a high percentage of business travelers; I always found that one to be fairly efficient even before TSA Precheck went into operation there. (Since then? Last time I went through there it took me less time to get through security than it took to get to the bottom of the escalator just past the checkpoint once I'd cleared through.)

At another, the passengers seem to be more vacation/family visit types, and security is significantly slower. (Last time I went through there, the agents had to have multiple people take their liquids out of their carry-ons and re-run them through the X ray.)

At Midway (returning from Worldcon), the TSA agent didn't recognize a NEXUS card and had to go check to see if it was an acceptable ID. (It is. Mine was issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, after all.) MDW also seemed to me to have a more "non-business" passenger mix (probably at least in part due to Southwest using it instead of ORD).

Finally, at a small regional airport (one checkpoint serving an amazing two gates!) the ID checker recognized my NEXUS card, asked to borrow it to show the other agent what they look like, jokingly apologized for not having Precheck (though they didn't have full-body scanners either, so it was less of an issue) , and was generally friendly without letting that interfere with professional duties. A winning combination indeed.

#199 ::: Christopher Davis was gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2012, 11:45 PM:

No URLs, so I suspect either Words of Power or perhaps Punctuation of Power. I don't think hit the Whitespace Gnome's tender spot, though since I have an old typewriter habit that requires me to reflexively add extra spaces after ending a sentence I could well have accidentally done so.

[Punctuation. Comma with a blank space on both sides. -- JDM]

#200 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2012, 12:36 AM:

J Greely: I have heard other good things of Mr. McDonald. I shall make enquiries, thank you.

#201 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 02:32 PM:

Welp, wish me luck: tomorrow afternoon I'm flying to New York (coming in through JFK on Delta; leaving via LGA on American) for a long weekend. Because my (bought in the immediately post-911 75% Samsonite sales) old workhorse luggage is beginning to die, I'll be buying a new suitcase this afternoon as well.

I'll be happy to report back on Tuesday with my fresh anecdotes.

#202 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 04:31 PM:

Good luck, Elliott!

#203 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2012, 07:57 PM:

Teresa @ 57: "I've spent more time than I should thinking about ways to distribute harmless powdered nitrates in places where it will come in contact with air travelers."

Easy. Play golf.

#204 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2012, 12:10 PM:

From the Annals of United Airlines: Model: Airline killed my dog!

#205 ::: ginmar ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2012, 12:17 PM:

@53, there's always shipping it home via US mail. (Totally forgot I'd posted this here, sorry for the delay.) The searchers didn't do a very good job, because I found a couple of speed loaders and several live rounds in one of my bags when I got home. It had to be been passed through God only knows how many X-ray machines and they they still missed it.

Also, we had gotten off our plane. Obviously you don't want to carry contraband around unless you're trying to discard it. We were coming home from Iraq. Whatever pogie bait we might have had would have been on the plane or in our luggage. Or in any of the boxes we shipped home, which were searched before they could be sealed. (Somebody found a full mag at a German stop where we briefly deplaned, a sure sign that somebody's trunk had not been searched adequately.)

Even so, it's very hard to get the sort of souvenirs through that were common in WWII, like weapons and various memorabilia. That stuff is supposed to be surrendered, and if people try and send it home, they do it piece by piece via the mail, and the post office personnel can report anything they want, on anybody they want.

I would not know any of that personally, however. :) I brought leftovers home from a drive I did to benefit Iraqi vendors, because I bought back ups in case some of the packages got blown up by insurgents attacking the mail convoy.

#206 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2012, 11:08 PM:

So, one outbound leg through ORD (landing at JFK): No trouble whatsoever, not even an excessive length of line. Granted, having WORKED at O'Hare and (during my employment) crossed the security checkpoint between 20-80 times every workday, I'm kind of up on how to be The Good Passenger, the one who makes people's lives easier and doesn't rock the boat; I also was carrying very little in my suitcase or carryon that was even slightly problematic.

I opted out of the Porno Scanners, politely asserting that yes, I did prefer the patdown, that's fine, thanks. I didn't find it particularly intrusive; it was also not thorough enough to find certain classes of 'taped to unobtrusive parts of body' concealment, IMHO, though I didn't try it personally.

All employees were professional and some were even pleasant; during the patdown the employee made a point of directing me to keep my eyes on my bags on the output-conveyor (less than 15ft away from me, unobstructed view).

My homebound leg through LGA (landing at ORD) wasn't smooth-as-silk but was nothing to complain of. Line to the ID-checker was slightly longer, though it moved along well. My wait after telling the guard I wanted a patdown was SIGNIFICANTLY longer than at ORD, long enough that my bags (obstructed from my view by the stand-here-and-raise-your-arms scanner) were sitting on the output conveyor for several minutes before I got my patdown.

My suitcase was pulled from the belt for extra checking. I could see that part of the apparatus from where I was waiting, and suspected it was mine from the silvery color, though that is far from diagnostic; what cinched it was when the check-the-bag guard looked at the watching-the-screen guard, and the latter made knitting motions while talking to him about what she thought she'd seen in the bag. :->

When the lady in front of me got her patdown, and then 'my' designated guard took me to a screening station, the 'check the bag further' guard from the conveyor asked me to identify my other bags and carried them to the screening area for me (he didn't end up looking in them, he was just keeping my stuff together). Both he and the patdown guard were calm, professional, and verged on apologetic while explaining to me what liberties they might have to take towards my posessions and my person.

Turns out what looked 'odd' on the scan was my zippered case of crochet hooks, which I freely admit would look weird on a scan. :-> He dug down to it gently, preserving the stratigraphy of my packing, found the case, unzipped it, looked over the contents, zipped it shut, slipped it back where he found it, and rearranged my stuff very close to how it was originally before stepping away.

The patdown was basically the same as the one I got at ORD, except that as I was wearing a collared shirt she felt the thickness of the collar (also the thickness of my waistband, which I don't remember from ORD but I might have just forgotten) all the way around.

My worries about patdowns are now thoroughly assuaged, and I shall continue to opt for them on trips where I am not travelling with my toddler (and therefore in the 'magnetometer only' category by default).

#207 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 09:02 AM:

This one crossed my path and seems relevant: ABC News uses iCloud to track a stolen iPad to TSA officer's home

#208 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2012, 12:16 PM:

Henry, #207: "I'm so embarrassed," Ramirez told reporters. "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home," he said.

Yeah, right. His wife wasn't working the checkpoint; how is she supposed to have swiped it? Notice also that he's willing to throw her to the wolves, even though she's innocent.

The TSA said Ramirez is no longer working for the agency. It noted that it has fired 11 officers for theft this year, and a total of 381 dating back to 2003.

Yes, and how many of those have been arrested and prosecuted for theft? Because if the most you risk for stealing valuable items from airline passengers is losing the job that enables you to steal, that's not much of a deterrent, now is it?

Also, what is the TSA doing in the way of theft prevention? As revealed in this entire discussion, bugger-all.

#209 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 11:24 AM:

Convicted TSA agent says that stealing from passenger bags is common.

A former Transportation Security Administration agent who spent three years in jail for stealing from passenger luggage told ABC News that the practice “was very commonplace.” Pythias Brown, who worked at Newark International Airport, said he stole more than $800,000 worth of goods from luggage and security checkpoints. He was finally caught when he tried to sell a stolen CNN camera on eBay but forgot to take off all the stickers that tied the camera to the news network.
"It became so easy, I got complacent," Brown said. Almost 400 TSA officers have been fired for stealing from passengers over the past decade.

Brown says he was never asked about suspicious behavior, including a time when he walked out of a security checkpoint with a Nintendo Wii in his hands. Now he says he wants passengers to be aware of the risk when they fly. And don’t think those fancy TSA locks will be of much help. Brown insists TSA employees have long figured out how to pick them without being detected.
That's the whole article, but the comments promise to be interesting.
#210 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2012, 11:26 AM:

Gnomed again. Might Your Lownesses be interested in some beef with hot peppers and lime juice?

#211 ::: David Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2012, 12:51 PM:

A point I have been making on my blog for years is that the simplest precaution would be for the note saying your bag has been searched to identify the agent who searched it, so that a pattern of pilferage or vandalism could be detected. The private firm that does security at SFO does that; the TSA doesn't. Which is pretty clear evidence that they don't care, and some evidence that they would rather not know.

For photographic evidence of the difference in the two notes, see:

#212 ::: GERARD ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 02:10 PM:

HELLO TRAVELING PUBLIC, The powers that be are very aware of a new luggage security boarding apparatus that is the end of lost luggage and theft at all airlines, Yes there is a new technology that will completely end all of the problems that Agencys and airlines are haveing with theft of luggage and lost luggage.and also fake boarding passes all in one..This Technology is has been deemed viable by TSA experts as of 2012..I would love to see my innovation in motion on a global playing field combating all thefts of property and lost luggage just for starters..Introduceing the e^handle luggage security boarding apparatus..its the only one of its kind..created in chattanooga by a black inventor that has a music science background intrest.25 million bags go missing every year at airports..This is America surley we can do better than that.American innovation has all ready solved this problem, but the powers that be have to put it motion...right tsa and ask them about the e handle luggage boarding apparatus and when is it coming out.This is alien technology at its best and bringing in a whole new system of luggage security all ready viable by TSA...SO WHAT NOW...WHEN I READ ABOUT ALL OF THE NUMBERS OF LOST AND STOLEN LUGGAGE ITS REALLY SAD BECAUSE THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN SOLVED..THE TECHNOLOGY IS ALL READY HERE..SO MY QUESTION IS, WHY DOESNT THE GLOBAL TRAVELING PUBLIC KNOW ABOUT IT.WE CAN WATCH MOVIES ON A PHONE ECT..BUT CANT FIND OUR LUGGAGE OR STOP IT FROM BEING STOLEN..WE STILL USE THREAD AND PAPER ON LUGGAGE..WELL IM HERE TO TELL EVERYONE THATS NOT GOING TO CUT IT,GET THE E HANDLE LUGGAGE BOARDING APPARATUS AND SEND YOUR LUGGAGE TO HEAVEN FOR ETERNAL SECURITY..

[A Gnote from the Gnomes: We're releasing this post even though it tripped multiple filters because: a) It appears to be hand-made (no match on key phrases elsewhere on the web); b) It's more-or-less on-topic, and c) It amuses us to do so. -- Raul Flugens, Duty Gnome]

#213 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 04:10 PM:

Gerard, I'm curious. I presume it's some sort of RFID device? How does your invention stop theft of luggage contents, given that the TSA reserves the right to open baggage?

#214 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 04:11 PM:

Good call, gnomes. That bit put a big smile on my face.

#215 ::: Ron Blitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2012, 10:26 AM:

My TUMI bag was stolen at Boston Logan by DELTA baggage claim personnel. Because of plane difficulties, the bag arrived on an earlier flight, but only 50 minutes before I showed up at the baggage carousel. The delta showed my bag as delivered to the carousel, but it had been "lifted" by the delta folks. They refused to look at security cameras , refused to get a supervisor, just smiled and told me I would get some money for this. They never even attempted to track the bag, at that moment it was probably in the back room being divided up amongst the staff.

I am a Diamond medallion , 2 million miler, flying colonel, and after 4 days, have yet to talk to anyone at delta that could do anything. I turned this over to the Boston police who are doing an investigation, apparently this is common at Logan and more common at delta at Logan.

Pack no valuables on a delta flight, they will smile at you while they rifle through your bags in the back room.

#216 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2013, 08:45 AM:

Google Translate is not detecting the language, for what that's worth.

#217 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2013, 09:51 AM:

Carries S @#218

I think it's just alphabet salad (rather than soup). Perhaps the gnomes would like it with some blue cheese dressing?

#218 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2013, 01:35 PM:

Cadbury Moose #219:

But if it were *just* alphabet food, would it be pronounceable? (Which that all is.) Although I will admit that most languages do not have words ending in a capital I.

#219 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2013, 02:09 PM:

Other than English, of course.

#220 ::: Cadbury Moose boosts the spam signal ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2013, 03:44 PM:

This is true, but the Moose Operating Division tried plugging various "words" into Google and got substantially no hits at all except for "yana" which appears to be a name in some languages.

It might possibly be something transliterated into ASCII but the probability seems rather low (especially since Googling the target URL turns up a large number of similar "word salad" posts).

#221 ::: Alice ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2013, 08:43 AM:

I agree, it's not paranoia to worry about luggage theft, or worse, to worry about your luggage being used for nasty muling operations. At the end of the day though, I don't think anyone can stop a determined thief from breaking into your luggage if he wants to badly enough, but it's important that you know this before going through Customs :-)
I can recommend "Tell-Tag" - a really cheap and clever solution:

I use these all the time. They give you peace of mind, which is the important thing.

#222 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2013, 09:13 AM:

Rather than some dodgy "Tell Tag," (which appears to be advertising by spam, BTW) why not hire honest people for the TSA and watch them carefully to keep them honest?

Or, better still, abolish the TSA.

#223 ::: carol ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2013, 09:47 AM:

We recently travelled through Birmingham Airport - but when we reached our destination I found that one of the padlocks on my suitcase has been removed (not ripped off or accidently) I told the holiday rep and I was informed this was quite common place. I have written to the airport and they have denied all knowledge - I have written again - we do our best to secure our luggage but what happens they undo our cases and they are left for any one to get into. Fortunately nothing was stolen but it does make you feel uneasy.

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