True Tales of the Airport Patrol!


By now, pretty much everybody on the Web seems to have read Nicholas Monahan's account of mistreatment at the hands of the Portland International Airport security team, published on last month under the title "Coffee, Tea, or Should We Feel Your Pregnant Wife's Breasts Before Throwing You in a Cell at the Airport and Then Lying About Why We Put You There?" For an ineffable followup, read Steve Duin's column in yesterday's Oregonian—an article remarkable not for adding any new facts to the story, but for the attitude its author brings to the subject.

A sample: "If Monahan was randomly searched and his wife's privacy violated, noted Bob Applegate, the senior manager for government and media relations at the Port, 'That happens to thousands of people a day at Portland International Airport. Thousands of people go through the same process every day and don't get upset enough to get arrested.'"

America, I submit, can be divided into two types of people: those who could write such a paragraph with a straight face, and those who couldn't.

By the way, my girlfriend's sister had a coat stolen while she was passing through airport security in Montreal last week. The crook waited until she was busy removing her shoes for the guard, then made off with the jacket without any of the air cops noticing. Thanks partly to sustained effort and partly to dumb luck, she managed to recover the coat, but not everyone was so fortunate: Another passenger lost his wallet the same way, in the same line. It never turned up.

Fills you with confidence, don't it?

NEXT: Outlaw Art

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  1. I tend to get irritated when the screeners insist I unbuckle not only my belt, but the button that holds my pants up when I go through the extra screening when I set the alarm off. I find myself repeating deadpan “you want me to undo my pants?” They nod calmly as if it’s nothing to request that I begin to disrobe in front of hundreds of people. One screener (a woman) actually said, “but you have such a nice tummy!”

    I feel for Monahan, and would probably have reacted the same way.

  2. I read that article. What a typical government employee. “Why can’t you be like all the other sheep, you troublemaker!”

  3. Well…I “pooh-poohed” my girlfriend when she stated some concern about stuff being stolen while we were being “inspected” (she’s USDA Choice, I’m just Grade A). Now I gotta say the deadliest of deadlies: “You were right and I was….that other thing”.

    I knew this would get better when the screeners were all government employees.

  4. Steve – (sarcasm on) don’t you realize??? Government involvement solves EVERYTHING!!! (sarcasm off)

  5. I lost a watch the same way at Memphis airport security. I more than half suspect a security guard’s wearing it now, actually.

  6. I read the article, and my immediate impression was that his investigation consisted of two phone calls.

  7. It definitely pays to keep a close eye on your possessions when you’re undergoing your groping. If you keep in mind that you could easily be robbed, you probably won’t be, but if you let up your guard you’re asking for trouble. And it’s always been that way, though you’re more likely to get distracted now.

    Some airports are better at handling this than others; at Erie last time I flew home, one TSA agent brought over the x-ray box with my things in it while I was getting the wand. That may be a policy, I don’t know. As for security in Montreal, it’s still — for the moment — in private hands, and tends to be more hit and miss (I’m not necessarily saying the TSA is any better, just a little more predictable if anything.)

    Also, in general, I don’t think it’s usually necessary to take off a watch unless it’s a big clunker. I sure wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.

    (Incidentally, Jesse, was she flying domestically in Canada or to the United States when she was robbed?)

  8. Does there exist a “published” list of “passenger rights” (quotes heavily emphasized) under the TSA guidelines? I travel frequently, and would like to know and/or carry a list of these so I know how far I can go when I fall prey to these folks. On another note, it appears as if simply being a frequent flier (4-5 cities a week) makes me automatically suspect, and eligible for more “random” screening. I’m sure I’ll end up in one of those cells someday soon…

  9. Apparently, this is how far you can go when you feel your person is being violated by airport screeners: As Mr. Penn himself notes, it probably helps to actually be Mr. Penn. However, I’ve been in similar situations, and the police really are quite happy to help. They don’t like rent-a-cops. Something about their reputation.

  10. Re: Mr. Nosuch,

    Actually after they search your bags they lock it with one of those plastic tie things that have to be cut off with scissors (they also leave you a nice note inside your messed up belongings informing you of the inspection). What happens if you are in a hotel and your scissors are in the bag is another problem…

    They are supposed to start providing red tie things at the ticket counters soon, but its kind of stupid of them not to have had it when the ban was put in place.

  11. You know, I might be able to tolerate these personal intrusions if they made a positive impact on making me safer (although I fail to see the logic in how making me more helpless makes me safer). But the fact is, that today’s version of airport screening is for political show only. We are no safer today than we were before September 11, 2001.

    One of the first things that security trainers teach their students is that predictable security systems are the easiest to defeat. I cannot think of a more predictable system than the current airport screening system. In fact, my own casual observation has identified two ways to easily get box cutters on board.

  12. I was directed to Duin’s column in the context of there ‘being more to the story’ (ie. Monahan may have really been a bad boy) while reading
    an online discussion of the event. While not finding anything to support that contention in the piece, I was floored by the paragraph you excerpted. “No one else minds bending over and taking one for the team, get with program. It’s for your own good!” I’ll never understand that mentality – unfortunately, I think it’s pretty prevalent. Most of the people I know, many of whom are really quite bright people wouldn’t bat an eye at that statement from some official.

    I simply do not fly unless absolutely neccessary. Sometimes it is in my work, but if at all possible, I’ll drive – even taking a vacation day for travel if necessary. Maybe if enough people stop flying the bottom line while suffer even more than it is now and some of this nonsense will fall by the wayside. Of course, I’ll probably have to pay indirectly anyway through bailouts before any systemic changes occur. Systemic changes don’t occur if dissenters are few enough that they can easily be branded ‘threatening dangerous emotional kooks’ and people shrug, and dutifully bend over and spread ’em for their turn.

  13. Never mind the guys who hassle you personally, what’s more scary is you are no longer allowed to lock your luggage. Y’know, so they can “search” it.

    A friend of mine travels with a lot of camera gear and other expensive equipment for work. The stuff is just too big to carry on. She’s done it for years, with the case locked, and never had a problem. Last time she flew, they insisted the lock be removed, and she complied. When she got to her destination, the case was ransacked and stuff is missing.

    I know this kind of thing sure makes me feel more secure. If any nitwit can take stuff out, they can put stuff in too.

  14. Evan: She was flying to the U.S.

  15. My family travels a lot in South America, and we had always joked about how things get “lost” in the luggage when they go through the hands of South American airport personnel [believe me, theft is rampant]. The new orders to leave luggage unlocked and to put your shoes on the top layer of the suitcase is now known to us the “Full Footwear for Ecuadorian Airport Workers Order.”

  16. I have 2 use a wheel-chair, and do they scrutinize me! Me thinks ’cause I live in Florida, where in those retirement condos, the world thinks we R playing bingo, but we R secretly ploting 2 attack the local super-markets 2 roll back prices.

    Now, I have Parkinson’s disease & have problems walking, and often gets the shakes. I often cannot carry a bread, no less a bomb; however, R protectorts must dop their duty!

    Me gets my revenge. As they pat me down, I sing my favorite “oldies” (mostly doo-wop) When they hear my a cappela version of “Duke of Earl”, R they sorry they started with me!

    fred bluestone

    p/s 1) 2 the F.B.I.agent reading this missive, just a joke &
    2) If the REASON staff so requests, I’ll B sending ’em a cassette with my version of “Duke of Earl” …lucky dogs!

  17. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 02:37:22
    You get what anyone gets. You get a lifetime.

  18. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 05:14:56
    Don’t give up, you are close.

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