How Do I Loathe the TSA? Let Me Count the Ways.



Today is a travel day for me, which has it's advantages—chances to read a variety of work- and pleasure-related materials that have been accumulating on the to-do pile among them. But it also means I have to go through the security-theater gauntlet enforced by the Transportation Security Administration that is one of the factors now making travel such a pain in the ass. I have the hassles down to a minimum these days. I swap my straight razor for a disposable, baking soda for toothpaste, I leave my pocket knife and my Leatherman on my nightstand, and I abandon all liquids and gels so I don't have to go through the 3-1-1 nonsense that saves us all from the special dangers that toothpaste poses, as contrasted with totally unthreatening knitting needles.

Except that I can't, this time. I was at a dinner party on Saturday night, and while I was chopping kale for a salad, my thumb got in the way. No big deal. A friend at the party put three stitches into my wound, and then we opened a bottle of Booker's to take the edge off. The thumb is fine, but I have to smear the cut with antibiotic ointment, which is a gel, and so forbidden, unless announced and placed in a quart bag.

There's not a quart bag to be found in the house, and I haven't seen one at Sky Harbor airport in years. I could ask when I get there, but I'll probably just insist that it's a "medically necessary liquid" that doesn't have to go in a bag (the imaginary hazards that small amounts of liquid pose are apparently dispelled by invoking the magical word "medical.")

The fact that I know the above rules, and exceptions, annoys me almost as much as the fact that they exist. I don't begin to believe that my safety is enhanced by them, or by the fact that a portion of my brain has been occupied by this pointless data.

Admittedly, this is a petty nonsensical annoyance compared to the fact that I'll have to line up at a checkpoint to ask, "pretty please," to be allowed to board my flight. But those petty annoyances add up.

And so travel continues its own journey to becoming a bureaucratic ordeal.

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  1. You can avoid all, or a great deal, of that nonsense by flying charter.

    1. Or driving. The commonly accepted distance at which it made more sense to fly than drive used to be around 300 miles. Then it went to 500. Now my wife and I are planning a trip from New England to Denver to visit family, and three days driving versus cost and hassle of flying….I think we’ll drive.

      1. I used an 11 hour rule. If I could drive there in 11 hours, I would do that rather than fly. Today, I’ll extend that to one overnight stay. Megabus figures into all this too.

      2. Driving is more dangerous than flying, so these policies are killing people.

    2. I keep hearing people make this suggestion as if it’s a viable alternative to commercial flights. It’s based on the same logic that I can avoid all the hassles of the public school system by enrolling my kids in a private school 45 miles away or quitting my job to home-school them. (See you have a choice!)

      1. I was expressing a real world of today, not my libertopina dream of getting the government out of the transportation system.

          1. Libertopina, the ancient Roman goddess of liberty.

            1. … the ancient Roman goddess of free toping!

      2. And the government should not be in the school business either.

        1. here here

  2. I’m flying next week to the World of Concrete. I’m looking forward to my obligatory touchie-feelie session with the doctoral candidates at the TSA station.

    1. World of Concrete

      Is that a business conference or a tourist attraction?

      1. I looked it up. It’s a trade conference.

        I’m sort of bummed, it sounded like an interesting attraction.

        Can you get into trade shows if you’re not in the associated industry?

        1. Sure, buy a ticket. It’s really a cool show. The decorative section is probably the most interesting section there. Flexible concrete, concrete furniture, polished, glow-in-the-dark, you name it.

          1. Concrete furniture was what Reverend Jim had in his apartment on “Taxi.” Not sure how you could improve on that.

      2. About a million square feet of convention. Biggest convention in Vegas except for ConExpo which only happens every three years.

        1. Biggest? In SqFt or in attendance?

          1. square footage, only about 50K attendance, ConExpo can get over 125K

  3. Just think! It’s only a matter of time before TSA agents carry weapons! For your protection!

    1. They deserve to make it home safely to their families!

      [not really – fuck em]

  4. For the 30-odd flights I’ve taken over the past 10 years, I’ve never once used a 1-quart ziplock bag. And never once did TSA notice.

    1. This comment tagged by the NSA for FBI followup.

      1. And then classified, so no FBI grunt can read it, the lowly non-NSA scum.

        1. I’d love me some NSA if they were spying on cops and fbi agents.

    2. Same here. I probably fly 10 times a year. I always leave my liquids in my bag and I’ve been caught once. Most of the time the guy manning the machine is too busy gabbing with the other TSA agents that he’s not even looking at the screen.

  5. “I jus’ need ta check ya aaasshole.”

  6. Suck it up Toochilly. These minor annoyances are worth it.

    If not for the brave heroes at the TSA an airliner per day would be hijacked by 80 y/o women in wheelchairs, wearing Depends swinging their colostomy bags or 7 y/o kids using the 2in toy guns from their GI Joe dolls. Just imagine the carnage….

    1. Oops. I edited that comment 2x while frying breakfast and posted too hastily. The old lady would probably have nail clippers as a weapon, or a purse with a stylized image of a gun embroidered on it.

  7. I never used a plastic bag, either. That’s why I have a toiletry bag and when asked if I’m carrying lotions, liquids, gels, pastes, etc., I say no. One time the toiletry bag was pulled out and, much to their surprise (dismay?), the blue shirts found….toiletries.

  8. At least the resounding success of the Reason Webathon allows you to travel first class.

  9. which is a gel, and so forbidden, unless announced and placed in a quart bag.???

    Now I hate the TSA as much as the next guy, but what’s this about ‘announced’? I keep a quart bag in my toilet kit. It stays there throughout my trip (well, except for taking it out to put it on the counter in the hotel bathroom). It never leaves that location, and I’ve flown for years that way. I also keep my Gillette Sensor razor in my toilet kit–that’s legal too. Do you use a straight razor, Mr. T? If so I can understand why that might be banned. I’ve seen Sweeney Todd.

    The only annoying part is having to find 3 oz. toothpaste tubes, which, astonishingly, are very hard to find. You would think the toothpaste manufacturers would have noticed that this is a real market, but apparently not.

    1. You’re supposed to pull the quart-sized bag with your mini-liquids in it out, just like a laptop or whatever, at the checkpoint.

      1. I’ve never seen anybody do that, through checkpoints in many cities, nor have I ever been asked to do it.

        1. Well I have, so my anecdote beats yours.

          1. Yeah, I pull it out/hear people asked to pull it out almost every time I fly.

        2. Just because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it’s not true. You are supposed to remove your one quart bag from the rest of your luggage and have it screened separately.


          Consolidating products into one bag and X-raying them separately from the carry-on bag enables security officers to quickly clear all items.

          1. I’ll wait to be ‘caught’. And nowadays I use the ‘Pre-Check’ because I’m willing to give up a little ‘travel’ privacy to avoid the ‘bodily’ privacy invasion of being irradiated and/or felt up.

            Last week, while retying my snowboots, I watched some guy getting a very intimate screening because his wife (who had some kind of spasticity condition, and was in a wheelchair) needed special screening. If conceivable, my level of disgust for the TSA and their apologists reached even higher levels…

            1. to avoid the ‘bodily’ privacy invasion of being irradiated and/or felt up.

              One small mercy: at least they’re moving away from the backscatter X-rays toward millimeter wave radar, which is non-ionizing.

              Backscatter X-rays were genuinely dangerous and the tests were a joke. The reassuring line was that they were low power, which only means that the radiation gets absorbed by your skin instead of just passing through you.

            2. PreCheck on your board pass means you don’t have to take out your kippie bag, laptop or remove your shoes.

  10. I was flying once with an Iranian grad student working on his PhD with me. While waiting in line for the TSA scanners, he casually announced to me that he brought two very large shampoo bottles with him (he nearly had a shaved head – go figure) – and that he hoped that he wouldn’t get in trouble for hiding them in his carry-on bag. I told him he’d be fine… then let a few people cut in front of me so I could plausibly deny knowing him.

    Nobody said a thing as his massive shampoo bottles passed through the scanner undetected.

  11. Public Service Announcement: even LGA’s Marine Air Terminal has fallen to the rapescanners, efficient businessmen be damned.

    1. You always have the option to get a same-sex grope. It’s as close as I’ll ever come to lesbian experimentation.

      1. Oh, I do it every time. It was just my last reliable place for a metal detector.

        It’s extra special when my boyfriend comes. Both of us, watching each other get felt up by a member of the same sex–now that would be seriously hot for some weirdo, I bet.

        1. Yeah. For some weirdo 😉

          (booking a flight for me and the squeeze, stat….)

      2. I’ll take experimental lesbians over TSA gropers anyday!

  12. I abandon all liquids and gels so I don’t have to go through the 3-1-1 nonsense


  13. If you travel frequently, just buy the stuff when yoh get to your destination and write it off as an unreimbursed business expense.

    /not an accountant and this cannot be construed as advice, nor am I serious

  14. I don’t begin to believe that my safety is enhanced by them, or by the fact that a portion of my brain has been occupied by this pointless data.

    It’s not about safety. It’s about making sure you know who’s boss. And it works. With every passing year, we are becoming increasingly conditioned to take orders from government officials no matter how irrational they seem to us. It will stop being annoying once you can say the following and mean it: “2+2=5, 2+2=5, 2+2=5, 2+…”

    1. To which I can only add ‘+1’

    2. For sufficiently large values of two, that is not inaccurate.


  15. I make a point of never putting liquids or gels in bags and “declaring” that I have them. They stay in my bag just like everything else. I always arrive extra early so if the TSA wants to protect me from my toothpaste and hair gel, that’s on them.

    They never check. Never.

  16. 9/11 was 11 years ago, and we still don’t have Trusted Traveller cards. I’ve had a passport and an Amex card for 35 years, but Abdul and I are treated exactly the same.

  17. On 9/11 “they” won….whoever “they” are….

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