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Old Jul 14, 08, 5:11 pm   #1
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"If you've seen our SOP, we have a problem . . ."

After a pleasant week of flying on NW and AC, I had a rather unpleasant weekend with DL and, to a lesser extent, UA. I might as well round out the report of my travails by recounting my experience with TSA at ATL on Friday night.

While waiting on line for the WTMDs, I was chatting with a Swiss national behind me who told me he would never come to the U.S. on a leisure trip and dreaded his business trips here because of TSA's unpleasantness. I concurred. This turned out to be prophetic.

I put my stuff on the conveyor and walked through the WTMD. The last thing on the conveyor was my computer bag which, as usual, was crammed full of electronic support stuff (my computer, of course, comes out and rides in a separate bin). I've found that, about half the time, the computer bag gets a bag check, the other half of the time, nothing (and it always has the same stuff in it). The total value of everything in there, less computer, is easily several thousand dollars, so I'm not about to check any of it, or lose sight of my bag.

I walked through the WTMD and started taking my things from the conveyor as they came through the x-ray. The bin with my shoes came first, followed by my computer bag. I took my shoes out, bent over to slip them on, and when I straightened up, my computer bag was gone. I quickly looked around and saw a TSO taking it away. I immediately said, "Excuse me, please keep that bag in my sight." The TSO ignored me. I repeated this two more times, but he just kept on walking. Finally, using my best stage voice, I bellowed, "STOP. . . RIGHT. . . THERE!" (If you've ever seen the movie The Dresser, you'd recognize the tone and inflection from the train station scene). At this point, my new Swiss acquaintance vanished -- poor guy must have thought he was about to witness a battle between the Gestapo and the French resistance.

The TSO stopped dead, as did everyone else in the vicinity. Virtually instantly, a supervisor appeared at my side and I was more or less surrounded by TSOs, all wearing a, "Go ahead . . . make my day" look. I explained to the supervisor, calmly and in measured tone, that I insisted that any inspection of the bag be conducted within my sight line. The TSO with the hearing problem had a instantaneous miraculous cure and said, "I want to run the bag through x-ray again." I said, "Fine. Just do it so I can see it." The TSO started to argue, but the supervisor told him, "Don't say another word." He turned to me and said, "He has to run the bag through x-ray again. You can go back out and watch, but you'll have to come through screening again." I said, "I can see him just fine from over there," and indicated the end of the rollers that came out of the x-ray. I walked over to where I had indicated and said, "See . . . this is fine -- I can see perfectly. Go right ahead."

The supervisor told the TSO to re-run the bag and started to explain the vital role that TSA plays in keeping the nation's airlines safe. I said, "Look, I have no problem with you doing your job, provided you follow the SOP. The SOP says that the bag stays in my sight, so I want it to stay in my sight." The supervisor looked at me and said, "What do you know about our SOP???" I replied, "The SOP requires that passengers' bags remain in their sight." He said, "How do you know that?" I said, "It's on your website." Then he looked at me slyly and said, "Have you actually seen the SOP?" I said, "What do you mean? TSA's procedures are published on your own website, and are well-reported in the media (I thought it was better not to mention FT and our own helpful and informative TSOs)." The supervisor said, "'SOP' stands for 'Standard Operating Procedure.' If you've seen the actual SOP we have a problem. Our SOP is a national intelligence secret. Have you ever seen it?" I didn't laugh . . . really . . . and said, "No, I've never seen the actual SOP. I only know what I read on the TSA website and in the media." He said, "Okay, that's good. Otherwise, you wouldn't be going anywhere tonight." Reassured that that I would be going somewhere that night (but for my stupidity in missing a DL flight, as outlined elsewhere on FT), I started chatting with the supervisor.

At this point the deaf/mute TSO came over with my bag and said, "We can't see anything in this -- we're going to have to do a secondary inspection." I said, "Fine. Just please change your gloves before you do." If looks could kill, I'd be, at the very least, severely injured -- the TSO glared at me and said, "I've just changed my gloves." I said, "Okay. If they're new gloves, that's fine. I trust you." The TSO then caught a look from the supervisor and said, "I'll change them. You want them changed? I'll change them," which he did with considerable . . . um . . . "flair."

He then proceeded to take apart everything in my computer bag and put them through the x-ray, one-by-one. I always make a point of allowing plenty of time for TSA screening, so I simply stood by pleasantly and chatted with the supervisor, who was actually a pretty nice guy -- the only problem was that he had, apparently, drunk the Kool-aid and was a true-believer. I told him that the keep-within-sight rule was as much for TSA's protection as mine -- if something went missing, it would ensure that TSA wouldn't be blamed. Then came the punch line: The supervisor said, "You don't have to worry about that. We have cameras all over the place. Those cameras have already caught a couple of problem people that way."

Rim shot.

I avoided saying, "See . . . it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you." The airing and swabbing of everything in my bag proceeded for another 10 minutes or so. When the TSO discovered my portable printer, the supervisor was almost gleeful. "That should have been put in a separate bin!" he said triumphantly. I said, "According to the S. . . uh . . . according to the website only computers, large electronics and video cameras that use tape need to be taken out." He said, "That's large electronics." I said, "It really isn't -- it's a portable printer and it's mostly hollow. It should show up fine on x-ray. I carry it all the time, and I've never had anyone ask me to take it out at other airports." The supervisor, taking another sip of Kool-aid, said, "Well, they're all doing it wrong." I manged to say, "Well, I'm reassured that at least ATL is on top of things," without the slightest hint of sarcasm in my voice.

Finally, with all my possessions fresh and nicely cleaned by the explosives swabs, I was on my way. I had initially asked for a complaint card, but I really did like the supervisor and I think my point had been made so I just headed to the Delta Crown Room where I was so happily ensconced that I didn't notice the time and missed my flight. When I returned to ATL the following morning, I breezed through security (with the same computer bag containing the same stuff) without the slightest problem or delay.

"It's a new day in America." (Ronald Reagan campaign ad)
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Old Jul 14, 08, 5:21 pm   #2
 
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Excellent post PTravel

Obviously the SOP contains the secret ingredient of TSA Kool-aid. Why else would they be so protective?
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Old Jul 14, 08, 6:16 pm   #3
 
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most important question:

did you take the printer out of the bag the next morning?
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Old Jul 14, 08, 6:32 pm   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sammy0623 View Post
most important question:

did you take the printer out of the bag the next morning?
I did not. It was business as usual for me, and I made no alterations in my routine based on my experience of the evening before.
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Old Jul 14, 08, 6:44 pm   #5
 
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Did he really us the phrase "Our SOP is a national intelligence secret"?

Laughable.
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Old Jul 14, 08, 6:47 pm   #6
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PTravel View Post
He said, "How do you know that?" I said,
Reply: "One of you guys told me last week at this very checkpoint."
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Old Jul 14, 08, 6:56 pm   #7
 
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Two words --

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Old Jul 14, 08, 7:28 pm   #8
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PTravel View Post
When the TSO discovered my portable printer, the supervisor was almost gleeful. "That should have been put in a separate bin!" he said triumphantly.
When I got this far in your post, I was almost sure the TSO was going to pull the "ink is a liquid" card.
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Old Jul 14, 08, 8:50 pm   #9
 
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[quote=fedup flyer;10034134]Did he really us the phrase "Our SOP is a national intelligence secret"?



I would have told him "yes" to draw the foul and see if he really wanted to detain me, or at least try to, and see exactly what "charge" they would have charged you with. Believe me, you would have been able to sell the movie rights for BANK!!

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Old Jul 14, 08, 9:10 pm   #10
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You should have told him pieces of his SOP are all over the internet and he should Google it to read up on the procedures his screeners were not following.

Of course you know he could not prevent you from flying because you claimed to have seen his precious SOP, but it would have taken extra time to haul over the Delta GSC to get you out of there, and they probably would have called the police and a couple of their Amazing Karnaks to read your thoughts, which would have taken more time; not to mention how Delta employees have a rather odd habit of kissing the TSA's you-know-what.

I have a rule - I do not speak to TSA employees at the airport. They are not there to help me.
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Old Jul 14, 08, 9:13 pm   #11
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PTravel View Post
The supervisor said, "'SOP' stands for 'Standard Operating Procedure.' If you've seen the actual SOP we have a problem. Our SOP is a national intelligence secret. Have you ever seen it?" I didn't laugh . . . really . . . and said, "No, I've never seen the actual SOP. I only know what I read on the TSA website and in the media." He said, "Okay, that's good. Otherwise, you wouldn't be going anywhere tonight."
Does that mean that there are only a handfull of people in the world who know their SOP? Or is it known by every single TSO? If it's not known by TSO's, then they're all acting blindly, forced to do stuff for a reason they don't know.
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Old Jul 15, 08, 7:25 am   #12
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PTravel View Post
The supervisor said, "'SOP' stands for 'Standard Operating Procedure.' If you've seen the actual SOP we have a problem. Our SOP is a national intelligence secret. Have you ever seen it?"
In the right mood, I might well look at him and say: "Do you have any idea what clearance I have, who I work for, or what I'm authorized to see?" After all, it IS true that a LOT of what DHS does (including some of the SOPs) is done by contractors....
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Old Jul 15, 08, 7:32 am   #13
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Old Jul 15, 08, 9:16 am   #14
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Originally Posted by fedup flyer View Post
Did he really us the phrase "Our SOP is a national intelligence secret"?

Laughable.
Indeed. As if some critical national intelligence "secret" would be entrusted to the thousands standing around at the nation's airports.

The TSA's SSI isn't even a classification scheme. At best, it's a type of sensitive information, like the stuff marked "FOUO" by other agencies (DoD, etc.)
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Old Jul 15, 08, 9:31 am   #15
 
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PTravel,

excellent way to handle this situation.

BTW, we have a portable printer which we occasionally take. Once I was asked to take it out. Another time I heard a general announcement to take out laptops, video cameras, and portable printers.
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