Culture

Smart Tips for a Quick Trip Through the TSA

shutterstock_123163654

Millennial kids, and even those a bit older, probably don’t remember the good old days of air travel when you could actually meet someone coming off of the plane or you could sit at the gate with the travelers waiting for their flights to depart until the final boarding call.

These days we have to take our shoes off and walk on dirty floors, pack everything we’re carrying into small bins (including our best coats) and then stand with our hands up in a small booth-like structure. Next we scramble to pick everything out of the bins, put our shoes on and make sure we get everything we started out with — that is, if we’re lucky and don’t win the TSA lottery of being picked for their special attention, in which case we might miss our flight.

We can look back to those pre-9/11 days with nostalgia, somewhat like the song, “Those were the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end.”

I remember the first time I traveled after 9/11. I wore a long skirt with brass buttons, Mexican silver bracelets on my wrists, and carried my travel bag which had my mother’s small nail scissors in it. Well, I apparently rang every bell in the TSA arsenal of alerts. I was quickly whisked out of line for special consideration in front of a long line of people, including many I knew.

My mother’s scissors were confiscated, along with my bracelets. With a lot of effort, I got the bracelets back, but my mother’s scissors, which I’d treasured, were gone forever. This was my welcome to the new world of travel.

I seem to be a favorite of the TSA gang, especially at LAX. I wear longer skirts and sometimes double them when I’m flying in winter from Los Angeles to frigid Wisconsin, so often I am chosen for special attention and wanded, frequently by agents I’ve had to look way up to. Apparently many TSA women are chosen for their commanding height. I’ve offered to take one skirt off, to no avail.

2014 161

Arlene Becker Zarmi, right

At La Guardia, I was wearing only one long skirt, but was still taken for inspection. I complained and was taken to the supervisor. He had a great suggestion for me: instead of my longer skirts, he suggested I dress like the rather full-figured gal in skin-tight jeans who was standing near us. The jeans were so tight that I doubt even an IED could have been hidden there except, perhaps, in her very generous derriere. So, fellow travelers (especially the females), your best bet is to wear skin-tight jeans. The TSA people, perhaps both male and female, might be so involved in eying the jeans that they might miss the Glock in your bra.

While I wasn’t about to wear skin-tight jeans, I did fly from LAX again, this time in a much shorter skirt and thought I had it made. I thought wrong. Two tall and formidable TSA women (they needed two, as I might have been a dangerous terrorist) took me into a little room. We all agreed that it might have been my bra with its uplifting wires that was setting off the alarm, but they gave me an intensive full-body search anyway. So serious are these folks about keeping us safe and catching possible terrorists that I watched as two TSA basketball types made sure that a ninety-year-old lady, who stood about four feet high, wasn’t carrying any dangerous weapons. I was relieved to know, after the TSA agents did their thorough search, that she didn’t. Bravo! TSA averted another potential catastrophe in the air.

That said, wheelchairs are actually a great way to avoid standing in long lines and having to do
the TSA bunny hop (articles in bins, shoes off, etc.). Not only do most wheelchairs, which can be provided by the airport with attendants to push them, often go to the head of the line, but all accompanying travelers do so as well. Those travelers also get to ride in the airport elevator with the attendant, who knows the airport well, thus helping you to get to the gate easily. The attendants also, in my experience, have nicely taken care of putting items in the bins, as well as picking everything up at the end. So, if you’re feeling a bit under the weather, having done the town wherever you visited, you might request this great service. (I’m obviously being a bit sarcastic about that last part — please save the wheelchairs for people who really need them.) The majority of the wheelchair attendants have been pretty wonderful to my husband, who actually does need a wheelchair in large airports because it is hard for him to walk long distances. However TSA agents are still as vigilant about checking wheelchair travelers as they are with the general traveling public.

At LAX (yes, LAX again) when my husband and the wheelchair attendant got to the TSA area, he was patted down and the thin skull cap he was wearing was lifted up (again for fears of a gun, knife, or IED). Then he was whisked off to have both his legs x-rayed (he has a prosthesis on only one). To make sure they were really on the ball, the TSA team even x-rayed the wheelchair which (a) belonged to the airport (b) consisted only of tubular steel and canvas and (c) was in the control of the wheelchair attendant at all times. When my husband pointed this out and asked why they were x-raying the airport’s own wheelchair, they responded curtly, “policy.”

The TSA does try to be traveler-friendly and has a web page where many questions about their policies are explained, or at least clarified. Children under twelve and travelers over seventy-five don’t have to take their shoes off (neither does anyone at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, as Israeli security agents profile travelers, which is considered to be politically incorrect in the U.S.). The web page spells out the amount of liquid you can bring, as well as what medically important equipment you can have with you, and other pertinent TSA mandates. The TSA web page also has a separate kids‘ and parents’ page. On the kids’ page there’s a cute video of a dog family going through the checkpoints. The family includes a mother, father, little boy and a baby. The video is obviously designed to make kids feel comfortable with the entire process. Another page has coloring pages and — get this — a K9 family. This is a euphemism for the dog sniffers, but kids don’t know that and so they think it is cute. Apparently someone in the bureaucracy (or its ad agency) has an ironic sense of humor.

You can also make things a bit easier by applying for pre-TSA check-in status. The application fee is $85, which is non-refundable, and you must provide proof of U.S. residency. If you pass the application process you are alloted a KTN ( known traveler number).

Where available, there are pre-check TSA lines which allow travelers to keep on their shoes and belts, keep their laptops in their cases, and keep the 3-ounce liquids in their cases. All children under the age of twelve are allowed to accompany, without separate applications, pre-checked travelers.

If you decide not to go through the pre-check process, then you may want to remember two things to help minimize your travails (the origin of the modern word “travels”) with the TSA. Wear tight jeans or use a wheelchair. If you can combine the two by wearing tight jeans in a wheelchair, then you’re sure to make your TSA experience a snap!