if anyone has a brilliant idea about how to get the complete staff of TSA’s Burlington branch fired

Shoot me an email. We should chat.

Long story short, the skies were kept safe tonight from any designs I had on synthesizing a maple-based plastique while in flight. TSA acted professionally, in the sense that they said “sir” as they went about their officious buffoonery.

If you haven’t already, you should read this interview with former* TSA chief Kip Hawley, conducted by Bruce Shneier. It will make two things immediately clear.

First, this agency was run by a man named Kip.

Second, the frustrating and apparently arbitrary nonsense that you, I and all other air travelers are continually subjected to is just what it seems. When the agent tried to explain to me that the listed weight of my proscribed carryon (in grams) was evidence of its violation of the volume limit? When the woman next to me was told that the difference between the limit, in millilieters, listed on the TSA.gov printout she was holding and the limit, in milliliters, being enforced against her owed to some arcane fact involving unit conversion and Canadian passengers? These are not merely the failings of overtaxed and undertrained staff. The whole agency is awash in arbitrary authoritarianism. Shneier pulls the curtain back, and the man behind just sits there smiling at him. He’s named Kip! Glad to meet ya! But he couldn’t possibly comment on that thing you just said, because if he did, one of our vaguely-defined but utterly-relentless enemies might realize the obvious thing that your non-expert mind just thought of during a fit of idle pique.

I understand why a Democratic administration can’t undo this nonsense. But I am looking forward to the day when a new Republican administration decides to help itself to an easy PR victory by undoing the liquid ban and, hopefully, driving a naked, horsewhipped Kip Hawley — or whomever has continued his legacy –through the laughing streets of DC.

There. Now I feel better.

* It appears that Kip is out as of the Obama administration, but a permanent replacement has not yet been named. Hopefully they will either be more thoughtful, or at least have a name of similar hilarity, making it easyto update this post.

3 Responses to “if anyone has a brilliant idea about how to get the complete staff of TSA’s Burlington branch fired”

  1. mike d

    (a) What on God’s green Earth were you doing in Vermont?
    (b) There’s a inverse relationship to be statistically established between the size of the airport and the officiousness of its TSA screeners. When I’m going through LGA or DCA, I know which corners I can cut. When I’m flying out of Bozeman or Buffalo, I know I’m in for a fight against someone’s interpretation of the rules.
    (c) Although the issue at hand isn’t quite clear – they were trying to get you on weight, not volume?

  2. Tom

    (a) I was up there for a memorial service for my grandmother, who passed away several months ago (had the funeral then; this was sort of a pleasant family reunion kind of thing). I’m 25% flinty Vermonter!

    (b) This is exactly right.

    (c) Ah! Now you’ve made a terrible mistake and opened the door to me telling the whole boring story. One TSA guy spotted my toothpaste, shook it, eyed it warily and said “we’ll have to do a volume check on what’s left in here”. I asked if I could just squeeze some out, and he said sure, and I did and it was fine. They busted me for a little pot of surprisingly expensive maple cream (aka maple butter) that I’d gotten to satisfy the request of a friend of a friend and forgotten about. It was about the size of a jar of ladies’ facial cream. When I protested they pointed to the only measurement on the jar to indicate that it’s over the limit, which was in grams. I pointed out that that was stupid and they moved on — to explaining that they can’t open the jar, that sure, I could try dumping some out, but I’d have to go through security again (I said I was happy to do that), but boy, then the x-ray operator will just see it again, and we won’t be able to know how much is in there because we don’t open those things (they had looked into my toothpaste container; only one security line was open, it was inconceivable that anyone else would be dealing with this problem other than the person I was speaking to). I could check it, though! Heck, he’d walk me down to check this single fucking jar of maple candy (at a cost of $20, I believe, for the first checked bag). I explained that I had to catch the last bus back from BWI and was not going to screw around with checked bags, and we kind of went in circles, and I angrily said I could see there was no way for me to win, that he and his cronies were worse than the morons at Syracuse, and I stormed off, no doubt looking like a huge asshole.

    The lady next to me really was pleading her case using official TSA literature, for what it’s worth. It was pretty obvious that the guys on duty were just using the wrong limit, but they kept trying to bullshit her, and when she persisted they would just tag out, having the last person who was listening move back to the line and the next person start reciting the same blandishments.

  3. jeff

    Syracuse! That was the site of my worst TSA experience. I was trying to carry-on a wiffle ball bat, and needless to say, it didn’t go well.

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