Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Just Another TSA Agent, Just Another Airport, Just Another Human Rights Violation

I was on vacation this week and traveling, and anyone who has ever taken a trip out of town knows, it can be a real nightmare. Dealing with flights, rental cars, hotels, shuttles, meals, bags, trying to get out the door on time...while vacations are much-needed and usually relaxing in the end, the prep can be quite a bitch. 

Which is why I can usually forgive people being a little more rude, a little more on edge, when they're at the airport. Because let's be honest, I am probably not in my finest hour when I'm at the airport either. I hate it. I hate flying. I hate lines and close quarters and limited options for a meal before boarding a plane. I hate being patted down by strangers, taking off my shoes on old dirty carpet, and the overall smell of everyone else doing the same. 

That said, while I can usually forgive travelers for being a little edgy, I cannot do the same for those of you who work at the airport. You're not going anywhere, you're not tired from spending several days packing and getting things tied up at the office. You're just, at work!

If I acted in my office, the way TSA agents act in the airport, I would no longer have an office. 

I know, I know, we've all read a thousand blog posts about how TSA did something horrendous in the security line at some airport across the country. This isn't news. It happens every day. It's in blogs. It's on Buzz Feed and Huff Post. Sometimes it's even on the local news station. But it's always the same story: TSA agent does something that violates some basic human function, nothing comes of it, and life continues on.

Here's the thing. I don't like bullies. I don't like people who exert their power over everyone else for no reason. I don't like to be harassed, nor do I like to see other people being harassed. And even more, I don't like to see people being harassed in public, while other people pretend not to notice. 

And so, I found myself inclined to write just another blog post about the way I watched TSA violate someone's basic human rights this weekend, just because they could, and the way I stood up and said something, while everyone else in the airport stood there like cattle in line for slaughter, saying nothing...


After an amazing - and I do mean amazing - long weekend in Phoenix for my cousin's wedding, I was headed home on Tuesday afternoon. I had already checked out of my hotel, returned my rental car, and taken a shuttle to the Southwest terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International. I was early, so I was in no rush, and planned to get through security and grab lunch and one last vacation margarita before my 5:20pm flight. The woman at the Southwest Airlines counter was pleasant, friendly, and helpful (as they always are on Southwest Airlines). I left my bags to be checked, took just my purse, and headed over to security, noticing somewhere along the way that all of the Phoenix Sky Harbor signage said "the friendliest airport." 

The irony will not fail me. 

I'm in line for security, and things are moving pretty slow for as short as the line is, so I find myself looking around wondering why we're not going any faster. In Portland, the line can be 30 miles long, but you cruise through faster than you'd ever believe. Because in Portland, we're efficient cattle. Shoes off, no water bottles, no metal, laptops out. We're ready in Portland.

Probably because anyone leaving Portland is thrilled at the thought of escaping the rain, so sure, we'll make the airport easy! 

Anyway, so the line in Phoenix is moving slowly, and I make a joke with the woman behind me that we've all had too much Vitamin D and can't get our lives together in line now. Then we see the real hold up - while there are three TSA agents checking ID and boarding passes, they are funneling us all into one line, to go through one body scanner. One. So there is a back up, of course. 

Please note that at this one body scanner, are six TSA agents and also three additional metal detectors and scanners. Not sure why those other six TSA agents who are literally just standing around aren't utilizing those three other machines that are literally just standing there, but it is what it is, as they say. 

So as I said, the line is now backing up to the point that the woman operating the one body scanner starts yelling at us to stay in line. Umm. We are in line. We're just all crowded in this tiny space between the three guys who checked our boarding passes, and the one woman trying to get us through the only scanner. We didn't plan it this way. We don't work here. Maybe stop shouting. 

And this is where things escalate. We're all in this tight space, and we're all getting yelled at...for really no reason at all. For incorrectly standing in the line that TSA put us in, I guess. And then three very polite young men from Southwest Airlines come through, pushing three people (two elderly, one disabled) in three wheelchairs, needing to get through security. As I would expect, these three people are pushed through to the front of the line (which, by the way, is now getting incredibly long and moving even slower). The three agents from Southwest inform the agent from TSA that these three meet the requirements to leave shoes on, and they leave, headed back to their ticket counter - but not until they've wished these three passengers a safe and pleasant flight. 

Because they work for Southwest, not for TSA, so they aren't required by job description to be ass holes. 

The woman in control of the body scanner is now visibly agitated. Her resting bitch face is now an active bitch face. She looks at this woman who has a visible physical disability and - loud enough for all of us to hear - tells her that she has to get up and walk through, that they cannot scan the wheelchair.

1. That is absolutely not true. Wheelchairs DO go through the body scanners. 
2. You're a bitch.

The woman is now struggling to get out of the wheelchair. Actively struggling. She can't walk, but she's now been told by TSA that she has to, and her pleading explanation got her no sympathy. So now, as the line continues to grow and grow, and as people are increasingly frustrated, and as we are all in a tiny place with nowhere to go, where they've just added three huge wheelchairs, this woman attempts to get up. 

Time basically stops and stands still, until the TSA agent finally shouts "you know what, just stay seated and we'll scan the chair, no one has time for all this." 

What the...WHAT?!!? You just said you can't send wheelchairs through the body scanner! You just told her she had no choice but to get up! You just told her, basically, too damn bad your leg is hurt and you can't walk; you better find a way to walk now! 

The woman settles back into her chair, says nothing, and hangs her head as they take her through the body scanner in the wheelchair and send her on her way. She says nothing to express her frustration, embarrassment, anger, nothing. She just goes on her way. And I can't believe it. My blood is boiling. 

Mind you, I am the first person in line behind these three wheelchairs, and I am the perfect airport traveler. I have no shoes on, no metal anywhere. My flip flops and jean jacket have gone through the metal detector already, along with my purse and my quart-size bag of 3 ounce liquids. I am only wearing leggings and a tank top, because I hate being fondled in security, so I try to just start out as naked as I can. But I am also not an animal, so I am still waiting quite patiently in line as I watch this lunacy unfold in front of me. 

The TSA agent with the active bitch face now motions for the elderly man to come through. She shouts at him (he has in no way indicated that he can't hear normal volumes, by the way) to inquire if he has any metal in him. No she did not ask if he had metal on him, but rather asked if he had metal in him. He replied politely that no, he had remembered to empty his pockets. 

"Are you sure you don't have any metal, no false hips, no replacements, no pace makers??" 

WHAT!??! 

The elderly man replied again, "no, no metal ma'am." And proceeded to wheel through the body scanner without saying anything further, as she literally rolled her eyes at him. 

I couldn't take it. I looked right at the TSA agent and said, "well that was super inappropriate." 

She then took me out of the body scanner line and sent me through the metal detector instead. Which of course didn't beep because I was almost totally naked and am smart enough to remove my earrings when I get in line. I was the ONLY person she "let" cut through the scanner line into the metal detector line instead. When a young guy my age in line behind me, followed in the direction I was going, she stopped him and said "just her, not you."

What was your end game here? To get me out of line as fast as possible so I couldn't continue to call you out for being in violation of all sorts of things? Or so you could get me to set off the metal detector and succumb me to some other violating body cavity search? 

As I gathered my belongings, I looked back and watched the young men who'd been in line behind me stand silently as she bullied the elderly man's even more elderly wife through the scanner, asking her to "try" to stand because scanning the chair is a challenge (no it isn't). I watched them stand there, looking away, trying to not notice the blatant abuse taking place 3 feet in front of them. I shook my head and walked away, feeling angry, defeated, and somehow a little violated myself. This should not be happening, this is not okay! 

I looked at my watch and had time, so I stopped in my tracks, turned around and went back to the TSA desk I'd just passed. I very politely asked the agent - who was very busy sitting on his ass playing Angry Birds - if he had a moment. I then explained what I'd just seen and asked how it was possible that at only 5 yards away, he hadn't noticed the commotion or felt a need to look up from his cell phone. He mumbled to me about how he hadn't seen or heard anything, asked me to point out the agent I'd dealt with, and said something about taking care of it. He then looked back down at his phone, apparently dismissing me from the conversation we were having. 

And so as I collected myself, I put my hand on his desk and leaned over. I said, "I want you to remember this conversation, in case the blog I write about it tonight happens to go viral. This is not okay." 

To the TSA agent with the active-resting bitch face: Shame on you. Seriously, shame on you. This is your job. Your job is to get people onto their planes safely, and to get people home or to their destinations safely. Your job is not to violate people. Your job is not to shame people or bully them. And on a side note, you should try plastering a smile on that ugly mug of yours; it might help with that suuuuuper gnarly case of resting bitch face. 

To the young men little boys in line behind me: Shame on you a little too. The next time you see someone who could be your own grandmother being abused in line in the airport, I hope you find your balls and stand up for what's right. You were born into a generation of selfish little brats, and I get that, but I hope you know how wrong it was of you to look at your cell phones and up at the ceiling to avoid seeing what was unfolding ahead of you. Also, I bet if you weren't wearing such tight skinny jeans, your balls would be easier to find. Man up next time. You're 21, not 12. 

To anyone who reads this post: Please share it. And not because I wrote it and am shamelessly asking for page views, but because this behavior on the part of the TSA agents in Phoenix was unacceptable at best. Three people were bullied, harassed, and shamed in front of my face on Tuesday afternoon, and there will be no consequence, because TSA does whatever the fuck they want. And that is unacceptable. I encourage you to think about how you were treated the last time you were in line in security at an airport. Was someone rude to you? Was someone inappropriate with you? Think about it, really. The last time I flew home from Vegas, I had a couple bobby pins in my hungover-girl messy bun, and the TSA agent had to take me to the side. She asked me if it was okay for her to touch my hair before she did it; she smiled and we laughed about her messing up my messy bun. When I flew out of Portland this week, same thing. The TSA agent in Portland didn't ask me, just reached up and grabbed my pony tail. Think about the difference there. Why is that okay? Why is it okay for someone to touch me without asking, just because they're wearing a badge that allows them to determine whether or not I get on my flight? It's okay because we all just put our heads down, look the other way, and pretend we don't see it.

I bet you'd feel differently if you saw someone being raped or robbed in front of you. Would you walk away? Stand there and pretend to be texting? Or would you do something? It's not okay for TSA to act like they own people. I hate bullies. I hate people who try to control other people. And I hate that people stand like sheep, watching it happen, and say absolutely nothing.