Friday, November 4, 2016

The Toughest Job in Transportation: TSA Agent

Who do you think has the toughest job in the transportation business?  Long haul truckers?  Highway crews?  Metro-North engineers?

While all of those folks certainly pay their dues, to me the toughest job in transportation is being a TSA agent.

It’s been 15 years since 9/11 and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, creating a standardized, Federal version of the previously private security screening agents.  And the rules of what’s allowed on planes has certainly changed with time.

A couple of years ago the TSA said that small scissors and nail clippers would be allowed in carry-ons. People freaked, though the plastic knives distributed with snack-packs are already sharp enough to slit a throat.  But by not having to worry about such tiny tools, TSA agents should be able to spend more time looking for the really dangerous weapons.

How about ceramic knives, not found by metal detectors?  That’s why the TSA spent over $2 billion for full-body scanners.  Controversial as they may be, they seem efficient.

Liquid explosives are also frighteningly effective, which is why you should always drain your carry-on water bottle before joining the TSA line.  Free refills are available at the water fountains after clearing security.

This spring there were numerous complaints about the long lines at TSA check-points, a situation since resolved with better staffing and a new director of the agency.  A combination of increased passenger counts and TSA staffing seemed responsible for the delays.

But therein lies the reason that I think TSA agents have such a tough job:  the public wants 100% security but with no time-consuming, privacy-invading pat-downs or delays.  Sorry folks.  As the old adage says “You can have it fast, good or cheap… pick two”.

There are 47,000 TSA agents screening almost 2 million passengers a day.  It’s not a glamorous job (starting salary is just $26,000 a year), just a crucial one.  And yes, those agents do fail regular testing of their skills, allowing dummy knives and liquids to get by in the haste of doing their high pressure job.

But the stuff that they do find is astounding.  In a recent edition of its weekly blog the TSA recounts, for example, confiscating 58 firearms, 48 of them loaded with 17 having rounds in the chamber.  That’s not to mention the dozens of knives, swords and hidden weapons. And you wonder why the screening line gets slowed down?

On a recent trip I saw a passenger literally curse at a TSA agent for doing her job.  The agent kept her cool and didn’t yank the passenger out of line for a retaliatory body cavity search, but maybe she should have.  Could you be so patient as to not respond to such insults when you are only trying to keep passengers, even that idiot, safe?

When my carry-on bags get a secondary screening, I’m happy.  My bags carry so many weird electronics they’d better screen me!  After the agent finishes, I say “Thanks for your diligence.”

If you want to fly, my advice is to shut up.  Let the agents do their job.  And help them by following directions:  shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty.   Or registerfor TSA Pre-Check, a great screening time saver (you can leave you shoes on).

But please let the TSA agents do their job.  Asking them to hustle because you’re late for your flight is inviting them to make a mistake that might cost thousands of lives.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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