It's been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.
The Department of Homeland Security order -- which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a "secret" TSA security directive -- was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I'd see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA's most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.
So you'd think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn't have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.
Actually, I can think of seven things about airport security that I love -- and that I think you will, too. As one of the busiest travel weeks of the year begins today, let's review them.
TSA Pre-Check. Wow, I wish we could all use those lines. It's common-sense screening. No invasive scans and you can keep your shoes on. Too bad you have to either be an elite-level flier or a member of the Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS programs to qualify. But maybe they'll let everyone into that line soon. After all, the government collects enough pre-flight information about us to "pre-check" everyone on the plane, don't they?
Families get a pass on scanners. Although it probably won't admit it, the TSA generally doesn't force young kids through its controversial full-body scanners, and -- bonus! -- it also won't make their parents or guardians go through. In my last eight flights, we've never come close to one of those dreaded machines. I like that.
Almost no wait to be screened. The TSA is so overstaffed that it's unlikely you'll wait longer than 10 minutes to get screened. Even during the busy holidays. Yeah, that's what $8 billion the TSA cost us this year will buy you. Here are the TSA's self-reported wait numbers, if you're a trusting kind of air traveler. And you know what? This is one of the rare times when I do believe them. At least, most of the time.
You can leave your shoes on. If you're under 12 or over 75, that is. But I'll take it. I have three kids under 12, and do you know how hard retrieving three pair of shoes at the end of the conveyor belt is -- plus remembering your own? Thanks, TSA.
A little more common sense. Good news: they're allowing snowglobes on the plane this year. Just small ones. But it's progress. Hey TSA, how 'bout those liquids and gels?
Private "enterprise" is alive and well. Think the TSA isn't entrepreneurial enough? Think again. It sells all those items it confiscates, replenishing the government trough from which it slurps, even if it's done somewhat indirectly. That's gotta count for something, even if technically, those items weren't theirs to sell in the first place.
This is just the beginning. Agency critics are getting their act together and pressuring Congress to rein in the TSA. Already, some of the most dangerous full-body scanners have been quietly removed, and some are now collecting dust in a warehouse. Next to go are the rest of the scanners, which will either be decommissioned or reach the end of their intended life-cycle in a few years. It can't happen soon enough.
Don't get too excited, because there are plenty of exceptions to the rules. Too many kids and grandmas still get hassled during screening. And if you want to experience a long delay at the screening area, just opt out of the full-body scanners. You could be left waiting, and might even miss your flight, a little trick agents call a retaliatory wait time.
But overall, even though there's more than enough for which to criticize the TSA, there's a little to like. And in the future -- if we can keep the pressure on the agency -- there will be even more to love.
And what if you don't? Don't worry. I'll be here to write about that.
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