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Kevin Richberg Headshot

Pay Your Way Through TSA

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A friend of mine forwarded me a very short article about the TSA's expanded plan to allow fliers to skip the 'shoes off, coats off, belt off, computer out' nonsense and head straight for the metal detectors (or the hand wanding/touchy-feely grope). But this privilege comes with a price, $85.

Starting later in the year, any American citizen will be able to use a one time bribe to attempt enrollment in a program exempting them from screening annoyances that have long been the curse of air travel. Shoes will be allowed to remain on, as will belts and lightweight jackets, however water will still be considered a banned substance (unless you pour your water into your recycled tiny alcohol nips bottles and take it through security one shot at time).

This will have the effect of creating a class system with regards to airport screening, those who have the "shoes on" pass, and those who don't. Since most Americans already believe security is designed around creating the "feeling" of being secure rather than actual (expensive) intelligence-based security, you'll drive those in the 'have-nots' class further into feeling abused by a government agency who's PR numbers are already in the toilet. The TSA will end up soliciting the question, "why are my shoes bad and his shoes are fine?"

Paying $85 and getting a background check a passenger knows will come up clean doesn't actually guarantee people are not going to then turn around and put crazy stuff inside their shoes. You can't guarantee that backpacks don't have bombs in them (Miami threw their hands up recently and decided to ban backpacks during an NBA championship parade). Golf clubs, Swiss army knives and children's toy bats, long banned by TSA, just recently returned into the 'safe' column following over a decade of being possible 'instruments of terror.' Then, a month later, they found themselves back in the TSA wastebasket as the organization's chief bowed to pressure from interest groups fearful of passenger rage (using small knives and kid's toys to settle in-flight grievances). The X-ray backscatter devices (more popularly known as the 'naked machines') installed to combat potential underwear bombers, costing enormous amounts of money and allowing screeners to see your junk and dangerous sweat stains were phased out this year because, well, that's just the way these things roll.

A prediction I often use with my friends to illustrate TSA absurdity is the "sweater-free future." The moment some evil-doer knits a combustible material into a sweater and wears it onto a plane, that'll be the end of sweaters (in addition to my career because I'll be blamed for giving them the idea). It's enough of an insult to my grandmother, who knits my sweaters, that she can't bring her knitting needles on board the plane, not to mention the various metallic parts of her 88-year-old body which force her to disrobe for the TSA.

And the moment an idiotic American (or an intelligent terrorist) gets the dumb idea (or the obvious idea) to sneak something through airport security he knows he's not supposed to have on the plane in a shoe (or attempts to revive that whole bomb in a shoe idea), you can kiss this entire pre-clearance plan goodbye. The TSA's reactionary instinct will be to revert everyone back to the good old days of evil shoes and belts that kill. Don't expect to get your $85 back. After all if five million people choose to enroll in this program that'll net the TSA $425,000,000 for having their screeners do less work (shouting at people about shoes and belts does take up valuable screening time). That's a pretty good deal for the TSA.

The TSA screeners, bless their hearts, are already thought of as a group of uneducated bumbling employees far more capable of harassing law abiding travelers than actually foiling legitimate plots against travel. Eight billion dollars spent each year, and the total number of terrorist plots foiled by the TSA screeners still appear to stand at 0. Millions of innocent travelers have had their personal items tossed in the trash, and a few individuals with misdemeanor warrants have been captured and brought to justice. Oh, and they were able to find the man with the world's largest penis (they powder tested it for explosives). The agency has never been known for its successes, only its failures, and this has been true since its very beginning.

So once again Americans find themselves with a nationwide change in screening policies that defies common sense. A year ago the shoes-off policy (which has been abandoned by most all western governments) was rumored to be on the way out after a decade of nothing but smelly feet; but instead we learn it's simply to be reserved for foreign visitors, the uneducated, and those without $85 to burn.

When will TSA screening become so comical that even the feeling of false security most people currently rely on for their in-flight peace-of-mind disintegrates into the fear we all know works so well in an enormous flying machine 30,000 feet in the air?