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Jenavieve Hatch   |   December 19, 2016    9:20 AM ET

On Friday night CNN Political Commentator Angela Rye was flying from Detroit to New York. During what should have been a routine TSA security check, she was forced to endure an invasive “vaginal pat down.” 

Rye wrote about the experience in an op-ed on CNN’s website the next day. 

The writer and commentator wrote that she was going through security at Detroit’s Metro Airport to fly to New York when ― even though she has TSA Precheck status and is a CLEAR traveler ― she was told she was randomly selected for additional screening.

After going through the backscatter machine, she was told that the female TSA agent would do “a backhanded pat around the upper thigh.” But Rye says it went beyond that:

The pat-down began and was uneventful until she went down my leg, up my dress, and her hand sideways hits me right in the crack of my labia. Startled, I jump and feel a lump in my throat trying to hold back tears. What happened to the back handed pat-down?

She comes around to the front; I grow nervous and pull back a bit, afraid of the same thing happening ― and her sideways hand hits in the middle of my genitals again. I can no longer hold back the tears. 

Before the pat-down began, Rye had asked TSA management if she could just go through the backscatter machine again. She was told that would not be possible. She was also told that if she refused the pat-down, she would be escorted from the airport. 

When an officer was called to do so, she asked him to record the pat-down on her phone instead. He agreed to record the pat-down, and according to Rye, even the officer was upset by what he saw, telling Rye that he would be filing an incident report. 

“Of course, we want America to be safe and protected,” Rye wrote the following day. “But we should not violate the emotional and physical safety of our nation’s citizens at the same time.”

Rye also said that the incident had her worried about people who have experienced sexual assault having to be put in the same situation. “I worried that if they were subjected to the same kind of search it could have disastrous emotional impact,” she wrote.

Some sexual assault survivors have long been unnerved by the TSA’s invasive screening processes. When the new security measures ― namely the backscatter machine and body pat-downs ― went into place in October 2010, Newsweek reported that for travelers who’d survived sexual violence, the security measures “present a very real danger,” and “can be triggering events, setting off a posttraumatic-stress reaction.” Organizations like RAINN have helped empower sexual assault survivors to know their rights while traveling, specifically when it comes to getting through security.  

AskTSA responded to Rye on Twitter, asking her to send them a direct message so that a manager could reach out to her directly. 

She replied by saying that she had already filed an official complaint, and was not about to let the situation “go down in my DMs.”

Rye hopes that sharing her experience will push the TSA to change its screening process so that travelers don’t have to endure unnecessary bodily violation in the name of security.

“Perhaps it’s time for the TSA to invest in new equipment,” Rye wrote. “It is definitely time for them to keep their hands away from vaginas.” 

If you are a sexual assault survivor concerned about air travel, check out this helpful document from RAINN.

Nina Golgowski   |   November 24, 2016   10:47 AM ET

Grandma’s famous cranberry sauce may have to find a new way to fly.

The Transportation Security Administration has released a list in time for the holidays of food items that are prohibited in carry-on luggage.

The good news: Turkey is allowed, as well as fresh whole fruit, cakes and pies — though they may require additional screening, the TSA notes.

Other items that are in liquid form — including gravy, mashed potatoes, jams and jellies, salsa and maple syrup — will either have to be checked in, shipped, or adhere to the 3.4 oz. (100 ml) rule to remain in your carry-on luggage.

One good tip is that if the item can spill, be sprayed, spread, dumped, poured or pumped, it should adhere to the TSA’s liquid rules.

Check out the list below of prohibited items. If you have an item that’s not on the list and are unsure, you can contact the @AskTSA team on Twitter, Facebook messenger or by calling 866-289-9673. You can even send them a photo of the item in question.

Happy travels!

Carry-On Items That Must Be 3.4 Ounces Or Under

  • Wine

  • liquor and beer

  • Cologne and perfume

  • Snow globes

  • Cranberry sauce, jams and jellies

  • Creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.)

  • Gift baskets with liquid items (salsa, syrups, perfumes, lotions)

  • Gravy

  • Shower gels, face creams and lotions

  • Salad dressing, oils and vinegars

  • Sauces, salsa and soup

  • Maple syrup

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David Moye   |   October 28, 2016    3:18 PM ET

Read More: tsa

A newly released video shows shocking footage of a New Orleans man charging at TSA officials with a machete.

The video, taken March 20, 2015, shows a man later identified as Richard White running through a New Orleans Airport Terminal waving the large knife while spraying wasp spray at various people, according to the New Orleans Advocate, which obtained the footage earlier this week.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Lt. Heather Sylve ultimately shot him in the thigh and he died of his injuries after refusing medical treatment, reportedly because it went against his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.

In the video, White, 63, can be seen attempting to go through the pre-clearance lane, when an agent asks him to stop. White then sprays two agents with a can of wasp spray.

Officials said White was carrying six homemade explosives during his machete rampage.

A subsequent investigation found no motive for the attack, but White’s sister, Barbara Suggs, told the paper White had been battling depression and mental illness.

“He suffered,” she said. “I feel like something could have been done before his killing.”

Donna Jackson, who lived across the street from White’s last known address, said her neighbor’s actions at the airport weren’t in keeping with the man she knew.

“He was kind. He would help you,” Jackson told the Advocate back in March 2015.“My prayers go out to his wife and his family. They have my deepest condolences.”

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute anyone involved in the case.

Officials have since said that the shooting of White was justified. 

One in four police killings in 2015 involved a person with mental illness, according to a Washington Post investigation. Experts note that law enforcement officials don’t receive adequate training in how to handle people experiencing mental health crises, and that what many see as standard policing tactics ― like yelling or pointing a gun at someone ― can be disastrous when confronting a mentally ill individual. 

A TSA Agent Touched My Breasts And Groin In The Name Of 'Security'

Tammy Leigh Kahn   |   September 27, 2016    9:12 AM ET

It started off as an ordinary airport experience. I was heading to Cleveland for a business conference. I packed carry-on for the short two-day trip. I kissed my son goodbye, thanked my parents for looking after him while I was gone, and set off by Uber to Logan International Airport.

A seasoned traveler, I packed a pair of socks in my purse for when they inevitably asked me to take my cute summer shoes off at the security check as I don't enjoy walking around barefoot in public places. I dutifully took out my laptop, removed my watch, placed everything into a couple of the little grey bins provided. I heeded the requests to stay with my things until I pushed my personal items all the way through the x-ray machine.

I walked into the full body scanner, put my hands over my head in the "surrender" position, and was scanned. I've read about these scanners and how the people on the other side of the screen can see every inch of your body, almost as if you are naked. I tried not to think about it.

I went to go collect my things from the x-ray machine conveyer belt and noticed that my purple suitcase was being carried off. That's where things took a terrible turn.

The TSA woman, who could not have been more than 24, smiled and proceeded to do her job. My bag, she said, had to be looked through to find something that made the x-ray operator take notice. After a few moments of scanning, we found the culprit, a small bottle of Victoria's Secret "Sheer Romance" body spray. It was bigger than the current allowed size. I grumbled slightly, but said "no worries, just take it away." But then the random swabbing she had done of my bag made her machine beep. I would have to go with her for a full bag search, she said, and a pat down.

I could not touch my bag, I was told. So she carried it half opened to a table. I was confused. What could possibly have made my bag set off their alarm? I'm a mom on her way to a conference. Besides having packed too many shoes, a box of heavy business cards, and possibly having the remnants of animal crackers in my bag from the last time traveling with my son, there wasn't much in there, much less anything nefarious.

The TSA woman asked me if I ever had a pat down before. I told her I had been patted down when the metal detector went off. She said this was going to be more thorough. She proceeded to tell me that she was going to be touching me in some very private areas. She would use the back of her hand when she touched my breasts, she said. I couldn't entirely believe what was going on and can't say I remember everything she said. There was panic in my head. "Am I going to be one of those people I have read about? One of those people who get close to violated by a complete stranger in the name of our national security?" It turns out that's exactly what was about to happen. She asked if I wanted a private screening. I declined, thinking that it would likely be better to be out in an open space.

She started with my hair. She moved through my hair with thoroughness that I have come to expect from my hairdresser. Then my arms. My back. My legs. She went up my side and around my waste. I felt myself tensing up. This woman, this woman who works for the TSA was going to touch my entire body so that I could go to Cleveland. And she did. Using the back of her hand as she promised she touched my breasts, around them, under them. While she was doing that one of her male colleagues walked past and said to me, with a smile on his face: "Watch out with her, she gets a little handsy!" She turned red. I started to feel as bad for her as I did for me. There was nothing normal about this.

But still she continued. She pressed around my waistband and underneath my buttocks. She ran her hands up my left leg and touched my groin. As she ran her hands up my right leg and touched my groin again I actually found myself needing to hold back tears. What was happening here? This couldn't be right.

Before I could process what was going on she had finished with the pat down, but there was more embarrassment I would have to suffer through before I would be allowed to travel.

We walked over to the table on which she had placed my bag. She took out my dresses I had neatly packed and put them on the cold silver surface. Then my skirts. Then my stockings. I asked her if she was going to completely unpack everything. She said she had to. So one by one she pulled out every item in my suitcase, my Immodium AD in case the food disagreed with me, my nighties, my shoes. Everything was touched, squeezed and often swabbed and then tested. Every time she put the wand into the machine I felt my body tighten, wondering what would happen if I twice set off the alarm. The thought petrified me so much I had to put it out of my mind.

Seeing how uncomfortable I was (and possibly feeling guilty about the faux pas of her male colleague) she spared me the embarrassment of taking my panties out one by one and checked them all inside the bag. She didn't pull out my feminine products for swabbing. I whispered to her "thank you." She just looked at me apologetically. She didn't like what she was doing any more than I liked it being done to me.

She finally finished and asked me if I needed help packing up my bag. I said I was ok. She told me to have a nice day and went back to her work. As I packed up my stuff, I noticed she had left the bottle of "Sheer Romance" on the table. I had to laugh to myself at the ludicrousness of it all. Here they searched my bag because my perfume was slightly larger than the allowed size, and after what can only be termed as a complete violation of my privacy, there was the little bottle, forgotten. I sprayed myself a few times with it and found an agent to throw it away. I didn't want to look at it. I didn't want to risk taking it back from Cleveland and having to suffer the ordeal all over again.

But I keep thinking about it. I keep thinking about how it felt to have a stranger touch me in the middle of Logan airport in places I would only let my partner touch me. I keep thinking about what would happen if they tried to do it to my child. What would I do? Now that I know what it feels like I would never allow my son to be "patted down" but until today I had no idea of the violation one would suffer. And I keep thinking of that bottle of "Sheer Romance," sitting there, abandoned on the TSA table.

When a mother on her way to a business conference is searched with such reckless abandon for human privacy, what have we really accomplished as a nation? Knowing I (and perhaps even my son) can be violated like makes the safety of being "protected" from terrorists feel a lot less safe. The words are still ringing in my ear... "watch out with her.... She gets handsy." I may never feel safe flying again.

Lydia Oconnor   |   September 1, 2016   12:57 PM ET

Read More: 9/11, tsa, airport security

It’s hard to believe there was a time when air travel could inspire the lyrics to hits like Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.” 

Fifteen years ago, when terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people, national security efforts changed forever. For many Americans, nowhere are those policies more apparent than at the airport.

While many question the effectiveness of enhanced airport security, even stricter measures, like new identification laws, are on the horizon. 

Here’s a reminder of what it used to be like to go through the airport. 

Private companies, not the government, oversaw airport screening

The Transportation Security Administration, which currently screens travelers, was created two months after the attacks as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. The law gave the federal government direct responsibility for all airport screenings, a job that airports had previously outsourced to private security companies.

The hiring, training and deployment of nearly 60,000 employees for the agency marked the “largest mobilization of the federal government since WWII,” writes TSA historian Michael P. C. Smith.

The agency oversees security on all of the nation’s transportation systems. At airports, TSA employees inspect bags for banned items and screen passengers for suspicious behaviors. 

A year after Sept. 11, the TSA began using explosive detection systems nationwide to screen all bags for explosives. In the years following, the agency has installed more advanced technologies, such as the full-body scanner

You could bring all sorts of things through security 

Before the attacks, you could bring blades up to 4 inches long aboard a plane. The Federal Aviation Administration did not consider them menacing, most local laws didn’t prohibit carrying them and they would have been hard to detect without stronger metal detectors, the government explained in its 9/11 commission report. 

Baseball bats, box cutters, darts, knitting needles and scissors were also allowed on board, according to an FAA manual obtained by CBS News.

All these items were banned from flights in the aftermath of the attacks ― some immediately, some later, as the government detected new threats. In August 2006, the TSA banned all liquids from carry-on luggage after terrorists attempted to detonate liquid explosives carried onboard at least 10 flights traveling from the UK to the U.S. and Canada. A month later, TSA amended the rule and allowed passengers to carry on liquids, gels and aerosols in containers of 3.4 ounces or less in a single, clear, resealable 1-quart plastic bag.

Large printer ink cartridges were similarly banned in 2010. 

You can follow the TSA blog or Instagram to see which banned items the agency has discovered in people’s bags each week. 

Sept. 11 also marked the end of easily bringing loved ones through security with you to say goodbye at the gate, or to greet you when you arrive ― though airlines will sometimes issue a “gate pass” to flyers’ companions if they have a valid reason, such as accompanying a minor. 

Accounting for the added time to screen for banned items and possible enhanced security now requires travelers to get to the airport hours earlier than they did before Sept. 11. 

Your airport behavior and appearance were rarely cause for alarm

Airports have been screening for potential hijackers since 1969, when the FAA developed a profiling system to use in conjunction with metal detectors. While the FAA says the profile was “constructed from behavioral characteristics shared by past perpetrators,” the list the TSA uses is very broad.

Last year, The Intercept obtained and published a confidential list of behaviors and traits TSA agents look out for. They range from “exaggerated yawning,”  “gazing down” and “widely open staring eyes” to “face pale from recent shaving of beard,” “rubbing or wringing of hands” and “wearing improper attire for location.” 

The list was published a week after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the TSA to obtain records about its behavior detection programs, claiming they allowed for racial profiling and specifically targeted African American women, who said they were being subjected to excessive and embarrassing pat-downs of their hair. The following month, the TSA came to “an informal agreement with the ACLU to enhance officer training” on the pat-downs.  

You didn’t have to worry about being on a terrorist watch list

The Intercept published another confidential TSA document in 2014 that outlined the government’s “secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings.”

The guidelines are full of murky language. Someone can suggest you be added to the list because you’re “representative” of a terrorist group, even if you have “neither membership in nor association with the organization.” And several highly publicized incidents show that the TSA has added people to watch lists mistakenly, either through mishandling paperwork or mixing up people with similar names. 

Because of that, the vast majority of people who are flagged as “known or suspected terrorists” are included on the list. In 2013, The Intercept reported, the government disclosed that of the 468,749 nominations for the list that year, only about 1 percent were rejected.

Suzy Strutner   |   August 11, 2016    2:53 PM ET

Read More: tech innovations, tsa

When life gives us lemons, we usually wonder whether we can bring them on a plane. Thanks to this epic travel tool, we don’t have to wonder any more!

It has come to our attention that the Transportation Security Administration ― also known as the TSA ― answers traveler questions directly on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, the TSA actively encourages travelers to message or tweet at them with questions about what they can and can’t pack in luggage. They promise to send a speedy reply (during business hours, of course).

Ever if wonder if you can fly with your nail polish, for example? The TSA has an answer for you:

The TSA is the first federal agency to conduct customer service on Facebook, USA Today reports. Their Facebook service launched last month, joining an active @AskTSA Twitter feed that launched last year.

Of course, travelers can also check the TSA website for rules about items in carry-on and checked bags, if they’d prefer to steer clear of social media. 

Air travel is full of unsavory characters, but the TSA is not one of them: They’re known for a savvy social media presence, including this hilarious Instagram account with photos of outlandish confiscated items. 

Happy travels!

Nina Golgowski   |   August 11, 2016    2:37 PM ET

Read More: TSA Screening

Video obtained by a Tennessee newspaper and released Thursday captures a violent scuffle between a disabled cancer patient and airport security last summer at a Memphis airport. 

In footage taken at the Memphis International Airport in 2015, an airport police officer can be seen throwing 19-year-old Hannah Cohen to the ground and handcuffing her after she triggered a security checkpoint, prompting a federal lawsuit filed by her family. 

The video was obtained by the newspaper The Commercial Appeal. A previously released photo, reportedly taken by the teen’s mother, shows her head bleeding during the confrontation.

In the family’s lawsuit, filed in late June, attorneys for the Chattanooga teen say she had just wrapped up treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis when she tried to fly home with her mother, Shirley Cohen, on June 30, 2015.

Hannah Cohen suffers from physical and mental impairments following the removal of a brain tumor and treatment radiation. As a result, she has limited abilities to speak, walk, stand, hear and see, her suit says.

Though security agents did not find Cohen to be armed with any weapons or contraband, when she stepped through the security checkpoint the alarm went off, causing her to become disoriented.

Adding to the confusion, Cohen is blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and partially paralyzed, her mother previously told The Guardian. Because of her mental and physical disabilities, she was startled by the agents’ behavior and fought back when they tried to lead her away, her family said.

In the suit, Cohen’s mother accused the security agents of ignoring her efforts to inform them about her daughter’s condition.

The family also accuses the Transportation Security Administration and airport police of failing to provide any “reasonable accommodation” for screening Cohen and her “obvious disability.”

In the arrest report, obtained by The Huffington Post, airport police say they were clear in communicating to Cohen that she needed to undergo additional screening after setting off the alarm. 

She instead refused this request, as well as one to leave the security area, which they told her would cause her to miss her flight, according to the report.

”At this time officers began to escort her out the sterile area when she suddenly lashed out, hitting Officer Johnson on the shoulder and chest,” the report states. “Officer Johnson grabbed both of Cohen’s hands to keep her from further attacking and began to back up while Cohen continued to charge at Officer Johnson in a very aggressive motion.”

Cohen’s mother asked if her daughter could be released so that she could speak with her. When that request was granted, police said the teen “immediately charged towards [the officer], pushing the officer and punched him on the left side of the face with a closed fist.”

The report says an officer then brought Cohen to the ground, where he placed her under arrest for disorderly conduct. Police further described her as having a weakness to the left side of her face, suggesting she had a stroke at one time. She also had a cataract in her left eye. The arresting officer reported no injuries.

The Memphis Airport police declined comment, due to the pending lawsuit.

In a statement, a TSA spokesman stressed that their agents had no part in Cohen’s takedown.

“We are limited in commenting due to pending litigation. However, reports on this unfortunate situation in Memphis are inaccurate. Local law enforcement responded only when the passenger refused screening and then refused to leave the checkpoint area. The injuries she is claiming she sustained at the Memphis airport did not result from interaction with TSA,” the spokesman said.

The family’s suit names the TSA, Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority and the Memphis International Airport Police Department as defendants.

This story has been updated to include information from the police report and a response from the TSA.

Daily Caller's, Republican Religious Freedom Hypocrisy

Anhvinh Doanvo   |   August 9, 2016   12:20 PM ET


The Syrian refugee crisis has become political cannon fodder for a supposed clash between Muslim and Western values. Donald Trump and American conservative media organizations like the Daily Caller have claimed that the existence of Islam, with our society's "political correctness," threatens to impose its (immensely diverse) set of values on Europe and America.

But whenever they take offense from other religions, conservatives have demonstrated that their notion of "religious freedom" and "political correctness" have been built upon rightwing lies and identity politics.

This past week, the Daily Caller's Jacob Bojesson has gone so far as to cite a source that contradicts his Islamophobic point. His August 4th story had a headline which read, "Water Park In France Bans Non-Muslim Outfits," referred to a waterpark in Marseille, France.

This "ban" will only occur on September 10th, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Why? Because the pools' owners had no involvement in the ban -- Smile13, a private organization created to foster friendship among Muslim women, reserved the pool for a private event for its members. It asked its members to wear "burqinis" -- a full-body, open-faced swimming suit -- when attending.

Let's be clear here: a one-day private event, that the public has no interest or ability in attending, paid for by a private religious organization aimed at fostering friendship, whose members can withdraw at any point in time, has been branded as a "ban". The presence of Islam has been taken as an imposition of its beliefs.

The conservative media's vilification of Islam is stretching into the presidential election, with Trump himself saying that he'd consider firing TSA agents wearing hijabs (head covering).

At the same time, Republicans in Florida and other states have employed the ruse of "religious freedom" to vote against protecting LGBTQ populations from workplace discrimination. When questioned, they continue to claim media attacks occur because it is "politically incorrect" to support Christianity.

There is no other way to describe Trump-era conservative principles on religious freedom and "political correctness" as anything other than patently hypocritical.

Today's Republican platform pledge "to defend the religious beliefs" is set to defend Christians' discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim citizens, without tolerating the slightest Muslim fashion faux pas. Truly, just as it is "politically incorrect" to liberals for conservatives to discriminate against minorities, it is politically incorrect to conservatives for liberals to fight for minorities' right to exist.

They've ironically played into ISIS's hands by taking offense at the very sight of a subgroup of Muslims that express themselves through their clothing and portraying Islam as incompatible with the West.

Any hope of resolving the War on Terror and preserving our republic demands that we uphold the values that protect citizens of all colors and creeds.

But Trump-era conservatives are only interested in propping up their religious beliefs without regard for how they impact others' lives. They have no concern for the rights of all citizens. They are not leading an intellectual movement, but rather a movement for their ethno religious politics.

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson would have called their shameless fight today nothing less than a sloppy endeavor for a tyranny of the majority.

Privatizing TSA Places Profits Over Passengers

  |   August 2, 2016    2:05 PM ET

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Cole Delbyck   |   August 2, 2016   12:05 PM ET

Hey, not all of us can afford a Batplane. 

Over the past year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been waging a war against passengers who pack Batman’s bat-shaped boomerangs, or “batarangs,” in their carry-on luggage. 

The most recent infraction occurred just last week in San Francisco, when a passenger attempted to bring three of the fictional throwing weapons through security, just in case Mr. Freeze decides to get cute 30,000 feet in the air. 

“Passengers are not allowed to bring anything on a plane that resembles a weapon,” a TSA spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. “Anything like a boomerang or anything like that would not be permitted in the airplane cabin.”

Luckily, the TSA’s Instagram account (follow, follow, follow) has documented every time someone has tried to sneak the bat-ccessory on board in an increasingly futile attempt to let everybody know that batarangs are a no-go. 

“Batarangs are becoming more and more common and it’s important that you know they’re prohibited in carry-on bags,” a post from January reads. “They can be placed in your checked baggage along with your grapple gun, bat-saw, collapsible bat-sword, and other utility belt items.” 

Take a look at the handiwork of Batman fans below and remember they’re for CHECKED LUGGAGE ONLY, OK? 

Airport Etiquette Lessons, According To Frequent Failures

Kevin Folta   |   July 28, 2016    4:08 PM ET

Airline travel has experienced a renaissance since the industry lull after 9/11. The growing pains of new security measures, the increase in air traffic, and industry consolidation seem to be sorting out after a mere fifteen years. That's my perspective as a flyer so frequent that they invented new rare materials to define my status. I think I'm at moon rock, which means I can ride shotgun if I want to.

Folks complain about the airlines, security, and other aspects of the airport experience. I'll lose readers here when I defend these professionals. These are good people in tough jobs, and while there are some things they could do better, I think the most effective way to improve air adventure is not fixing the airlines, flight attendants or TSA -- it is about fixing the flyer.

Some simple adjustments to each of our behaviors can greatly enhance the experience for all of us. Next time you are flying, think about these points, and how you can make my experience more pleasant.


Pre-demetalification. Would it be a bridge too far to clear our pockets and put away the phone and metal stuff before entering the security line? Do it after you pick up your boarding pass. Enter the line with nothing on your person, other than your ID and your boarding pass.

Liquids. We have been forced to sequester our liquids and gels into a little bag for about 15% of commercial aviation history. Why is it that at least once a month there's a person arguing with a TSA officer about why they need to bring a gallon of Simple Green, a piñata of pudding, or an economy vat of gumbo on a plane? While entertaining, it slows progress.

Penalty Phase. If TSA finds your Ginsu knife, pepper spray or pudding piñata you should have to exit the line, jettison the offending item and then get back in line. You also should have to wear a sticker that says, "No snacks for me" that you have to wear on the plane, forfeiting your bag of eight little pretzels.

On the Plane

Excess Words. Pre-boarding looks a lot like boarding. I'm not sure how I'd destroy a lavatory smoke detector without tampering with or dismantling it. I wonder if people would smoke on a plane if they didn't say we couldn't.

Stow It and Sit Down. There's one avenue into that tube of seats, and there's usually someone standing motionless in the middle of it during boarding. When entering your seat, it is not the time to stand in the aisle unloading a carry-on, looking for headphones or contemplating which book to sit with. Plan ahead. Move in like it is musical chairs and the music just stopped.

Claiming Territory. On airlines without seat assignments, some people insist on spreading their stuff out over several seats to deter others from sitting by them. That's just not right. Instead, put on a surgical mask, or an old-timey hockey goalie mask. You'll get plenty of space all to yourself.

Touch Screen, Not Punch Screen. Remember, the little screen in front of you responds well to the delicate tap of a fingertip. I'm not sure how many times I've felt the relentless pounding of a pointy digit mashing on-screen options, punching into the back of my brain.

A Plane is Not a Bar. The guy in front of me was coming unglued. Why? The flight attendant could not make him a Mai Tai. You are sitting in a chair at 35,000 feet. Don't expect a flight attendant to make you a Frozen Raspberry Margarita, a Buzzed Aldrin or damn Pink Squirrel.

Enjoy Dinner in the Airport. The gentleman next to me spoke a thick dialect I did not recognize. Once we reached cruising altitude he reached under his seat and produced what appeared to be a foil-covered football. He would unwrap it to reveal a whole cooked chicken, still warm and cured with a delightful bouquet of heavy garlic and exotic spices. The stink summoned his many children, who emerged from the seats around, all coalescing around the carcass, ripping off hunks of meat and shoving them into their mouths. The smell was pungent, and greasy little hands were repeatedly wiped clean on the fabric seats. While this band of savages was an extreme example, airport fast-food fare stinks too. The plane has a way of making McDonald's, BBQ, or anything smell just awful. Cinnabon -- delightful with diffusion, a puker upon cabin concentration.

Keep Your Shoes and Socks On. Over the last decade people have been increasingly comfortable to disrobe their feets once they hit the plane seat. The shoes and socks come off, heels rest comfortably on the creepy tweedy carpet, toes are fanned out wide and wiggled, airing off in the stale cabin breezes. More frequently I'm seeing naked dirty-bottomed feet on the cabin walls, seats, trays, and arm rests. Worse, my toenail clippers are usually confiscated at TSA, so I can't offer them to an adjacent traveler so they can snip the cliff off of El Capitan.

Let the Connectors Exit First. When the wheels touch the ground I check my connecting boarding pass only to see that I need to move from Gate D40 to A2 in ten minutes. I'm in seat 25D. If I exit the plane fast I can zip across that concourse, possibly making that connection, getting home, and saving a ton of hassle with unneeded rescheduling, hotels and Ubering.

But when the plane jerks to a stop and the arrival tone sounds, the cabin erupts with the clicking of seatbelt buckles, as the folks that shoved me out of the way to get onto the plane, now freeze in place in a race to stand between me and where I needed to be minutes ago.

So how can they make my experience better? Think about the folks that are in a hurry. If you arrive at your terminal destination, or are about to enjoy a long layover, stay in your seat until everyone else is off the plane. You're just going to stand in the aisle for five minutes, block the progress of those desperate to move, and at best you get to stand by baggage claim and have to stare at the nothing-go-round. Enjoy the comfy seat, stay on the plane, chill out with a Mai Tai. Let the folks that have to be somewhere get somewhere. If you kindly let the connectors exit, maybe everyone gets home to their families.

Precise Flight Attendant Language. Don't tell us "We'll be on the ground shortly." That opens a range of possibilities to the traveler, somewhere between smooth landing and firey disaster.

On the Concourse

Don't be an Airport Zombie. We've all bobbed with frustration behind them. The wall of humanity cruising Concourse C because they visited all of the Hudson News stands on Concourse B, they meander aimlessly in front of you while you are in a hurry to catch that last plane home. "Excuse me" does not resonate -- it fuels them to creep slower from the distraction. And there's a special place in hell for the people that decide that the middle of the concourse is a great place to stand in place, contemplating what condiment to smear on the giant pretzel.

To the Right, Except to Pass. Like any traffic way, if you want to take your time, stick to the far right-hand side of the flow (unless you are in one of those countries). Leave the middle open for motion. If you have to stand still, get to the side, out of the way. When on the stairs, people mover or escalator, get to the right -- the far right. Leave a path on the left in case someone needs to move fast.

Wait for Your Zone. As boarding time approaches, passengers clot access to the gate. Frequent flyers are asked to board first, not because they need more time in a plane, but because they know the drill. Get them in fast and seated. Meanwhile, everyone else with a boarding pass congeals around the gate area, spewing out into the concourse, serving as a barrier to those trying to enter the plane when their zone is called, as well as those moving from gate-to-gate. You have a seat reserved. Chill. As the gate attendant says, "Stay seated until your zone number is called."


In short, making the airline experience better is simple -- Passengers, be mindful of others. Limit the activities that violate the sensibilities or nostrils. Be kind to the gate agents, TSA officers and flight attendants that serve you in the process. Think about the fellow traveler, how they are seconds away from missing a plane to an important meeting, a dear friend's wedding, or they just want to get home to their dog and their own pillow. The air travel experience benefits if we all think about each other, and act with kindness and compassion for others.

Also on HuffPost:

TSA PreCheck: Think E-ZPass For Flying

Roger Dow   |   July 25, 2016    4:40 PM ET

Drivers in Northeast and Midwest states are likely familiar with E-ZPass, the electronic toll-collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges and tunnels. (The concept exists pretty much everywhere--Florida's Sunpass, Illinois' I-PASS, California's FasTrak, etc.) It's a pretty ingenious invention: bearers of an E-ZPass transponder don't need to stop, wait in line, then dig out exact change to pay tolls, saving them time and hassle multiple times per road trip.

It's hard to believe there was ever a time when the E-ZPass program was anything but a seamless part of my daily commute and weekend road trips. I hope and believe that in the very near future, air travelers will feel the same way about TSA PreCheck.

Like any new program, though, PreCheck has some perception challenges to overcome before this can happen. There are reports about travelers hesitating to enroll for a variety of reasons, including cost. Too, my friends who are enrolled in PreCheck hate when I publicly extoll the program, because they're afraid that the more people sign up, the longer those security lines will become.

I, for one, recall feeling all of those things in the occasionally bumpy early days of E-ZPass. But that program's gargantuan success is a glimpse of what the future can be like for TSA PreCheck.

Here are four reasons why.

1. Both process travelers faster.

Because drivers can whip through tollbooths, paying automatically, E-ZPass lanes can handle four times the traffic volume of a cash-only lane. Likewise, TSA PreCheck lanes usually process an impressive 300 passengers per hour and move, on average, twice as fast as the regular security lanes at airports. This is possible because travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck don't need to remove their belts, jackets, shoes, laptops or "3-1-1" liquids at airport security.

2. Everyone benefits from E-ZPass and PreCheck--not just those enrolled.

From the beginning, E-ZPass has had visible benefits for everyone at the toll plaza. More E-ZPass users mean fewer people lining up to pay tolls the old-fashioned way, reducing delays for non-enrolled drivers. This effect is also apparent in airport security lines, especially after a recent surge in TSA PreCheck enrollment. This past Fourth of July weekend, TSA screened 10.7 million travelers, some days processing the highest number of travelers for that date since 2007. Despite this heavy traffic, all flyers waited less than ten minutes on average--and those in PreCheck usually waited less than five.

The recent airport security streamlining measures announced by the Department of Homeland Security, which include initiatives to increase TSA PreCheck enrollment, are starting to work--and all travelers are reaping the benefits.

TSA PreCheck even surpasses E-ZPass in an important respect: it keeps everyone safer. Because TSA PreCheck enrollees are pre-screened against multiple security databases, eliminating them as threats, TSA screeners can focus instead on unknown travelers who warrant more scrutiny. I've often said identifying terrorists is like finding a needle in a haystack, and the easiest way to do that is by "shrinking the haystack."

3. Both save the government (and taxpayers) money.

New Jersey Turnpike officials, who oversee the busiest stretch of road in the Northeast, have stated that cash payments cost the government five to 10 times more to process because of staffing demands. Similarly, by rigorously pre-screening passengers, TSA PreCheck frees up valuable TSA personnel resources to focus on less-known travelers who may pose a potential threat. Taxpayers are already seeing savings from increased enrollment in PreCheck: TSA's chief risk officer testified to Congress last year that expanding PreCheck has saved the TSA $319 million in the past two years.

4. More travelers in E-ZPass means more lanes open--and the same goes for TSA PreCheck.

E-ZPass enrollment has grown exponentially since it first began--and that growth has allowed local governments to create more E-ZPass lanes, which reduce wait times for all drivers, and so on. It's the best kind of domino effect.

Here's where we find the most important similarity between E-ZPass and TSA PreCheck (one that assuages the fears of my aforementioned friends): TSA PreCheck is meant to expand along with its enrollment. The more flyers sign up for PreCheck, the more money that saves TSA to dedicate more lanes and personnel to PreCheck.

To use another metaphor, TSA PreCheck is not like your favorite neighborhood restaurant, where more people mean bigger crowds and longer waits. Like E-ZPass, if travelers continue to grow the program, TSA PreCheck lanes will soon be ubiquitous at airports, outnumbering the "regular" security lines--and the entire airport security experience will be safer and more efficient for everyone.

Christopher Elliott   |   July 10, 2016    4:51 PM ET

Read More: tsa, airport, wait

You know that part of your vacation where you hold your breath and hope for the best? It used to happen just before the plane landed, in that precarious moment between heaven and earth. But lately, it’s been taking place on terra firma, when you arrive at the airport and you’re confronted by a Transportation Security Administration screening.

For good reason. A few months ago, the TSA announced that screening with a full-body scanner would no longer be optional for some passengers, meaning there’s a better chance than ever you’ll be forced through one of the machines. What the agency euphemistically calls a “random and unpredictable” security screening adds an aspect of fear and uncertainty to an already fear-inducing and uncertain process.

And then there are the long lines, which have been blamed on cutbacks related to the TSA’s PreCheck program. The agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems incorrectly predicted that more passengers would sign up for its trusted traveler program, so it cut staffing by 10 percent. The result? Record lines. The TSA says it’s taking steps to reduce the wait times.

The coping mechanisms have evolved in the past few months, so if you’re a frequent air traveler, you probably already know a lot of the following strategies, at least subconsciously. But with the summer travel season about to get underway, you may find yourself face to face with a TSA agent, unsure what to do. Travelers can avoid that fate with a little planning and a few insider strategies.

First, give yourself time. Lots of time. Josh Nathan, a professor at the Art Institute of Colorado, allows himself three hours to get through the TSA screening in Denver. That’s no typographical error. It’s advice he would pass along to anyone who’s thinking of flying this summer. “Plan for three hours, and be delighted if you make it to your airplane,” he says, adding, “If that departs on time, you feel like you won an unpublicized lottery.”

Why so long? Nathan reports that the Denver TSA, once one of the most efficient of the agency’s operations, has randomly closed checkpoints. A few weeks ago, the airport made headlines when TSA wait times exceeded one hour. To calm angry passengers, airport staff reportedly handed out bottled water, parceled out candies and brought in therapy dogs to soothe frayed nerves.

There are shortcuts, but they’ll cost you. Sonita Lontoh, a San Francisco technology executive and frequent flier, recommends paying $100 for a five-year membership in the Global Entry program, which also gives you TSA PreCheck eligibility. And the PreCheck lines, which allow you to get screened without removing the computer from your bag, taking off your shoes or passing through a full-body scanner, are significantly shorter.

“It’s much faster,” she says. For example, on a recent flight from Orlando, the difference between using the TSA PreCheck lane and the regular lane was more than an hour. How does she know? A colleague without PreCheck went through the regular line, and she didn’t see her until shortly before their flight began boarding.

There are other ways to cut the line. In Orlando, for example, you can also use Clear, a private biometric screening system. It costs about $15 a month to belong to Clear, which can be used at a number of airports in cities including San Francisco, Dallas and Baltimore (but not Washington). Neither Clear nor Global Entry are practical solutions for infrequent travelers, though.

What you wear this summer matters, says Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, a travel agent from Venice, Calif., who has advised countless clients on how to handle the TSA. With the agency beefing up security in the wake of various terrorist threats, you don’t want to wear anything that could slow down the process.

“Don’t wear shirts or pants with extraneous pockets, buttons, zippers, or anything with sequined bling on it,” she says. “These items tend to appear suspicious on the scanner, which is programmed to flag anything out of the ordinary.”

Unfortunately, it’s possible to follow all of this advice and still fall afoul of the TSA’s random and unpredictable security. Kimberly Marcus, an educational consultant from Alfred, N.Y., thought she had done everything right when she showed up for her recent flight at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tenn.

But an alarm sounded when she stepped through the scanner, and an agent ordered her to submit to an “enhanced” pat-down.

“An agent felt up my leg until she met resistance,” she says. “Several times. The agent also felt across the front of me with her fingertips. This routine is not at all routine or acceptable to me, and I found what would be sexual assault in other contexts to be very disturbing and upsetting.”

And that’s the problem with the TSA this summer. The expert advice works, but not every time. Which is to say, you can show up three hours early and still miss your plane. Trusted traveler programs don’t always send you to the front of the line, and you could still get a once-over by an agent and a possible delay. You can wear all the right clothes and still set off alarms.

Of course, nothing can prepare you for a prison-style pat-down at the hands of a TSA agent. And nothing can guarantee you’ll avoid it, either. But if you take a few precautions, you can come close. Don’t forget to breathe.

After you’ve left a comment here, let’s continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you’ll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle).

The Illusion Of Security

Robert Koehler   |   July 7, 2016    4:16 PM ET

"Please be gentle."

The story is too easy to believe. At the Memphis airport, a confused, nervous teenager sets off the metal detector -- possibly because she has sequins on her shirt -- and is told she needs to come to a "sterile area." Armed guards show up to escort her. She's terrified.

This happened a year ago. The girl, then 18, is Hannah Cohen. She was flying -- at least that was the idea -- back to Chattanooga with her mother, Shirley Cohen, who had just passed through the checkpoint and was waiting for Hannah when, according to a lawsuit the family recently filed, a TSA horror story began.

One other thing: Hannah had just undergone what was to be her final treatment for a brain tumor at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. She'd been going through this treatment since she was 2 years old. The treatment -- radiation and surgery -- impaired her ability to function: "The brain tumor had left Hannah blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and partially paralyzed," according to The Guardian. When the guards grabbed her arms, the girl pulled away and tried to escape.

"Seeing the scene begin to unfold, Shirley" -- who had a broken foot -- "hobbled to a supervisor standing nearby," the Guardian continues. "'She is a St Jude's patient, and she can get confused,' (Shirley) said. 'Please be gentle. If I could just help her, it will make things easier.'"

Instead, the guards threw Hannah to the ground, smashing her face. Finally, all her mother could do was snap a photo. The girl was taken away -- to jail. Mom and daughter were separated for 24 hours. Hannah finally appeared before a judge. The charges against her were dropped.

A year later, the family filed a lawsuit.

Maybe there's more to the story than this. An airport spokesperson said as much to a local paper. Cause and effect may be more complex than the photo of Hannah's bleeding face that hit the news. But whatever the justification, or lack thereof, for the behavior of the airport security guards, what we have is one more example of Authority -- the nation's security apparatus -- reacting with brute force to a complex social situation. This does not make us safe.

What we have instead is a bureaucratic illusion of safety. James Bovard, in an op-ed column last year in USA Today, called it "security theater" -- a "routine that is far more effective at subjugating Americans than protecting them." He cited, for instance, an NBC story indicating that Transportation Security Administration agents, in June 2015, failed to detect "95 percent of the weapons and bombs smuggled past them by Inspector General testers," seeming to suggest that airport security is almost completely pointless.

I say this not to blame the security personnel. They're doing a difficult job, almost certainly without proper training. And if they're armed, the complexity of their social encounters magnifies exponentially. As I wrote last December, in the wake of a briefly newsworthy police killing:

"In Chicago, a police officer shoots a teenager walking in the middle of the street 16 times, almost as though the gun took control of the officer's consciousness. Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, interviewed recently by Democracy Now, pointed out that, because of budget cuts, only about 20 Chicago police officers have received crisis intervention training.

"My God, budget cuts! In a country that's waging perpetual war and raking in billions from the global sale of weapons. Yeah, the boy had been acting erratically. But real public safety for the city of Chicago would have included safety for Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old killed by police officer Jason Van Dyke.

"I fear we're reversing the evolutionary process. We've surrendered to simplistic, impulsive, fear-based 'safety' and we're reaping the consequences, one broken soul at a time."

We're reaping the consequences, indeed. Security is more than a matter of guns and enemies. As we militarize the illusion of security, more and more we become our own worst enemies.

"We imagine a line between good and evil . . ."

These are the words of Philip Zimbardo, addressing an Association of Psychological Science convention some years ago. He continued: ". . . and we like to believe that it's impermeable. We are good on this side. The bad guys, the bad women, they are on that side, and the bad people never will become good, and the good never will become bad. I'll say today that's nonsense. Because that line is ... permeable."

Zimbardo is the researcher who conducted the famously horrifying Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, in which a group of psychologically healthy male college students were assigned to play the role of prison guards, while another group of college kids were the pseudo-prisoners. Given such power, the guards quickly turned into a collective of sadists. The experiment had to be shut down early. Zimbardo called the phenomenon the Lucifer Effect. Ever since, he's been sounding the warning that ordinary men and women, in a context of too much power (think, for instance, Abu Ghraib), can cross that line and turn into representatives of evil.

And consider, as Bovard pointed out, that an early TSA motto was "Dominate. Intimidate. Control."

This is the context in which I hear, all too clearly, a mom call out, "Please be gentle." And I think about a nation that has no idea how to protect itself.

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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at