Letter from a Passenger: Brandee Always Gets Picked for Random Screening.


Brandee writes:

Ever since I was a teenager I have experienced bag searches, additional screenings, pat downs – the whole nine yards – every single time I fly. I am an American but had residency in England while living there. I have traveled with my family, alone, with friends and with my husband. Years ago I used travel agents, then the internet to book flights, only paid cash once, I have booked months in advance, I have booked last minute, I have traveled with Red Cross letters because of a death in the family and twice in a wheelchair because of surgery. I’m nothing special to look at – a little on the short side, average looks, blond or brown hair. Basically I have experienced just about every combination of travel events possible – yet every single time I get extra screenings….is there some bizarre combination of criteria that I am inadvertently hitting because honestly – I remain perplexed – and it’s become a family joke!



Dear Brandee,

One of the most common things a TSO hears from passengers is “I always get picked for random screening!” Sometimes this is said with bemusement, as is probably your case, and sometimes it is said with indignation. People who are angry about being randomly screened on a consistent basis usually follow up their exclamation with “So how random can this possibly be?” as in, “I always get picked for random screening! So how random can this possibly be?”

As a TSO, I used to point out things that the TSA training department never saw fit to include in their Engage! training, such as, for instance, the fact that even if a passenger were “randomly” screened every time they flew, it would not necessarily indicate that the events were not “random,” as defined within TSA’s parameters; that such a belief, as it is often articulated by passengers, can sometimes be ascribed to a form of the gambler’s fallacy — just because a passenger has been pulled for 2 random screenings does not make him or her “due” to not be randomly screened the third time around. (The TSA training department probably does not bother trying to rhetorically-enable its floor-level employees because A. the word “fallacy” in itself would confuse half the workforce and B. introducing the concept of logic to its workforce could possibly open up a can of worms: it would not exactly be blue-uniformed Socrates and frequent-flyer Glaucon out there on the checkpoints.)

However, with all that being said, Brandee, you are probably being “randomly screened” because you are, in TSA terminology, hot.

You seem intelligent, and you describe yourself as having “average looks.” Most intelligent people who describe themselves as average are actually above average. Even if they really are only average, their modesty puts them above average, on account of the Personality Point Attractiveness-Level Variance, as we all know. Ergo, I believe the case to be that you are an attractive female, and therefore of higher national security interest to TSA agents on the checkpoint.

The TSA’s system of claiming everything to be random is actually brilliant in its evasive, dopey TSA way. By claiming that everything they do is random, they are able to hide behind the mask of randomness whenever explaining a questionable happening.

On the micro level, this translates to TSA employees who are able to pull carry-on luggage for a “random bag search, above and beyond the SOP per random risk-based layering,” in order to ask your name, where you’re flying, what you’re doing later that night, and to look down your shirt as you bend over to put your shoes back on.

In a recent study comprised of aggregate Twitter data, one of the most common complaints voiced on Twitter involving the TSA came from attractive women who felt as though they were being systematically targeted for additional screening. I can assure you, Brandee and the public, that their concerns are valid.

So, what can you do about it, Brandee and other attractive female passengers out there? Here are a few tips for mitigating your additional TSA screening, ladies.


In defense of the TSA, screeners do leave the training classroom with the words “articulable belief” programmed into their heads—I know I sure as hell did— and passengers can use this to their advantage.

“Articulable belief” within the TSA is government-speak for “please avoid getting us into a lawsuit, for the love of the ACLU, by having an excuse ready in case you’re accused of profiling, guys.” If you are an attractive female passenger, and you have been pulled for a questionable random screening, the first thing you can do in terms of TSA-speak is ask, “Is this screening based on an articulable belief?” Although there is only a fifty percent chance that the TSA agent will be able to pronounce “articulable,” or to articulate what an “articulable belief” is, it will trigger memories of job training in the agent, and jar him or her back to a point that was temporally closer to unemployment.


Bringing up a significant other is a good old-fashioned way to throw cold water on a preying TSA agent, but bringing up a police officer significant other who is nearby is an even better way. When you’re being pulled for your 5th random screening in as many flights, try saying to the TSA agent: “Hey, I really appreciate the randomness you guys do. My husband is sort of in this line of business, too, only he’s an actual police officer doing a lot less randomness. Speaking of that…where did he go? He was right in front of me in line. Oh, there he is, over there.”


TSA employees are instinctively fearful of the media at this point: scent of the media will make a TSA agent rear up like a horse having its path crossed by a rattlesnake. So if you have been pulled for additional screening, and feel as though you are being harassed, try to slip in an affiliation with the media in some way. E.G. “Excuse me, sir, how long do you think this random screening will take? Because I really have to make this flight so as not to miss this undercover investigators’ convention that I’m going to on behalf of ABC News.” Ostentatiously adjusting something on your clothing that could pass for a hidden camera will earn you extra anti random-screening points.

All of this may shorten the length of your random screenings,  ladies.

Hope this helps,



Send all questions to takingsenseaway@gmail.com

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