As a TSA screener, the second most daunting situation (right behind foot odor) that one faces on a day-to-day basis, is, of course, not the existential threat of terrorism.
It is the moment in which a cat owner begins attempting to pull his or her cat out of its carrier.
Cats, as we all know, are proud, stubborn little things. They do not like being bossed around. In this way, cats are probably the biggest, baddest, most patriotic Anti-TSA Americans on the planet (all cats are American when they hit a TSA checkpoint. Even French cats are like, “Merde! Zees is bullsheet! Why do I have to come out of zees carrier! Why you are patting me down!? Do not touch me I scratch you! Fuck zees I run away now and abort my screening!”
As a screener, I saw several harrowing instances of a cat escaping its owner and breaking loose in the terminal, causing a near all-out breach and terminal dump. Not to mention the everyday close call near-cat escape. You can see the terror in their little kitty eyes as they are ripped from their carriers to be carried through the walk-thru, per TSA policy.
To this end, someone recently emailed me pointing me to a petition on Change.org, started by Karen Pascoe of San Jose, California, who had one cat die horrifically at JFK airport, and another lost during a TSA screening.
The petition calls, quite simply, for TSA to institute better policy, training, and procedures in regard to the above mentioned moment when a TSA screener forces a cat owner to pull kitty out of its carrier, as well as in the event that the cat escapes.
Now I don’t know about the rest of you screeners out there, but at the airports I worked, the standard M.O. was to tell a cat-carrying passenger that “the cat has to come out of the carrier!” and work from there. Then, if the cat owner expressed a clear and mortal fear that the removal of said cat would most certainly result in the cat never being seen again, only then, would a supervisor or lead be called over, resulting in the passenger being offered a private screening, where the cat could be removed from the carrier in the relative safety of an enclosed room.
What I think could definitely be changed in TSA procedure when it comes to advising a pet-carrying passenger of his or her options, is an emphasis on the fact that the pet and the owner can be taken to a private screening room without the necessity of removing the pet and attempting to carry it through the walk-thru metal detector, as two sets of fully extended claws are digging into the passenger’s neck.
The passenger will always, at every airport, consistently, be advised that they can either take the cat out of the carrier right there, or in a private screening room. The cat will be given the choice to opt out of being removed from its carrier and taken through the metal detector.
Hey, it’s one small thing you can consistently do for the cat-carrying, taxpaying public, TSA, since it’s not like you’re really going to be saving them from terrorism. I know you definitely don’t have your screeners memorizing and reciting pet screening verbiage in your theatrical annual practical examinations. So why not?
So far, the petition, addressed to TSA chief John Pistole, has nearly 115,000 signatures. (Although it is addressed to the Transportation “Safety” Administration, so Karen, you may want to edit that.) Please circulate this petition, in memory of Karen’s cat, and in order to force the TSA to make one small change in its SOP, which would require all cats to be directly provided the option for a private screening.
Yes. We demand that TSA screeners address the option for a private screening directly to the cats’ faces. Cats need to be lulled into feeling terror-free too, TSA.