Passenger Flashback: Airport Security in 1992.

As one reader pointed out about a month ago: uniformly criticizing the TSA is “like poking a neurologically-disabled bear with a sharp stick.”

Although I do have plenty of unflattering things to say about the TSA, with a former employee’s insight, I will occasionally give credit where credit is due to the TSA, and in the case of this passenger letter, we are being fair to the TSA when we admit this:

Airport security was oftentimes idiotic well before you even came into the picture, TSA.

So now I’ll hand it over to David D., who wrote in to take us back to a simpler time– 1992– when airport security could be dumb without making any headlines…

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This isn’t a modern story. I want to harken back to a simpler time of big hair and big glasses… 1992. Why is this story worth telling? Just to point out the nonsense is not new, nor unique to the modern TSA. We’re not going to get sanity by reorganizing or changing the letters again.

One evening I went to pick up my Dad from Palm Beach International Airport (International = you can fly to Nassau) and I went through security to meet him. You could do that in those days. I dropped my cellphone, pager, and keys in the tray and walked through the metal detector with my wallet, watch, and belt. No problem. I knew they were below the threshold because I traveled out of there all the time. When I got to the gate I found out the flight was delayed. Eventually it got delayed about 4.5 hours but in 30 minute increments. And this was before the Internet and flight texts so I had to stick around. On my second or third trip back through security the white-haired officer said, “Still here, eh?” I explained about the flight, that I was thoroughly bored, and that everything was now closed. He laughed and commiserated with me and we stood there chatting for a few minutes. There were no more flights leaving that night and it was quiet.

More like desolate.

I went back out again in the hopes of finding something to eat (I didn’t) and when I came back to security this time there was a new crew at the checkpoint, and I forgot to take off my pager. When you wear something all the time it’s easy to forget it, bulky though it is. I said sorry, popped it off, and tossed it in the tray. Then stepped back through. I set the detector off again. Meaning the new crew had changed the calibration. I was of course made to take off my belt, watch, etc. and still set it off. They patted me down. I’m sure I looked irritated but I tried to be polite.

Then guy looked at the tray. “Why do you have a phone and a pager?”

“It’s expensive to use,” I said. “I have people page me and I call them back, preferably from a different phone.” I’d had that question from so many people I answered it automatically. Also the battery sucked. You had to leave it turned off when you weren’t using it. Remember, this is 1992.

Then it got good: “Phones aren’t allowed in the concourse.”

“What?”

“Phones aren’t allowed. Against the law.” I love it when people invoke The Law.

“I travel with this all the time,” I lied, “and it’s never been an issue.”

“Can’t bring it in.”

“Ok,” I said. “Well I’m just here meeting someone so I’ll just go wait for him at baggage claim.”

I could see him thinking about this one. His partner looked disinterested. He tried to threaten me into not leaving. I wish I could say that I made an impassioned plea for my rights. I don’t honestly recall what I said but I was bored and cranky. And I had nothing to lose short of getting arrested, which seemed unlikely So I argued. I was a pain in the ass. There was no one at all in line. I was it. The airport was closed except for my Dad’s flight coming in so he really had nothing better to do either.

Eventually the guy said, “Ok you can go.” I grabbed my stuff and started to leave. He said,

“No, you can go in.” I was dumbfounded. I said thanks, took my stuff and went to the gate.

Why did he change his mind? Maybe he planned to confiscate then steal the phone and didn’t want me to complain. (It wasn’t actually worth much, but maybe he thought it was.) Maybe he was a decent guy who realized he was wrong, but then why did he make such a stupid claim in the first place? Probably – I realized much later – he wasn’t supposed to work that night but got called in because my Dad’s flight was delayed. So maybe he was just plain pissed off and took it out on me. I’ll never know.

But the best part? They never x-rayed the phone or the pager. The first crew did so diligently even while joking with me.

Remember, this was 1992. The phone was the size of a brick and weighed more than a pound. Could have hidden a fucking bomb in that thing.

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