Letters from Passengers and Screeners

Our first two letters have to do with Confession #7, The Most Awkward Moment for a TSA Screener, which concerned many TSA screeners’ bad habit of inquiring about passengers’ gender prior to being body scanned. A TSA screener who wishes to be called “T.J.” wrote: 

Hi. I am a TSO. I just read your article about TSOs asking passengers’ gender.

Whenever I have a doubt about the passenger’s gender (and it is only when I am pushing the button on the AIT*), I simply pause and ask the passenger how they are doing tonight. Every time their voice has given me the answer. I then know what button to push.

Another work around instead of the ID checking.

*because the rest of the time it is none of my business.

Thanks T.J., for another more subtle method of gender-investigation that TSA headquarters could officially provide  its workforce as an alternative to TSA screeners asking people if they have penises or vaginas.

Our next letter comes from a pre-op transwoman. N.I.P writes:

What is the least mutually embarrassing / awkward / humiliating way
for a (reasonably attractive, young, and passing) pre-op transwoman to
make her way through the TSA checkpoint?…

Would there *actually* be any reasonable opportunity for me to object to Bubba feeling me up without causing further unnecessary delay?

-Nobody in Particular

Dear NIP,

I would say your best bet would be to preemptively and quietly inform the full body scanner operators that you would prefer a female, *in the event* of a pat-down: get everybody on-board right off the bat, so that you don’t have a TSA screener asking whether or not you have a penis or a vagina. 

As for the least mutually embarrassing/awkward/humiliating way  for anyone to make their way through a TSA checkpoint, the answer is: I have absolutely no idea. I spent 6 years trying to figure that out.

This next letter comes from anonymous:

Would you be interested in reading my FOIA request to the DHS? It was to find out how many TSA screeners don’t have a diploma or GED.

Dear anon,

I would have loved to read that FOIA request, but you never got back to me. Personally, and to be fair, nearly every TSA screener I ever worked with did, in fact, have at least a high school diploma or a GED. One of the few GED-holders that I knew did very little to set herself apart from the stereotypes of GED-holders. For instance, back when we used to give passengers enhanced screening based on their nationality (as compared against a list of 12 selectee countries), I once saw this GED-TSO order additional screening for a man due to the fact that he had a passport from Kazakhstan, founded upon her conviction that Kazakhstan was the capital of Afghanistan; Afghanistan itself being a place which, according to her, was located in Africa.

That’s probably just one example of why the TSA realized the selectee list was a bad idea.

Up next is Mark:

About a year and a half ago, I was flying out of National here in DC.

I get to the lines, and there were five of them, which at the end came down to three TSA people to check ID. When I got to the front, the TSA woman seemed older and reasonable, and so I asked her about it. Her response was that I was lucky; most of the time, it was six lines filtering to three people. When I asked her why they didn’t have more people, she told me she’d tried that, and they wouldn’t pay attention to her, and maybe I could ask my Congressman…

When I’ve run something at a convention, or been in charge anything, if I didn’t have enough people, I was on the front line doing what needed to be done. But, of course, I suppose the TSA managers are too important to get on the damn line and check IDs with their front line…

Dear Mark,

While some TSA managers are cool, and are willing to get on the floor and help, the majority, as far as I ever saw/heard of, are people who are far too pleased with themselves for having landed a federal job that allows them to put on a suit every day and walk around issuing commands about things such as bubble gum-chewing.  Many of them do, in fact, believe that they are too important and play too-integral a role as managers in America’s fastest rising despised agency.

Our final letter for today comes from Rachel, who really knows how to make a blogger smile in the very first sentence of a letter:

I LOVE your blog almost as much as I love giving TSA a hard time when I fly.  Which is what my question is about:  when TSA approaches me in line to ostensibly dazzle me with their Israeli Behavioral Training skills by engaging in friendly banter, will my refusal to participate in said banter harm me in anyway?  Obviously appearances matter, so you should know I’m an average-looking middle class, white woman.

Whenever random old white men try to make eye contact with me and ask me stupid questions I don’t want to answer, I overtly and blatantly ignore them by turning my back on them until they go away.  I know I’m supposed to act differently because I’m in an airport and these are Highly Trained Professionals Capable of Spotting Terrorists, but I’m not quite willing to capitulate.  Strange men dressing up in fake cop uniforms are not entitled to my attention.

They are just doing their jobs and I don’t want to be an overt jerk to them.  But I also don’t see a reason to robotically recite lines on a security theater role forced onto me.

Thanks for your blog!


Dear Rachel,

No worries: having known many BDOs in my time at TSA, I can assure you that, somewhere inside,  most BDOs (Behavior Detection Officers) expect passengers to ignore them until they go away. Their greatest fear is that passengers will write congresspeople until they go away.

Send all letters to takingsenseaway@gmail.com. I can basically find Kazakhstan on a map.

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