Letter from a Passenger: “I Intend to Begin Fucking With Barney Fife TSOs”

J.F. writes:

I’ve been at an airport so often this year that I’ve started playing Spot the Excited Rookie. Recently some airports (EWR and FLL at least) have started requiring that passengers hold on to their boarding passes through the detectors. The most recent flight (out of EWR) involved an apparent rookie who challenged a passenger without a boarding pass, though it was required to get past two other TSA personnel.

Rookie: “Everyone: Hold on to your paper boarding pass as you go through the detector!” (seeing someone without a boarding pass) “You! Where’s your paper boarding pass?!”
Passenger: (confused) “I… I don’t have one.”
Rookie: (accusingly) “Then how did you get back here?!”
Passenger: (still confused) “I have an electronic boarding pass on my phone.” (points at the X-ray machine which has already taken in his effects)
Rookie: (disappointed) “… Fine. Go on.”

I have a cracked screen on my phone, and for that reason this year I’ve been getting paper boarding passes to make easier the lives of the TSA people. Because of Excited Rookie, though, I’m going with electronic boarding passes from now on. I’ve got 21 segments already and probably another 15+ to go before the end of the year. Apologies to the guys that have to decipher it.

Withholding my name would be appreciated, though I am admittedly curious about the various back-room procedures available to supervisors.

—-

Dear J.F.,

One of the rare, cool TSA supervisors I knew used to refer to the Excited Rookie screeners you speak of as the “Barney Fife Types.” I always thought his term was brilliant, and perfectly encapsulated the mentality of those screeners. I knew many, many of the “overly-excited, delusional, power tripping” types. Not all of them are new TSA screeners; some of them have been at TSA for years, and will always just be like that, I’m sorry to say. They likely emerged from the womb in Barney Fife fashion, commanding the doctor in the delivery room to surrender all tools over 7 inches and put his hands up.

The Barney Fife TSA screeners are the ones who honestly believe that every day they hit the checkpoint floor is a day in which at least one Al-Qaeda operative will pass through the airport, either in a dry or live run. They have been told in TSA training videos that there are terrorists everywhere; that there are dozens, if not hundreds of cunning, patient, well-organized sleeper cells spread out across the U.S.,  just waiting to come alive and hit the nation’s aviation system with a vengeance, and they believe it. The Barney Fife TSA screeners go through the day firm in their conviction that the terrorists are always nearby– watching, waiting, and plotting to destroy truth, freedom, apple pie, happiness and puppies. And the means by which the ever-lurking terrorists at the airport will accomplish this is, obviously, by repeating what worked so well for them in the past: either 9/11– this time with the use of some sort of advanced terrorist laser to vaporize the reinforced cockpit door– or with a riff on the Bojinka Plot that the TSA loves to drill into every TSA screener’s head.

(The beauty of the Bojinka Plot for the TSA training department is that it is an actual thing that the TSA can point to that basically covers every movie plot terrorist scenario that the organization needs its screeners to believe in, packaged in one convenient location: are the terrorists going to try to assassinate the Pope? Simultaneously bomb 11 airliners? Hijack and crash a plane into CIA headquarters? The answer is yes, according to the Bojinka Plot featured 37 times in every TSA screener’s recurring training module.)

So basically, J.F., what you are probably seeing with those TSA screeners who leap up and figuratively shout “AHA! Gotcha! Terrorist!” when discovering things such as the fact that you are not holding a boarding pass because it is on the same phone that they just commanded you to run through the x-ray machine, are people who believe that they have just thwarted that day’s terrorist run. In your case, J.F., the plot that the Barney Fife TSA screeners will believe they have thwarted will be some variation of the following:

You are a deadly, brilliant terrorist whose only obstacle to taking down a plane is the fact that your name is on some sort of watch list. U.S. intelligence agencies have collectively fallen asleep at their respective command centers, and accidentally allowed you to walk into a U.S. airport equipped with I.E.D. components, ready to bring the pain. It is now up to  TSA screener Barney Fife to save the United States of America.

Everything has gone according to plan for you, but there is just one problem: the fact that your ticket will come up with an enhanced screening mark on it, due to that watch list you’re on. Though you were cunning enough to have avoided being captured by police and intelligence agencies up until now, and to have discovered a surefire way to slip everything you need to destroy an airplane past the TSA’s regular security, you could never figure out one thing: how to defeat the formidable TSA enhanced screening that will arise on account of the four “S”s that will appear on your boarding pass. There is simply no getting around this fatally daunting aspect of security for you, and so you’ve decided there is no choice: you are going to have to ninja your way on-board the plane without any sort of boarding pass, Allah willing– past the airline people who are checking for boarding passes, past the TSA Travel Document Checker with his light and loupe,  past the ever-vigilant Officer Fife, and, finally, past the airline employee who scans everyone’s ticket before allowing them to board. Your meticulously-wrought plan will bring you eternal glory in heaven, if only you can overcome the problem of getting your surgically-implanted terrorist laser and body cavity-stashed bomb past security without the benefit of a boarding pass

That, J.F., is more or less what’s playing out in the minds of those Officer Fifes as they freak out and accusingly question you as to why you are standing in front of them sans a boarding pass, and then look sort of disappointed when there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. It is what’s either going through their minds, or through the minds of the managers or other TSA higher-ups who have made holding your boarding pass in your hand as you go through the scanners or walk-thru metal detectors a big ass deal, thereby traumatizing the screeners on the floor into reacting that way.

Either way, I think it’s funny that you’ve decided to fuck with them.

-NJR

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