Ridiculous Security Theater Courtesy of the TSA

In my Hawai’i trip report earlier this week, I mentioned a terrible experience with the TSA on our return from Maui, and I said I’d write it up later. Here’s what happened.

First I should say that this isn’t me complaining about being felt up or going through body scanners. The real problem here is that the TSA decided to do something just for the sake of pretending it was providing a secure travel environment. It was “security theater” at its worst, because it didn’t even provide a sense of security. It was a ridiculous waste.

My dad dropped us all off at the curb so we could check in and then he would return the rental car. We checked in quickly and went over to security. At the main security checkpoint at Kahului, the lines weren’t long, but a line-minder saw our stroller and said we had to go into the security line further down. This line was for all of the people who were going to take awhile to get through – strollers, wheelchairs, etc. With only one line open in this area, it moved like molasses even though there were so few people in the line.

We had a bottle of factory-sealed formula (at right) for the flight so we could our son on the way home. As on the way out, we had to give them the formula and they put it in some magic box to test it. I’m not quite sure what the black box does, but there’s some kind of sensor or something that they put on the bottom of the bottle. This wasn’t an issue on the way out, but coming back in Kahului, they were clearly having problems.

My wife took our son through the metal detector and I got all of our belongings through the x-ray machine. Once on the other side, my wife had put him back in his stroller and we started gathering our stuff. Soon enough, we were completely put back together but we had to wait because they still hadn’t given us the formula back.

The TSA agent who was operating the black box came over to talk to whom I assume was his supervisor about something, and she went over to the box. For whatever reason, they couldn’t get this thing to work. She came over to me since I was the one still waiting for the bottle while my wife stood a bit further down with the baby and the bags, and she told me they couldn’t test the formula this way. Thinking they were going to tell me we couldn’t take it with us, I was about ready to explode. We had to our child.

Instead, however, I was told we had two options. The first was to open the bottle so they could test it. I wouldn’t even let her finish her statement because that’s a non-starter. You can’t open a bottle of formula and then close it back up. In general, it has to be consumed within an hour after opening, especially since we couldn’t refrigerate it.

That brought us to option two: a full body and bag search. This made very little sense to me since this was a factory-sealed bottle of formula, and I couldn’t quite figure out what a full body and bag search would turn up. But maybe they figured if I was going to use a bottle of formula to blow up an airplane, I would have other bits and pieces hidden on me. Right.

So they looked at me and my wife and asked whose formula it was. Um, it’s the baby’s. But that wasn’t the answer they wanted, so I just said it was mine. They told me to grab my bags and come with them to the side. Wait, I had to grab all our bags? “No, just the ones that are yours.”

Was this a stupid joke? I could have picked any bag out of our carry-ons and said it was mine and they wouldn’t have had a clue. If I had a bunch of bomb-making material, I could have just left it in one bag and picked up the diaper bag, or my wife’s bag. And let’s not forget that they’re letting my wife just walk away without being checked herself. If I were trying to smuggle something on my body, we could have just said it was her formula and then I would have walked straight through while she got frisked.

I thought about raising hell, mostly because I figured I could then have a couple extra days on Maui… but I didn’t think jail was a good way to spend time in the islands. They groped me and swabbed everything looking for clues of my assumed terrorist plot. Then they roughly emptied my entire bag, searched everything, and shoved it all back in without regard to how it was originally packed. Of course, nothing was found.

As we wrapped up, I received a call from my parents. Where were we? My dad had already been back from the rental car place (you need to take a shuttle back to the airport), they had gone through security, and they were sitting at the gate. Nice.

Again, it’s not the searching and groping that bugged (though of course, it is annoying). It’s the fact that this was in no way keeping anyone safe. If I were trying to blow something up, it would be so absurdly easy to just get around their little song and dance. It seemed like they felt like they had to just do something… anything. Too bad it was completely worthless.

What a giant waste of time, money, and effort.

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