Here's my recent incident exchange with the TSA

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Mark D., Jan 20, 2013.

  1. Mark D.

    Mark D. Member

    Dear TSA: I got a form response from you today which did not address the false positive explosives alert at this airport which resulted in a humiliating, frightening, and highly public experience for my daughter at the hands of staff who treated her like a criminal - guilty until proven innocent - when there was obviously another explanation - glycerin based hand cream. My original complaint is attached below, followed by the form response.

    MY ORIGINAL COMPLAINT: "My daughter was subjected to a real ordeal today by TSA employees when her person and several items in her carry-on luggage reportedly set off an "explosives alarm" (4 "alarms"- their term - in all, I was told by the employee, who called me over to watch her stuff while she was subjected to a thorough, repetitious pat down by female TSA staffers). The entire line came to a standstill while this happened. TSA staff did not appear to be in a problem-solving frame of mind even when it was obvious, after looking at every single item in my daughter's purse and on her person, that there were no explosives present. The "alarms" were related to my daughter's hands (here's a clue), clothing, and her cloth computer sleeve. I told the TSA gentleman that we had been in the Midwest visiting relatives for three days and she was never out of direct contact with family members. After she was reluctantly cleared to go, we looked at the ingredients in the hand cream she was using religiously in the dry air of the wintry Midwest, and sure enough, it was a glycerin-based product. A quick look online will provide ample indication that this is a frequent cause of false positive explosive alerts for TSA screenings. Live and learn, I suppose.
    It is important to emphasize, I think, that such alerts - a better term than "alarms" - do NOT mean that explosives are PRESENT. Travelers are not guilty until proven innocent, and should not be treated as such, as she was. I am asking for staff to receive sufficient training so that they can distinguish, at some point, a false positive explosives alert caused by hand cream, WITHOUT treating a young woman like a potentially dangerous criminal for nearly 30 minutes in full view and hearing of dozens of other air travelers in a small city airport.
    I know this is not an unusual occurrence. What was unusual was this staff's extended drama over this incident, and the humiliation my daughter and I were subjected to because of it. As a retired State Government Administrator, I was shocked by the lack of consideration and privacy accorded my daughter, and the failure of staff to look for a reasonable explanation for a test result which is documented to have such common, and easily explained false positives.
    Thanks for your assistance in this matter."

    YOUR RESPONSE: Thank you for your e-mail in which you inquire about the reasons for secondary screening. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) seeks to provide a high level of security and customer service to all travelers who pass through our screening checkpoints. Every passenger and their property must be screened before entering the secured area, and the way the screening is conducted is important. Our policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy. TSA applies a variety of security measures in screening passengers and their property prior to boarding a flight. In some instances, this includes enhanced screening of passengers and their carry-on baggage, which may be triggered by a number of factors to include watch list processing, random selection, or alarm resolution. For example, TSA may apply additional screening methods, such as a patdown on a passenger, to resolve an alarm of the Walk-Through Metal Detector (WTMD) or resolve an anomaly discovered during Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) screening. Additionally, a physical search of a passenger’s property could also be performed.
    TSA also selects passengers and their property at random for enhanced security screening. This random element prevents terrorists from attempting to defeat the security system by learning how it operates. Leaving out any one group, such as senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and children, would remove the random element from the system and undermine security. We simply cannot assume that all terrorists will fit a particular profile.
    We understand the inconvenience passengers may have experienced. Nevertheless, we believe these security measures are necessary and appropriate for ensuring the security and confidence of all air travelers. TSA continues to develop and deploy new technologies to address the explosives threat. In the meantime, the use of additional screening enhances our ability to detect explosives at our Nation’s airport checkpoints, provides an additional layer of security at the checkpoint, and keeps the traveling public safe. We hope this information is helpful. TSA Contact Center"

    This canned response did not address my specific complaint about false positive explosives alerts, and the failure of the TSA staff to resolve this issue without publicly humiliating my child. This is, I believe, a training and an attitude issue that needs attention. The hand cream in my daughter's carry-on luggage was clearly labeled as glycerin-based. I would like a response which at LEAST indicates that my complaint was read, and that its contents were understood by someone at TSA.
    Mark D.
  2. Welcome to TUG, Mark D! I'm sorry you're here for such troubling circumstances. It's a story we've heard many times. How old is your daughter, if you don't mind my asking?
  3. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Welcome Mark. Sadly you are unlikely to get anything out of TSA. They don't care about you are your daughter.
  4. Mark D.

    Mark D. Member

    My daughter is 29. I got through security first (a little airport, two planes boarding at the same time at opposite ends of the building is the capacity) and turned to find my daughter sitting in a glass enclosed penalty box looking stricken while three or four TSA staff milled around talking loudly, rooting around in her carry-on. My daughter finally asked one of the TSA people (a guy) to go over and explain to me what was going on - he came over to me looking very flustered and said "your daughter and her belongings set off the alarm FOUR times!" I asked him what alarm? He said "the explosives alarm!" Well, these were all things she'd touched with her lotioned hands, as anyone with any common sense would have quickly figured out. The fact that they have a complaint system set up and then obviously send you a form letter that shows no indication of having considered your individual issue makes me almost as mad as the stupidity of these original staff. We would never have gotten away with this in my area of state government - nor would we have wanted to or tried to. Particularly in the current climate, this kind of arrogance by federal agencies has got to STOP.
    KrazyKat and phoebepontiac like this.
  5. RB

    RB Founding Member

    TSA is dysfunctional. I sent in a suggestion this past week regarding Pre Check. It was a serious suggestion worded politely. The response I got was a thanks for interest in becoming a TSA vendor. I can assure you I didn't ask about being a vendor for TSA or anyone else.

    TSA is nothing but a jobs program for those people who are not incompetent enough to operate a Fry-O-Later.

    I've had my own issues with TSA and never got a response that addressed the problems.
    KrazyKat likes this.
  6. DeafBlonde

    DeafBlonde Original Member

    Bolding mine: Obviously, based on your experience and that of RB, reading comprehension is not one of TSA's (Terroristic Sexual Assailant's) strong suits. The only things they are good at is mucking up the air traveller's experience at the [in]security checkpoints and stealing air traveller's possessions. Certainly they are not good at finding real WEI (weapons/explosives/incendiaries), only at identifying false threats.

    BTW: Welcome to TUG! I am sorry that your daughter had to endure their stupidity. I am sorry that anyone has to endure it!
    KrazyKat likes this.
  7. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    My suggestion, Mark, would be to write to two places:

    A. Every local, state and federal-level elected official you have, and
    B. The press. We've read plenty of stories about how TSA screws around with the ability of innocent passengers to go where they please, but we haven't read quite as many published accounts of clear ignorance of correspondent concerns like yours. News outlets love this stuff - you have clear proof that TSA ignored the content of your complaint and it'd be child's play to rake the agency over the coals. Last I heard, ABC news was in a bit of a groove of exposing TSA malfeasance. Might try them first.
    KrazyKat and Doober like this.

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