Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pilot refuses scan, yada, yada, yada

Unidentified airline pilot after TSA screening
at Miami International Airport
Ok, I got Michael Roberts story in my inbox too. Yep, that Michael, the ExpressJet pilot who pulled a Howard Beale at Memphis International Airport earlier this week - stamping his dress shoed feet (oh wait, perhaps he was in stocking feet) at TSA officers because he was fed up, that's right, fed up and not going to take it any more.



And what did the Transportation Security Administration officers in Memphis do to the put-upon Michael Roberts? Well after he refused to go through the full body scan en route to catching his flight to Houston, where he was scheduled to fly the line for ExpressJet, he also refused the obligatory pat down. Here's an excerpt of his story from the email sent to me on October 18th.


"I asked for clarification to be sure he was talking about frisking me, which he confirmed, and I declined. At this point he and another agent explained the TSA’s latest decree, saying I would not be permitted to pass without showing them my naked body, and how my refusal to do so had now given them cause to put their hands on me as I evidently posed a threat to air transportation security." 


Yeah, yeah, yeah, Michael we can all engage the TSA agents in philosophical questions about the best way to accomplish national security. We can argue and try to one-up the folks who's job consists, hour-by-hour, day-by-day of trying to keep airplanes out of the hands of bad guys for ungrateful air travelers by following orders that seem illogical at best and counter-productive at worst. But guess what? They're not the problem. They're not the decision makers. 


Sorry, it feels like I'm stating the obvious, but you dear readers didn't have to read the 1700 word screed from Roberts. I did. And its clear to me that he doesn't understand that. 


Michael, listen to me, the folks who made the policy are not the guys and gals wearing the crisp blue uniforms,  not the ones who are asking you to take off your shoes, your jacket, and put your watch, keys and cell phone in the plastic bowl. That's right, you've confused the decision makers with the people they've employed to carry out the decisions. And those folks, the aforementioned hourly wage earners get little respect and lots of fish eye, when people like you suggest they're trying to cop a feel or catch an eyeful of your polarized torso when trust me, relax and enjoying any part of your anatomy is the last thing on their minds. 


Get over it. You are picking on the wrong guys


I've been busy writing my own 1,500 article for a European aviation magazine, (so I'm still flummoxed at how quickly Roberts put his 1,700 word email together, but I digress) And having just emerged from the myopia of that assignment a quick Google check shows that our man Roberts is the new darling of the right. Can Kate Hanni be far behind?  


In his Salon column Ask The Pilot, my friend and aviation writer Patrick Smith takes up the case of his fellow pilot Michael Roberts. In his always entertaining way he recounts his own run-ins with airport security. Here's the difference, though, Patrick gets it...


"...as a front-line worker at the airport he had little say in actual policy or how to enforce it. That's fair enough, though it did not excuse his colleague's rudeness and hair-trigger temper."


As the mother of four I know something about  hair-trigger tempers, so let me provide illumination. The TSA employees' day does not begin with your polite dissent, nor will it end there. The TSA checkpoint is like Disney's never ending river. Only this river ebbs with disgruntled people who take their frustrations at being  stripped of their hand lotions and beverages, and  treated like terrorists, or idiots or both, on the poor TSA officers.


You got a problem with that? Try this, smile and thank the grunts working to feed their families and carry out national policy and put your rage on hold.  Then when you pick up your laptop on the other side of the check point, plug those 1,700 words into a letter to someone who's opinion on the matter counts and let the TSA agents carry on with the  river flowing up behind you.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are right that they don't make the "big" decisions but they still make some every day. It is hard to understand why a pilot has to take off his belt or his shoes or why sometimes almost every inch off his body gets touched at some airports. As someone who can look behind the scenes you know that all these checks are mostly mumbo-jumbo for the unknowing public and that a "pro" knows where the weaks spots are and how to deal with them, if you are determined. It is always in the hands of the TSA Agent himself how strict he interprets his job and how he reacts to the frustrated people he has to deal with obviously pretty often. This shouldn't be an excuse for the ones who can't control themselves and let it out at the Agents but still the TSA Agent has a good share in how the situation develops. If he or she can't do the job he or she should do something else, because in a lot of other jobs people have to deal with frustrated clients on a daily basis as well, like stewardesses who can't afford to treat clients they way some Agents do. To let the clients feel that they "sit at the longer lever" is definetly not what I expect of a "service professional" and is not helpful in any way.

Last time after it took me 3:40 hours to pass the TSA to enter the country in Washington Dulles (as a normal passenger though). I can tell you that I was at the brink of turning back and fly home to Europe again! People there seem to work in slow motion and that is something that is in their hands as well. What stays, is the renewed feeling, that I prefer to minimize my flights to the States because it is just too annoying. I prefer to spent my money where I feel welcome.

Unknown said...

On second thought, I did gloss over the responsibility of the TSA agent to be civil. Though, on third thought, I think that civility is a two-way street, if they got more of it, they might give more back.

One other point of clarification, Our Michael Roberts did not go off the rails at Memphis. From his email to me (and today I'll post it in its entirety on my blog, why shouldn't everybody have a chance to read it?) he did not raise his voice, he raised the issues.

But its pointless and likely frustrating for the agents, to have to debate security policy philosophy because its not just Michael, its every Tom, Dick and Harry. I'm guessing that gets old pretty quick.

GSOLTSO said...

Thank you for the excellent article! It is nice to see someone display understanding for the folks that are on the front end of TSA. Many days it is a thankless grind, but I have found that even the most hectic and brutal days have nice points in it. Every day I get to see family members leave each other going off to do lifes errands, hugging and holding hands and giving babies a final smooch before heading to the gate - those are the endearing and sometimes sad moments that happen everyday. I also get to see familes and friends come back togther at the end of these errands, husbands and wives, kids and parents, grands getting to see their newest additions for the first time, military members coming home to sweethearts and parents, these are but a few of the truly wonderful things I see daily. Thank you for pointing out that the frontline TSOs do not make policy, however I have a small disagreement with you. Every TSO should be professional and courteous to every single passenger that comes into our airports, there should be no exception. I understand that we have bad days (everyone does!!!), but those are days you are simply have to maintain your bearing. Passengers should not have to ask for respectable treatment, it should simply be given, and if there is a conflict over something (say an item, something against the rules, etc) the TSO should remain professional, losing your temper does nothing to resolve the situation and only escalates it. Againk, thank you for you kind words and visit us at the TSA blog sometime!

http://blog.tsa.gov/

Airline Pilots said...

Part One:

Hello Christine,

The airline pilots at airlinenightmare.com back with you regarding this situation. We've put up Mr. Roberts "manifesto" on our website. It's never good to be a martyr in the airline industry, you never win and you end up working as a fry cook at a local fast food joint.

As you know, we as insiders take a satirical view (some call us the Bill Mahre, Howard Stern approach, which we're not sure if that's a complement or not) on the insanity of the airline industry. Would we have done what Mr. Roberts did, probably not.... most likely a career killer. Going through TSA thousands and thousands of times, have there been times that we have felt like Mr. Roberts..... you bet, thousands of times.

Going through TSA here in the United States is like Ground Hog Day and Chinese Torture. It becomes Kabuki Theater, just going though the motions, over and over again. Unfortunately, it's become part of our job description. But as many airline pilots and airline crews will say, "TSA screeners, really suck the energy from you and knocks the wind out of your sails from the start of the work day". Never a good thing when as pilots, we're "pissed" at something the TSA Screeners did or said, as we are programming our flight management computers (navigation) or discussing what happened at the TSA checkpoint as we're taxing out for takeoff at a busy congested airport in bad weather. Sure, we're suppose to leave it all behind and focus our energies at task at hand, but it's not that simple. It's not the Ronco, rotisserie, "Set it and forget it". Pilots in general are Type A personalities, and when something gets under their skin, it can become over-consuming like a pit bull not knowing to "let it go". Knowing how "helpless" we are against the TSA, as any confrontation or disagreement with the TSA means a career killer (no matter how disrespectful, rude or just plain stupid the TSA Screener are at times). So this frustration and anger is carried into the cockpit, with the lives of hundreds of passengers at our fingertips. It happens more times than you can ever imagine.

(End Part One)

Airline Pilots said...

Part Two

From many an airline pilot's position, the TSA goes through our bags, takes away tiny inconsequential items (Ask the Pilot article) then gives you the attitude about it. The most favorite line used by the TSA "Are you trying to cause trouble"? But inside the cockpit, there's a nice sharp CRASH AX and a really sharp PICK and the other end. Go from the company parking lot... ( we won't even go into this....). Get the "crazy" pilot, they can take down an airplane, within seconds by pulling a few switches and levers (Egypt Air B-767 or JAL DC-8) before you can say, "What the hell.........". So from the pilot, you do get the feeling of why do I have go through all this TSA "smoke and mirrors" and "dog and pony" show and having to put up with the unprofessional and rude TSA Screeners on a day in and day out process, when I have the ability to do anything, at anytime?

One of our pilots (along with his First Officer) after blocking out their B-767 and as they taxied out, actually stopped the aircraft, telling ATC Ground Control that they needed to get their numbers (weights for trim and runway limitations) but in actuality, both pilot were so "pissed" at what happened at the TSA checkpoint, that they decided to take a "timeout" before being cleared for takeoff. They moved their aircraft aside to let the airplanes behind them move forward in the Conga Line as they "cooled off", refocus and rechecked everything they did from the Preflight Checklist to the Before Takeoff Checklist. Sure they lost their "wheels up" time, lost their takeoff slot, caused a delay for the passengers and the company wondered what the hell was going on. But that was smart cockpit management and good sound judgement. But all this, due to a rude and inept TSA Screener.

Are there crappy pilots and flight attendants that incite problems at the TSA checkpoint, you bet. We shake our head at them many a times. There are pilots who really deserve to be anal probed at the TSA checkpoint. But we do understand their, "I've just had it with them (TSA)" attitude. But better to lose the battle and win the war. But how do you win the war against the rude, arrogant and Nazi Gestapo TSA screener? File a complaint, which two of us has done, you never hear back. File a complaint, is it going back to my employer and Chief Pilot? File a complaint, will I have SSSSSS on my boarding pass every time I have to deadhead and go through secondary for the customary strip down with dirty gloves? There is a mistrust which always exists between airline management and the flight crews, so we know that the airline management doesn't have your 6 o'clock, if you ever have a problem with the TSA

(End Part Two)

Airline Pilots said...

Part Two

From many an airline pilot's position, the TSA goes through our bags, takes away tiny inconsequential items (Ask the Pilot article) then gives you the attitude about it. The most favorite line used by the TSA "Are you trying to cause trouble"? But inside the cockpit, there's a nice sharp CRASH AX and a really sharp PICK and the other end. Go from the company parking lot... ( we won't even go into this....). Get the "crazy" pilot, they can take down an airplane, within seconds by pulling a few switches and levers (Egypt Air B-767 or JAL DC-8) before you can say, "What the hell.........". So from the pilot, you do get the feeling of why do I have go through all this TSA "smoke and mirrors" and "dog and pony" show and having to put up with the unprofessional and rude TSA Screeners on a day in and day out process, when I have the ability to do anything, at anytime?

One of our pilots (along with his First Officer) after blocking out their B-767 and as they taxied out, actually stopped the aircraft, telling ATC Ground Control that they needed to get their numbers (weights for trim and runway limitations) but in actuality, both pilot were so "pissed" at what happened at the TSA checkpoint, that they decided to take a "timeout" before being cleared for takeoff. They moved their aircraft aside to let the airplanes behind them move forward in the Conga Line as they "cooled off", refocus and rechecked everything they did from the Preflight Checklist to the Before Takeoff Checklist. Sure they lost their "wheels up" time, lost their takeoff slot, caused a delay for the passengers and the company wondered what the hell was going on. But that was smart cockpit management and good sound judgement. But all this, due to a rude and inept TSA Screener.


(End Part Two)

Airline Pilots said...

Part Three

Are there crappy pilots and flight attendants that incite problems at the TSA checkpoint, you bet. We shake our head at them many a times. There are pilots who really deserve to be anal probed at the TSA checkpoint. But we do understand their, "I've just had it with them (TSA)" attitude. But better to lose the battle and win the war. But how do you win the war against the rude, arrogant and Nazi Gestapo TSA screener? File a complaint, which two of us has done, you never hear back. File a complaint, is it going back to my employer and Chief Pilot? File a complaint, will I have SSSSSS on my boarding pass every time I have to deadhead and go through secondary for the customary strip down with dirty gloves? There is a mistrust which always exists between airline management and the flight crews, so we know that the airline management doesn't have your 6 o'clock, if you ever have a problem with the TSA.

The Full Body Scanners are here to stay, but do we have reservations towards it, YES. Not necessarily about seeing our genitals but the overall health concerns. Having to go through it thousands of times from now on, it does make you wonder. They say it's safe, but that's the same thing they said about asbestos, lead paint in toys, Red Dye #40 and numerous other things at one time. You never know.

Traveling throughout the world, the TSA Screeners here in the United States are truly the most "unprofessional" group of people we've come. Sure if you go through some of the countries we visited (and one of our pilots in our group have even gone to North Korea), you don't expect the smiles and courtesy but they are professional nonetheless. We've written about TSA Screeners wearing their uniforms to strip-joints, wearing their uniforms like they've just got out of a gang fit, sitting in cars smelling like marijuana just like from the "Chich and Chong" movies or they can't even speak proper English (we've written about these in our blogs). Even from an appearance stand point, next time you go to the airport and through TSA, count the number of Screeners and Supervisors that look (appearance) like slobs..... overweight and obese, uniforms hanging out, walking around slouched over, looking lazy and just plain miserable. It starts from your initial appearance. Even as pilots and flight attendants, we not immune in the United States, w are a bunch of slobs compared to other countries. You can't get the respect and admiration of the public, when you're first impressions are, "What a slob".

How rare is it to hear a TSA Screener say the words, "Thank you", "Please" or "May I be of assistance" to the elderly or physically challenged?

End Part Three

Airline Pilots said...

Part Four

OK, fair is fair, we have come across several polite and decent TSA Screeners in our travels namely in Honolulu and most recently at DFW (we even shared a laugh with them). They were professional, yet had good people skills. They even wished us a "smooth and safe flight". But that's the "exception" not the rule. Again, we repeat, "EXCEPTION, not the rule". We don't expect the TSA to be "lovey - dubby", just be polite, courteous and professional.

We probably are the biggest nemesis to the people at blog.tsa.gov. We've been to their website and our assessment is that they really need to go work for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mel Gibson, Lindsey Lohan as their PR Agent. With all the corruption and past corruption just written about the TSA Supervisor and Screener (thieves at Newark), do they write about their own? NO. Just as we are accountable to our own (pilots), and before they can write about their endearing tear jerking moments, they do need to write about their own good or bad to have credibility, before we the flight crews and public can rally "with" them, rather than "against" them.

So in a nutshell, Mr. Roberts lacked judgement. He knew the game and rules, and Kabuki theater production he's in. He should have just made a U-turn (everyone knows that you can't win at the TSA checkpoint), called in sick and take 3 deep breaths before exercising his next move. Should it be a career killer for him? No, not if your senior to him on the pilot's seniority list, Yes, if you're a newbie and below him on the pilot's seniority list or trying to get into our industry.

But as in our opening statement, you never want to become a martyr in the airline industry.

(END OF OUR MANIFESTO)

Captain Samir Kohli said...

Hey, interesting debate this! Thanks for this deep insight. As someone who has spent a liftime in Aviation Safety and Security enforcement, I will support CN's view 200%!

The guard at the check point is only trying to do his job and earn a living. She/He possibly has a grumpy boss that shouts at her/him and pulls them up every time they exercise their "discetion" to facilitate someone. They are also warned repeatedly of personal consequences if a terrorist got through due to their "discretion". So, it is totally understandable if they stick to the rule book.

When I get upset sometimes at the excessive and mindless security checks at the airports (including rude behaviour of the screeners), I always try to focus on how difficult their job is given the long hours spent standing (sometimes exposed to weather) and dealing with a load of grumpy passengers, each cursing them for just trying to do their jobs! Look at it from their point of view...they are dammened if they do it and dammened if they dont! In that situation, I would rather be dammened doing my job than not doing it becuase at least at the end of the day I will have a clear concious of having done what I am paid for!

So guys, just smile at the poor buggers and accept that the best way out is not to make a scene and than take the matter to where it belongs - the powers that be at the top. I have often written to these guys about how the best security is experienced and Not felt, seen or heard! True security is when you see no one enforcing it and yet the offenders are segregated and blocked...thats the brand of Aviation Security we need to see in todays world.

walnuttrees said...

Captain Samir Kohli presented the best argument in the world for standing one's ground at the checkpoint:

"When I get upset sometimes at the excessive and mindless security checks at the airports (including rude behaviour of the screeners)..."

It's going to take pushing back from the flying public to get changes made. If DHS/TSA believe the public is complacent, the "excessive and mindless" procedures will only get worse.

If the screeners don't like their jobs, well, they can always quit.

Captain Samir Kohli said...

"If the screeners don't like their jobs, well, they can always quit" is easier said than done! Have a heart Sir...like me and you, these blokes are just trying to make a living! Its their bosses, the ones WE elected and voted to power (either because we voted for them, or because we did not bother to vote and thereby facilitated their rise to power), who are responsible for this mess.

They are the ones with whom we should "Stand our ground", if you will!

Anonymous said...

All pilots have a choice as well. Go overseas to work where you are still shown respect.

I worked 28 years as a pilot in the USA and did my last strip search in the TSA system in 2004. I elected to fly overseas instead of being angry with a system that is a joke and fools no one. The world only shakes it's head at the "security" projected in the TSA.

I am as happy as can be and no TSA. Everytime I visit the USA I am thankful I do not deal with them on a daily basis.

USA is no longer the home of the free but the home of the fearful and the system in place with the TSA is a joke on security issues. They should be ashamed and such a huge waste of tax payer monies.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd quit if I worked for the TSA. These folks are now complicit in a gross violation of civil rights against millions of law abiding Americans. I don't know how they sleep at night. I'd be ashamed to tell anyone what I did for a living if I had been complicit in the kind of jack booted fascism that's now taking place at our nation's airports.