Shocked About Search

June 9, 2010

in Airport Stories

My story happened several years ago, but it still irritates me. I was flying from New York to Michigan with a family friend who was a minor at the time. We had already had a horrible time just getting to the airport (a transformer overheated and caused a minor blackout in Manhattan, shutting down the subways, and numerous traffic lights). We had no trouble going through security and had no trouble on our initial flight to Detroit.

When we arrived in Detroit, we had 2 hours to wait for our connecting flight to Traverse City. Here’s where it gets aggravating.

My young friend and I waited at the terminal, had food, played cards, and talked there in full view of (and earshot of, whether or not it matters) 2 Northwest Airlines employees who were also waiting for the flight to arrive, for 2 solid hours. When it came time to board the flight, these same 2 employees chose my friend to search.

I have no idea why they decided this was necessary, and I was shocked. It was the middle of summer, so we weren’t wearing any kind of bulky clothing, and we had minimal carry-on luggage with nothing unusual in it. The female employee was kind, apologetic, and reassuring. The male was obnoxious and arrogant. I was told to board the plane, but as I was responsible for my minor friend’s safety, I remained well out of the way on the side, observing everything that went on. When I asked – POLITELY! – if there was a problem, the male employee snapped, “If you don’t stay out of the way (I was nowhere near him!) we’ll search you too.” (And no, I didn’t ask him ten times, nor did I block other people boarding the plane, nor was I breathing down his neck.)

In the meantime, he was throwing all my friend’s things out of her bag – people boarding the plane were telling us, “Look out, he’s thrown her notebook on the floor – her camera’s down there” – including her school work. He then expected my friend to pick everything up and jam it in her bag herself in order to make the flight. He should have been glad HE didn’t attempt to check my friend’s bra strap (the female employee did that) because then I would have ended up in jail for beating the daylights out of him for feeling up a minor.

Before anyone decides to comment on the importance of airline security, and how I shouldn’t expect special treatment: I don’t expect special treatment. I am a native New Yorker. I was there for 9/11. I saw it happen. I am all for airline security. I comply willingly and politely. I do all I can to make life easier for them, for airline personnel, and for flight personnel. We had already been through all security, as I noted before. My friend did not deserve this treatment – and by the way, she was patient and polite with these two employees, in spite of the man’s nasty behavior.

I don’t think I’ve flown Northwest Airlines since, and I’ve never forgiven myself for not filing a formal complaint.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim June 10, 2010 at 6:14 am

A Northwest Airline employee conducted the search?

Wow, I have never witnessed an airline employee doing a search….yeah, the TSA, when going through security, and once when the TSA was called to the gate, (by the airline employee), for a suspicious looking gentleman….

I really wonder, do airline employees have the right to conduct a search? Have they been trained accordingly?

This sounds very out of the ordinary.

Nonetheless, I am amazed at how rude security people can be. I know they deal with all kinds, etc… but, they need to realize, they are going through our personal stuff, they are touching, and possibly breaking our stuff…so, they need to be more cognizant.


Julie June 12, 2010 at 10:57 am

Right after 9/11 airline employees were required to do the searches, Thank God I did have to do many patdowns! We also had to do random searches on anybody even minors.


Julie June 12, 2010 at 10:58 am

Opps!!! I ***DIDN'T*** have to do many patdowns.


Clare June 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

Are you absolutely certain they were Northwest employees and not TSA? It seems highly unlikely that an airline's employees would be performing a search instead of the TSA.


rerere June 10, 2010 at 10:45 am

Uhh, Northwest Airlines isn't around anymore, regarding the very last short paragraph.


David June 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Either tsa or nothing


Bob June 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

Yeah, riiiiiiight. OK.


MM June 12, 2010 at 3:28 am

Is it really unbelievable that somebody was chosen for search in inauspicious circumstances? Or that the person conducting the search was rude and careless with the girl's belongings? Seems to me that's pretty much standard. Sure, it was almost certainly TSA and not NWA, but it's not so weird to get confused. I was chosen for a random boarding search a few weeks ago in Dublin. Though I'm sure it was airport security checking me, the level of coordination and discussion with the Aer Lingus desk staff was really surprisingly high, to the degree that I would be totally unsurprised if somebody walked away thinking it had been EI staff.

Anyone else creeped out about how the poster continuously refers to the girl as a minor and friend?


JoJo June 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

I was wondering about that "minor" thing myself…


Dina June 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Good point – last time I flew to the States I was randomly searched and they asked me first if I was a minor. (Which was flattering as hell, since I'm 27!)


Jon June 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

I flew out of SLC the day after the closing ceremonies for the 2002 Olympics and I was searched/patted down by a Delta Employee. Lines for security where 2 – 3 hours long, and I doubt that TSA had enough employees on hand to screen all psgrs at the security checkpoint, and also have TSA people at each gate. It didn't bother me, but it definitely was a Delta Employee going through my backpack and patting me down. They even made me take my boots off.


patsytp January 16, 2016 at 2:41 am

There were no 2002 Olympics… there were there 2000 Sydney Olympics…. unless you're referring to some knock-of inter-US comp.


James January 17, 2016 at 1:04 am

The 2002 Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City.


patsytp January 17, 2016 at 5:24 am

fair enough….!


carol June 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

They weren't known as "Northworst" for no reason….


Kelly July 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Wait, something puzzles me. They had a two hour layover in Detroit. Doesn't that mean they were still in a "sterile" area…I've never ever been re-searched during a layover, unless I went out of the "sterile" area. Did I miss something?


Dick Schlongmann July 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I would have conducted a full and thorough body cavity search on you.


Kirsten July 1, 2011 at 2:47 pm

An employee threatening to search you because you're questioning his actions is a pillock. Searches should be conducted for security reasons, not as punishment or as an exertion of power or control.


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