Grilled By Security

September 5, 2009

in Airport Stories

Last year, I booked a round trip flight from Philadelphia to San Diego. I arrived at the Philadelphia airport counter with an hour to spare before take off. The woman at the counter said, “I really doubt you can make this flight since you decided to cut it so close. You better run.”

I ran my butt off. I made it to the line. I was out of breath as most non-Olympian runners would be given the distance.

A security woman immediately came up to me and said, “Step out of line please, sir.”

I had a simple thin canvas carry-on with 2 novels and my properly packaged prescription, accompanied by a doctor’s note (just in case).

“You are obviously very nervous, what are you up to?” She asked.

“I just ran here from the counter because I don’t want to miss my flight, “I replied. At this point I was no longer out of breath and could not have been more normal and calm. I’ve flown hundreds, if not thousands of times and am adjusted to the routine. I have private flying experience. Flying does not bother me.

They emptied out my belongings — the whole 2 books and 1 see-through prescription bottle. I have a serious illness and take pain medication. Her assistant waved it in the air, yelled out the prescription name, a well known painkiller, then said, “Is this why you’re going to San Diego? To get off of this stuff?”

“M’am, my doctor’s note is there, I am under medical care for a serious illness. It is my lawful prescription. I packaged just as the FAA site instructs.”

“Well then, WHY are you going there?” At this point, any attempt on their part at civility was gone and they were being aggressive, rude, and irritated.

“I am going to visit my family,” I replied. I was very respectful. I was not nervous, flippant, or doing anything unusual.

“Take off your shoes and sit down,” she commanded. They spoke to me in a humiliating way, as if instructing a dog, and continued to use a very nasty tone.

They brought over the bomb sniffing equipment. Given that I am a 32 year-old American man who is well dressed on a domestic flight, I was trying to think of the last time someone who fit my description packed their shoes with explosives.

The man said, “Lift your foot!”

I raised my foot that he gestured to.

“NO! BOTH feet!” he screamed at me.

It was bizarre.

They then encircled me with four security people, peering down at me, acting as if I had 20 pounds of dynamite and heroin in my ass.

“LOOK, you’ve been acting very nervous and strange!”

I was totally baffled. The only stress I felt was coming from their behavior after they began pushing me around.

They went through 4 test strips for bomb testing and kept opening and closing my 2 paper back novels dozens of times. They were positive I had a nuke in my pocket or that I was up to no good. Then they said, “OK, have a nice day!”

What a great way to start off a trip. I would love to know what level of training those Philadelphia security people have and what their highest level of education is.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

saw September 5, 2009 at 8:56 pm

I avoid Philadelphia like the plague, to be honest. And though I've got nothing against the city, the airport staff is questionable at best. I think you need to fail an IQ test to work in some of those jobs there.

I guess the biggest problem with airport screeners, is that you really don't need to have many existing skills to get a job with the TSA – since you have to learn everything no matter who you are. So the people working are often lacking in some … let's call it… "interpersonal skills". 'Cause if you ARE very smart and capable – would you want to be a TSA screener?

What we're dealing with is the "best of the worst" so to speak.


Aaron September 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Philly is the worst. A million USAir employees stand around doing nothing and make it clear to anyone who asks that they will not help you. I guess the security folks are equally inept, but since they can't just stand around and do nothing, they did this to you instead. Sorry. Avoid Philly at all costs.


Hugh September 8, 2009 at 12:27 am

Living in the Philly burbs, unfortunately I cannot avoid the airport. They truly are the worst of the worst. It's a big union town, so there is NO incentive to work hard, or have customer service in mind. The TSA drones are basically thugs, or individuals underqualified for work at McDonalds. The baggage handlers however make the TSA drones look like highly skilled surgeons.


Daphne3620 September 18, 2009 at 7:01 pm

I would say no training at all and a GED .. if you are lucky. Philly does suck .. sorry you can't fly out of another locale. I bitch about Delta taking over NWA damn near every day .. but MSP is pretty nice to deal with. TSA is usually not terribly asinine and the baggage handlers are fairly decent.


Elizabeth January 27, 2010 at 7:17 am

I worked for a company that bid on the training for the original TSA project. They didn't get the contract because the training plan was "too difficult." According to our instructional designers, it was dumbed down to a fifth-grade level.


mike March 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

It's not just Philly, it's anywhere the TSA is. Most of them would rather be somewhere else and just don't care about being polite or courteous. They have a (very) little authority (unless they go outside the security area, when the authority level drops to zero) and they get off on ordering people around. A lot of those so-called "security" personnel have no business operating a newspaper vending booth in an airport much less a security station.


Thom February 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Boston TSA interviews passengers at the ID check podium. Usually it's just one or two "small talk" type questions and that's it but there was one agent last year who made me wonder if I somehow ended up at international arrivals and was going through immigration? Usually it's "Binghamton… where's that?" with this guy it was "purpose of visit?", "how long did you stay for?", "what's your occupation?"


Thom February 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

That's why I love flying out of a small airport in rural upstate NY… security line is 10 minutes tops and the TSA screeners are professional, efficient and genuinely don't seem to hate their jobs.

That said, every time I go through at BGM something of mine, either my hands, my bag, or my laptop gets swab tested for explosives/ narcotics… I'm pretty sure its to meet quotas.


Jennifer February 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Sounds to me like you're on a watch list.


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