What’s Up With The TSA Pre-Check?

First, the news article.

Now, my story.

I’ve had this happen to me personally, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  I was at Denver International Airport, flying out of town on business.  It was a Monday morning, but after the morning rush – about 10am or so if I recall correctly.  So there were people in the security line, but not that many.  My guess is maybe 30 or 40 people total, spread out over multiple entrance points to this particular security checkpoint.

Anyway, I got to the front of the security maze and there was a TSA employee standing there, bored out of her mind, who we were paying to stand there and touch a screen of what appeared to be an older iPad or a tablet of some kind.  On the screen of the tablet, which had its own stand and was pointing out toward the line of people, was a randomly-generated (I assume) arrow.

So here’s how this would work: for each person at the front of the security line, the TSA agent would touch the screen of the tablet, and it would randomly generate either a left arrow or a right arrow, indicating that the person in line would go left to the regular screening lines, or right to the TSA Pre-Check line.

That was her job — but don’t underestimate it.  She had to a) first wait until a person was at the front of the line and then, stay with me, b) actually touch the screen of the tablet in the beautiful stand (which we also paid for).  That’s it.

She wasn’t even talking to the people, so we all just had to know to follow the arrow.

You sir, are headed to the TSA Pre-Check line. Woo hoo!! Wait, what?

Ok, so in the post-9/11 world, my airport experiences have been varying degrees of horribleness coupled with idiots at TSA on top of insane policies that don’t make us safer, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do next.  So I went to the right, took the few steps up to the next loser who was validating IDs with boarding passes, then right up to the x-ray machine conveyor belt, I had the laptop out, my shoes were untied and already coming off and I hear a voice from yet another bored (and now frustrated) TSA employee: “You don’t have to do any of that over here.  Just leave your shoes on, leave everything in your pockets, put your bag on the belt and walk through here.”

[long pause]

Me: “Are you sure about that?”  Clearly I have trust issues with the 19-year-old TSA yahoos.

19-year-old TSA Yahoo: “Yep,” followed by a few things that I couldn’t understand because my brain started moving in overdrive at this point, kinda like the first time you’re driving through a parking lot covered in ice and the car starts going a different direction than you were expecting.  It’s the “wha, who, wait, do I argue?, why didn’t I have more coffee this morning?” thing.

So the laptop bag goes on the conveyor belt, with latptop still inside, and through the “metal detector” I go.  I use that in quotes because clearly it was a device fashioned to resemble a functioning metal detector.  But since I’ve heard all the TSA interrogation room horror stories, my goal now was to appear normal.  I rarely pull off that trick in my everyday life, but now I must pull it off in front of an audience.

Even though I’m convinced that I’m the subject of one of those hidden camera gags about now, I can feel the sweat forming on my brow, and I’m sure my eyes were darting around from side-to-side at 400 miles-per-hour, I crept up to and into the metal detector.  Then I slowly eased out the other side…

and…

Nothing.

I hurriedly grabbed my bag and off to the shuttle I ran, without looking like I was running.  My shoes were still untied and I’m lucky I didn’t wipe out down the escalator at 45 mph and take 5 people with me.

And this is why I’m not a bank robber.

But really, I felt like I had just stolen something.

Then my next thought: holy crap, how much metal did I have on me when I went through the “metal detector?”  I had my belt with nice solid metal buckle, my watch, my cell phone, my wedding ring,  and my shoes were still on — which, though I have my doubts, apparently have high amounts of metal since I’ve been taking them off through airport security now for a decade or more.

Holy crap, that’s probably 3 pounds of silver, gold, titanium, and who knows what all is in a cell phone anymore.

My next thought: how much metal is in my folding knife that I usually carry every day?

And then the pièce de résistance: how much metal is in my carry gun?

Could I just have made it through a TSA security checkpoint with my carry gun?  (and in my best Tommy Boy voice) That… was… awesome!!!

But it wasn’t long before my wandering brain took me here: what exactly was accomplished by me going through this TSA pre-check line?  What does TSA know that they aren’t telling us?  How do the people who actually paid for this feature feel about now, knowing some bumpkin like me just cruised through their line for free?

Then it moved to:

  • What else could I have gotten through that checkpoint?
  • Is there metal in C4?
  • Did they just start this today?
  • Why have I not heard about this?
  • Did I get pre-screened and didn’t know about it?  How is that possible, considering they didn’t know who I was until after I was deemed pre-check-able by the magic Tablet Of Power?
  • Do they only do this one or two days a week?
  • Are my shoes still untied?
  • Is this only happening at DIA?
  • If we didn’t catch a dozen or so box cutters on 9/11, what in God’s Name makes us better off today than we were then?

So there you have it.  As far as I can tell, there’s a 50% chance now that you can carry a small refrigerator through a metal detector at the airport, provided you could explain the bulge in your pants.  Actually, who am I kidding – as long as you get one of the TSA yahoos that is tired of feeling people up (which seems to be most of them), it’s not like they’re gonna ask you about it anyway.  And if they do, just tell them you’re here illegally from Guatemala.

Carry on, Colorado!