Last week I wrote that Americans should get comfortable with the fact that we only live under the illusion of security. It doesn’t help, though, when TSA personnel are lazy and incompetent. Case in point, my last trip through BWI.
Two of my children were flying to Baltimore from San Antonio. I was to meet them at the gate. (If you’re not aware, it is normal and easy for an un-ticketed parent to get a gate pass that will allow them through security in order to meet unaccompanied minors at the gate.)
I proceeded to the Southwest ticket counter to get my gate pass but as fortune would have it the computer system wasn’t cooperating so they were unable to print out my gate pass. Too often these days computer trouble like this would have been the end of my quest to get out to the gate, but the crack staff at SWA wrote me out a pass the old fashioned way—on a blank form with a ball point pen. They told me this might fluster the TSA ID –checker and he might decide to call a supervisor to verify the authenticity of my document. Fair enough. I was I no real rush.
As I approached the TSA staff I went to pull out my driver’s license. Lo and behold, I didn’t have it. I had left it in my gym bag earlier that morning. Uh oh. I did, though, have a government issued ID card for my work with the Department of Defense. However, it had expired December 27. Today was January 4. This could get interesting.
Reaching the checkpoint, I handed my handwritten pass to the TSA employee. His brows furrowed, his lips pursed. And just as promised he called for a supervisor. The manager was nowhere in sight so I was asked to step aside so others could move through security. Still no problem; time was on my side. When the supervisor arrived he looked knowingly at the tidy penmanship on the form and ruled everything in order. He handed me back my gate pass, waved me through and as an afterthought, looked at his subordinate and asked if he had checked my ID. Drum roll please. He said, “Yup, he’s good,” and I was free to head to the metal detector.
Except, he had never looked at my ID. He never knew I didn’t have a state issued driver’s license or any other state ID card. He never looked at my federal government card to see if it was an acceptable substitute. He never checked the expiration date on that government card to see if it was even current.
As I smirked and walked on, I could tell that he had hesitated just a bit. He knew he hadn’t checked my ID. He knew he had just lied. There was a long line of harried holiday travelers who needed his attention. He was distracted. He didn’t want to appear like he hadn’t done his job properly already. Behavioral scientists would have a field day with his malfeasance.
Bottom line? In any job where routine is the order of the day, the hardest thing is learning to handle the unexpected and still comply with the routine procedures. Airline pilots face this all the time. So do nurses. It’s human nature. The best lesson for this TSA employee can gleaned from his self assessment that he just messed up–badly. He should beat himself up. He should lose sleep. He should vow this will never happen again. It will be up to him to learn from his failure.
“The System,” that nefarious and faceless entity, will never make us safe. Our best hope is the concern of the individuals involved in the process. Sometimes that”s the passengers. Always, it’s the TSA agents. As my kids are sick of hearing me say, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” I hope I was the best training that TSA employee gets this year. But that will be up to him.