Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bring on the Guardia

I need to digress from blogging about Venezuela and share my frustrations with the US for just a post or two.

I went on a business trip for two days early this week. I flew out on Sunday and back home on Tuesday. It was the first time I'd flown since the tragedy on 9/11/2001. I'd heard the stories about the 3 ounce toiletry limits, so I was prepared in that regard. (Shaved the night before, bought sample size deodarant and toothepaste at the store, put them in a plastic baggy, etc.) But I wasn't aware of the other hoops I had to jump through until I got to the airport and joined my travelling companions at the check point.

We queue up in multiple lines, waiting for a TSA employee to check our boarding passes against our IDs, giving us the once over. (Kinda reminded me when I would go into Venezuela with my Venezuelan passport, and I'd get the once over from the Venezuelan immigration folks at La Guardia.)

That was the easy part. I follow along in line with everyone else, and the first thing odd that I noticed was that people were taking off their shoes!!! What?!?!?!?! This is nuts I thought. Glad I wore some slip ons. I also noticed that there were plastic bins that people were putting jackets and shoes and other loose items, so I followed suit. I put my jacket, and shoes in a bin, and put the bin and my laptop case and backpack (also with a laptop) on the conveyor belt.

Thinking I'm okay, I step through the metal detector only to be reminded that my cell phone needed to be scanned. So I put that on the conveyor belt, hoping I don't forget it. I step through the detector, nothing buzzes, and step back over to collect my belongings.

And the trouble ensues. A bigger, older gentleman bellows out asking whose bag this was, holding up my backpack. I claimed it, and was asked if there was a laptop in it. I said yes, and he chastised me for not taking the laptop out of the bag and putting it through separately. (Hey, if you could tell it was a laptop, why do I have to put it through separately?) Just as I was about to respond, another older gentleman (not so big, but with a bigger attitude) did held up my laptop case asking for the owner, to which I responded. He gave me the same shpeel about taking the laptop out, etc. and was rather condescending.

So now I have one guy who has my personal laptop and one guy who has my work laptop, and I'm trying to keep my eye on both of them. Work laptop goes through first, and all is well except for when I go to pick up the case, which was left unzipped, stuff fell out. I was a bit peeved about that.

The big dude who had my personal laptop waited until I had buttoned up my work computer and had put on my shoes and collected my other personal items. He then proceeded to ask me again if the backpack was my bag and explained that I was supposed to put the laptop through separate from the bag. He asked if I had two computers, and I said yes, one personal and one work. He then proceeded to put my personal laptop and backpack back through the xray machine. I collected both, put the laptop back in the backpack and was on my way, with a bit of attitude myself.

Coming back was equally annoying, but at least I had the procedure down. This time I had the laptops out in separate baskets, along with my other belongings in baskets. I made it through with out incident this time, but still none too happy. The odd thing was, at the airport I left from to come home, my boarding pass was checked twice: once before getting to the xray/metal detectors, and once after I walked through the metal detector. As if somehow I was going to morph into something else between those two points.

I thought of the many times I travelled in Venezuela on an airplane, and the many checks in the airport we would go through. First the Guardia would check your luggage that you were checking on the plane. Then, if you had a travel permit, you'd check in with DISIP. Then on the way out the door to board your plane, your carry-ons were checked. And finally, before you boarded the plane, you were frisked.

I used to think that was an annoyance. But my experience here was more annoying for some reason. Part of it was the attitude of the TSA employees. I'm sure they get a share of attitude back, but they seem to have a chip on their shoulder. I'd hate to stereotype them, but as a group don't appear to have a great degree of education, and seem to have an ax to grind with society and this is how they are going to get their ability to grind that ax.

And part of my annoyance was the fact that while the checking is more thorough, I could think of so many ways to get something through that wouldn't be checked. What's that saying? You can't see the forest for the trees? If someone were going to try something, don't you think they'd attempt something other than what has already been tried? (Shoe bomb, box cutters, etc.) But hey, that's just me.

My annoyance is that we've put these extra checks in place, but probably to no avail. A big waste of taxpayer money and taxpayer time.

I'm not saying something shouldn't be done, just that those in power should be thinking one step AHEAD of those who want to attack us, not one step BEHIND them.

I'm glad I don't travel often for business. I'm sure I'd get used to the annoyance, but it would take some time.

Funny thing is, my wife took the test to work for the TSA and she didn't pass. We're thinking that she was too smart to work for the TSA. :-)

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