I know this is a topic that's done to death, but man, it's still a serious issue and I have to rant. Via Salon comes this story of a teenaged girl whose purse created a massive fuss at airport security because it looked like this:
Yep. It had a picture of a gun on it. Not a gun, but a picture of it. The fuss caused the girl to miss her flight, and even though the TSA officials could see what is blatantly obvious—which is you cannot shoot or even threaten to shoot someone with a picture of a gun—they refused to let her have her purse, insisting she either check it or relinquish it. Security theater has literally become superstitious, as if merely thinking about guns behind the holy TSA security line is going to conjure them into being, along with terrorists to use them against people.
I'm also mad because this is so stupid that any joke I can think of to make about it fails to live up to the absurdity of the situation.
I don't fly all the time, but I fly pretty frequently, and I've gotten to the point where I can predict with about 90% certainty whether or not they're going to tear up my bag in security. I refuse to check bags if I can help it, not just because of the cost, but because it's such a pain picking them up at the baggage carousel. That means that I have basically everything in my carry-on suitcase, and it's pretty much impossible to have everything you travel with, especially if you're female, not be a beacon to overzealous TSA agents. You probably have a bottle that has 3.2 ounces of fluid, or maybe today they feel your zipper bag isn't clear enough. Or, in one case, I was yelled at for having a zipper bag—a clear one, mind you, which the TSA says is fine—because the agent got it into his head that it has to be a Ziploc bag. Sorry I try to avoid generating unnecessary trash, America! Anyway, it means if they're going to tear up someone's shit, I'm going to get it. So it depends on if they're in the mood for tearing up people's shit.
So how do I predict with 90% certainty if I'm going to get my shit torn up that day? Is it because there's a whiff of terror in the air? Does it have to do with the likelihood of a terrorist attack starting in the airport I'm in? Does it reflect some orders from on high?
No. None of that. My nearly-foolproof system is to look at the TSA agents. If they are busy and/or having a good time joshing each other, then you won't get searched. If they're bored or in a bad mood, you're getting searched. Works, like I said, 9 out of 10 times. It's so predictable that I can guess often before I even see security lines if I'm going to get searched by looking at how big and busy the airport is. Slow or small airports usually mean bored and grumpy TSA agents, making the risk of searching high. With this excellent system, I have accurately predicted getting heavily searched in the following cities with small, slow airports: El Paso, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Midland. I got spared in Lubbock, which genuinely surprised me. In Midland, they didn't tear up my bag. No, what they did was even sillier. I had already taken my laptop, per TSA instructions, and they got it in their heads that this wasn't good enough and put it in the bomb detection machine. Of course, about 4 people came through security in about 15 minutes, so they were really bored, and they had that bomb detecting machine on hand, so it's almost hard to blame them for their boredom-relieving techniques. In St. Louis, they made a solid 5-6 minute fuss over my portable iPod player, which was treated like an inscrutable device that required at least three passes through the machine and a complete rearranging of my suitcase that I had carefully packed that morning.
The one city I've never been searched in? New York City. Even though, statistically speaking, half of my flights go through a busy, New York area airport.
It's theater, pure and simple. The message is: be afraid. Not of terrorists, of course. Those are protected against much more by secured pilot doors and passengers who now know to fight back. The message is to be afraid of the TSA. Make sure not to laugh too loudly while in line or look too peeved when they search your shit, or they may decide you really look dangerous and need extra searching. They have the power to make you miss your flight, and that danger is immediate and very real, unlike the vague threats of terrorism that all this security is supposedly there to prevent.