TSA SEATAC

Coming back from SJDMCon, of which more anon, I found an interesting situation at SEATAC. Evidently the Occupy X movement has them on their toes. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t been through a big airport recently. In any event, they were using the whole body scan system on roughly 30% of the passengers. If you didn’t want to be scanned, they’d ask you to step aside for a patdown, which they did for a guy some distance ahead of me in line. Unfortunately, they seemed to be short on patdown-qualified personnel, because their multiple calls for a “male assist” went unanswered for five minutes or more while the line inched forward, past the guy, and a second one got added.

The situation was not improved by a recent change to the queueing system. It seems that someone in management had decided to remove all the queue control barriers (those post-and-tape setups we all know and love so well) once you had passed the initial ID check. I suspect it was a botched attempt to improve flow. You see, there’s two common ways to control the flow of ‘customers’ through an array of workstations. The first, used by most supermarkets, has a separate queue for each workstation (e.g. checkout stand). The other way, commonly used by banks, is to have one line that feeds all the workstations (tellers). The person at the head of the line goes to the ‘next available teller’. It’s been demonstrated that the second way is more efficient. I suspect that at SEATAC, someone was attempting to implement the second option, but forgot that you had to have an orderly queue to feed to the workstations. It was, as the TSA folks themselves said, a free-for-all, and they were not happy about it. I’m just glad I got there early enough in the day to beat the chaos I could already see building.

But, back to the scanner. I don’t mind them seeing my pseudo-naked body. I presume there’s an emergency eye-bleach station available to the scan crew. However, I have read enough to not trust their charactarization of the machines as safe from a radiation standpoint (and note that TSA refuses to provide dosimiters for the operators), so when my turn came I said I didn’t want to go through the machine. They set me aside (everyone was very polite), and called for an assist. A few minutes later, they beckoned me through the regular weapons scanner, and let me go about my business.

Meanwhile, the baggage scan crew was puzzling over my backpack. The guy opened the pack and took out the package of fish I’d bought at Pike Place Market. I told him what it was, and he laughed. He said there was another package, dug around, and found the pound and a half of fudge I was bringing home to help offset my diet. He then took the pack, with the packages, back to the scanner, and I could see him and the scan crew pointing and laughing. I got everything back in good order, and was on my way.

So, what have I learned? The TSA folks at SEATAC on this trip were polite, thoughtful, and flexible. The fact that I was a fat old white male may have helped. Their management, however, seems to be as inept as management everywhere, and the way to identify a TSA boss is that he’s the one with the pointy hair.

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2 Responses to “TSA SEATAC”

  1. Kurt Says:

    Full body scans have come to PDX, too. That, and the disbanding of the Occupy Portland* collective makes me feel safer in my suburban home. I think I’ll get on my cell phone and buy some stuff to celebrate.

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