Another kid gets the once-over by TSA — what can the agency do to improve its image?

Seems the TSA just can’t get a break. First there’s the fallout from the pat-down video of a six-year-old, which I covered yesterday.

This morning comes the unbelievable story of Bill Gordon, a 63-year-old air traveler from Colorado who was pulled aside and patted down for the crime of having something in his pocket while passing through the security checkpoint in Memphis.

Yes, apparently that’s enough to make the TSA suspicious. That, and criticizing the agency. (More on that in a minute.)

If you have anything, and I do mean anything, in your pants pockets you will end up being frisked.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing that informs the traveling public that you have to completely empty your pockets. I had cash in my right front pants pocket, a handkerchief in my left back pocket and some paper charge receipts in my right back pocket. That was more than enough to give me the “Royal Frisk” treatment.

I was seriously surprised when advised that I shouldn’t have had anything in my pockets at all.

Well, that’s a new one.

TSA says passengers are only required to “Take metal items such as keys, loose change, mobile phones, pagers, and personal data assistants (PDAs) out of your pockets.” But handkerchiefs and cash should be left in, and shouldn’t trigger a pat-down — unless the good TSA agents in Memphis have decided to change the rules and pat down everyone with something in their pocket. Here are the details.

How odd.

Item two: My whistleblowers apparently decided CNN was a better news outlet for their memos. The news organization yesterday reported that TSA critics could face increased scrutiny at the airport. Someone leaked a list of behavior indicators TSA regarded as suspicious, which included complaining about the screening process.

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Got that? If you complain, you could be a terrorist.

(By the way, I’m not convinced my sources were going to send me that memo, but some readers think so, and emailed me yesterday to say I was “scooped.” If they’re right, then I’m kind of relieved. CNN has lawyers on staff. I just have three cats guarding my front door in the suburbs and between you and me, they are not all that effective at deterring lawsuits or federal agents.)

Item three: I’m usually the one in trouble for TSA articles, but here’s one that makes me look like a responsible court reporter. It’s WikiHow’s How to Tolerate the TSA As a Sex Crime Victim. If you think there’s something wrong with that premise, you’re not alone. It is nominated for deletion because of what commenters say is “mean-spirited” activity.

From the article:

Take some time to recover afterward. It may have felt intrusive and even upsetting but carrying the sense of disturbance with you will increase your upset and it is better to center yourself and find some calm.

Look, I’ve written something about surviving a pat-down on this site, but the sex crime victim headline — even I wouldn’t have done that. Interestingly, another travel site has also just published a story on how to survive a pat-down, but its advice is not as offensive.

And finally this morning, for those of you who thought the pat-down of six-year-old Anna Drexel in New Orleans was an isolated incident, please meet eight-year-old Spencer Sheahan. He and his family were on their way from Portland, Ore., to a Disneyland vacation in Southern California when a TSA agent pulled him aside and gave him a pat-down. Here’s the video.

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“They went up his leg, into that area, down the next leg, up here, felt all over,” explained his mother, Heather Sheahan.

I, for one, am not impressed with the TSA’s latest antics. If the agency and the Department of Homeland security want to repair their image, it might start by treating air travelers with a little respect and screening with common sense.

But this isn’t helping.

What do you think? What should TSA can do to improve its image?

(Photo: zeb ble/Flickr Creative Commons)


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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