Profiled By The TSA? There’s An App For That

Profiled By The TSA? There’s An App For That

Excellent All Things Considered segment by Tasnim Shamma on problems with TSA screening Sikhs and other groups who wear turbans and head coverings and a new app called Fly Rights that aims to make it easier to report profiling abuse.

TSA is getting worse

I’ve been traveling a lot for over twenty years, both domestic and international. Repeat business travel gets old and those of us who have and still do do it know that flow is the best way through. I have over a million air miles on a single airline plus plenty on others.

Early on post 9/11 I felt for TSA agents; they have to absorb quite a bit of nervousness, aggravation, racism, and idiocy from people who don’t flow well. However, lately there has been a change in the way TSA seems to be doing their screening and instead of helping with flow, they’re getting aggressive which is unnecessary and hurts their PR.

I routinely travel with a pack and a camera bag with high end gear in both. When I run this stuff through x-ray (computer out of bag) I like to get through screening so I can be there to pick it up when it gets through the conveyor belt. But, if I’m not, I make mention to the TSA agent that I’d like to keep an eye on my stuff. I make this request politely with a smile on my face and good eye contact. It has never been a problem until now.

On my last four trips the various TSA agents not only became irritated with my request, two of them (two separate airports) walked me over to desks further away from my stuff for no apparent reason just to press the point that they were in control and who was I to make such a request. One of them held me at the desk for 5 minutes for no reason, long enough for many people to paw over my stuff on the conveyor belt.

As many of you know there is no one watching the conveyor belt to make sure that the right person picks up the right stuff. This has always been a logistical problem with air travel (since metal detectors started to be used) and isn’t the fault of TSA. However, because TSA can cause a bottleneck in getting through they can exacerbate the problem. They should at least acknowledge the problem rather than making it worse.

I didn’t make a scene and I eventually got all my stuff but not before it was piled up with other people’s stuff in such a way that someone could have easily walked off with my computer, phone, or camera gear.

This is both a logistical problem but also a social one: two times TSA agents not only failed to acknowledge my concern but made concerted efforts to show they had power by making it harder or me to see my stuff.

That pushed me over the hump and now I’m dead set against TSA unionizing. Frankly I think TSA should be dismantled and redesigned with better logistics, better screening, and better training.

Travels with iPad

I’ve been meaning to do a post like this for a while, sorry its taken me so long.

Traveling back from LAX to JFK (Los Angeles to New York) yesterday I saw the following:

In the United *Red Carpet Club (RCC): four 11″ MacBook Airs, one 13″ MacBook Air, twenty iPads (used with a mixture of Mac OS and Windows laptops), four 13″ MacBook Pros (some might have been aluminum unibody MacBooks) eight 15″ MacBook Pros, at least ten laptops of various brands running windows and four small netbooks of various brands. Too many iPhones to count.

I routinely use my 15″ MacBook Pro on a desk in the RCC because I like the keyboard and I have a wall outlet to plug into and desk space to spread out on.

* The Red Carpet Clubs have a yearly subscription price which can be paid for with miles or money. If you fly a lot these clubs (all major airlines have them) are an oasis of quiet, space to spread out, free coffee, juice and snacks, clean bathrooms, and calm. Wifi is free (via T-mobile) in the RCC.

On the plane, a 757 *PS flight: five 11″ MacBook Airs, at least fifteen iPads that I saw in use, at least five netbooks of various brands that I saw in use, and a variety of both Mac and Windows running laptops. There were also at least fifteen Kindles in use including by the woman sitting right next to me.

* PS = premium service which is a specially modded 757 with more first and business class and gogo inflight wifi. United only flies these planes from New York to LA and New York to San Francisco.

These PS flights are very popular with frequent travelers and I regularly see actors on them as well as the same business fliers. The types of people who use these flights, especially who have enough miles or money to be sitting in business or first class, usually have the resources to buy the computing tools they need so I can’t say that the 11″ MacBook Air has penetrated beyond the types of people who take these flights but I did notice that not everyone using one was a business man or woman in a suit, some were younger people in jeans.

The iPad has penetrated everywhere, across all demographics and across all computing platforms. And, this penetration hasn’t slowed down or peaked, it continues to grow. People in all classes were using iPads and Kindles too. I find it interesting that some who use Kindles don’t realize it has a radio because they fail to turn it off when the flight attendant announces that all electronics need to be turned off. This is both worrisome and wonderful: worrisome for the lack of knowledge, wonderful that the device is thought of more as a book, less as an electronic appliance (we hope). Of course, I have no clue how many iPad 3G owners are also clueless about this.

The iPad has made travel for me a dream. I can now more easily sit in coach without stuffing my pack under the seat in front because I don’t need access to it during the flight. All I need is my reading glasses, headphones, iPad, and a few Clif bars. I choose aisle seats and I can get to my pack overhead if I need to but so far I’ve not needed it. My 15″ MacBook Pro is in the pack overhead.

I buy the gogo inflight internet service for $12.95 which I’d like to see built in to the price of a ticket but that’s not going to happen until more people use it and the airlines are in the black. It’s easy to set up on the iPad: run Safari, click on any link and you’re redirected to gogo’s login. If you have an account connecting is a few clicks and you’re on. It helps to have set up the account ahead of time so you’re not typing credit card numbers on a crowded plane. Gogo has gotten better over time about making login easier. They could be better but it’s a snap once you’re used to it.

The downside of gogo as it is now is that watching streaming video is near impossible so using it to watch a Netflix movie or even a youTube video is rough (many choke points). I’m not sure if this is because so many people are now using the service on each flight or because the bandwidth of the service isn’t fast enough yet but it’s just not great yet. However, it’s fast enough for almost everything I like to do on my iPad: read my feeds with Reeder, push the stuff I want to save for later (video, for instance) into Instapaper, email articles to friends, check email and Twitter (the iPad Twitter client sucks) and watch movies I’ve already ripped at home on my computer.

Just a note: In my opinion RSS is a much more useful subscription service than Twitter. I’ve felt this for a while now but using both on the iPad cements it. I have no clue how people with Twitter accounts can be tracking thousands of feeds and actually keep up with them. I’ve given up on it really, use it more as a broadcast medium than a tracking medium.

I watched an Eric Clapton concert and The Taking of Pelham 123 (new Tony Scott version), stayed on top of email and read my feeds, listened to a podcast of a segment of This American Life I missed and read the New York Times’s latest headlines, all on less than 1/3 of the battery life of the iPad.

It was easy to pause, get up and let the folks sitting inside out to use the restroom and it was easy to pull the tray table down to hold a drink. The iPad is the ultimate travel companion and the only thing that would make my life better at this point is if Bose would put thicker and less tangly cables on their headphones (Triports).

Before I bought an iPad I was seriously considering a MacBook Air for travel but after a few trips with the iPad that desire is gone. I want the integration of iOS in a traveling device not to mention the long battery life. I was a fan of the iPad before I bought one and was late to adopt one, mostly because of my reluctance to own a computing device without a hardware keyboard. Now that I’m over that hump and because a lot of my interaction with both my computer and iPad and iPhone is via cloud-based services the iPad is just one of three devices I interact with the world through and on planes it’s the device of choice.

Steven Frischling, aka: Fish detained at Bradley Airport

I Got Detained By The TSA At The Airport Today

Fish is a well known professional photographer who writes about travel as well as photography.

I like his attitude and tone. I plan to act the same if I’m detained. Of course, he wasn’t traveling, he was taking pictures and this was simply misinformation on the part of local TSA and a State Trooper. It ended well in part because Fish stayed calm and didn’t get in the faces of the folks he knew were wrong.

As he says, arguing with police, even if you know you’re right can end unhappily for you.

By the way, TSA the phone numbers are:

TSA Office of Strategic Communications: 571-227-2829
TSA Office of Civil Rights: 571-227-1917

Add them to your mobile phone (speed dial) and use if in trouble.

Air Travel with Camera Gear Update

I just read Air Travel Just Got Worse for Photographers and it confirmed my recent experience at LAX airport last week: the TSA agent, upon seeing my camera bag in x-ray reversed the conveyor belt and asked me to remove both my Canon 5D with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens attached as well as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L lens I had in the bag.

I took them both out and put them in a plastic tray which at that point I had to get from the rear of the line making the situation incredibly awkward for me and others.

This looks like a new TSA policy but there was no notice or announcement of it as I unpacked my computer and took my shoes off and this meant that there were people behind me who got all bent that I was holding up the works and they tried to shove their stuff in the x-ray machine ahead of mine. I was happy to let them do this and the TSA agent behind the x-ray didn’t know how to handle it and so, there was a bit of an issue.

Those of you who travel with computers and other expensive grear know that you never let your stuff go through x-ray and sit on the other side unless you’re ready to walk through the metal detector. Letting others get ahead of you means that you run the risk of someone walking off with your stuff. TSA forced me to do this last week and I was not happy.

I should say, I’m very good about compliance: I just do what they ask of me willingly and with a smile on my face but when they don’t make it clear what they want they’re creating their own bottlenecks and hassles and as a passenger I resent paying the social and logistical price for their stupidity.

There has never been any signage about this in my experience in numerous airports and one has to listen to an ever-changing TSA agent barking out (rather rudely I might add) a list of what to do and what not to do which is not the best way to handle this. Not everyone coming through the line speaks English as a first language or at all so barking out instructions is certainly not the best way to handle this.

TSA: Make it clear what you want so people can be prepared and move quickly. If you don’t, you’re creating your own problems.

Note: here is TSA’s notice on this and you will note that they have not updated this notice to include SLR cameras and lenses: Passenger Security Checkpoints.