Flying Out Of A Small Town Airport: Aka The TSA Goes Bananas

Aug 5, 2014 by

Flying Out Of A Small Town Airport: Aka The TSA Goes Bananas

I encourage all jetsetting terrorists to fly out of a small town airport as often as possible. And get to the airport reeeeally early. You’re in for a ride.

Around 2010, I made the mistake of briefly living in a town with a population of 120,000. The good part about it was that every time I flew, the TSA went absolutely bananas.

For the first year I was on The List, all my flights were between larger airports. They see people on The List at least a few times a week. You still get the celebrity treatment, but it’s the difference between being Russell Brand in Fargo and Russell Brand in Century City. They’re sort of desensitized.

If you’re a jetsetting terrorist and you’re feeling a little taken for granted, there is a solution. It’s called “flying out of a redneck airport.” I learned this valuable, ego-stroking lesson the first time I flew out just such an airport…

The first time I flew out of this redneck airport

The TSA woman started to hand me my boarding pass back, then violently snatched it back as something caught her eye. It was the “SSSS” in the corner. That means terrorist.

She stepped away from the podium and got into a huddle with another agent. Then another joined. In moments there were six of them. Almost as many people as were flying out of that tumbleweed-ridden airport that day.

They did that shameless gawker move you only do at a caged animal at a zoo that’s doing something weird. Their eyes moved between my boarding pass and me, with concerned disbelief. Must be great being the TSA in a white trash town. Their attention is cheap.

Redneck airport symptom #1: Attempts to conform you to their stereotype

TSA agent walks over to me: “Did you pay for your ticket in cash?”

Me: “No.”

TSA agent: “Did you purchase your ticket in the last 24 hours?”

Me: “No.”

TSA agent: “Did you fly out of the country recently?”

Me: “No.”

All of this was code for “you’re white and wearing a Banana Republic sweater, so we’re confused.”

At least being Middle Eastern would be a reason. In the absence of “a reason,” I could tell they were assuming something really, really bad.

Redneck airport symptom #2: Acting like they’ve never seen someone on The List before. Because that’s almost true.

Me: “You act like you’ve never seen those ‘S’s’ on a boarding pass before.”

TSA agent: “We only get these every few months. This is…unusual.”

Redneck airport symptom #3: Acting like you’re about to do something crazy.

Four agents mobilized around me like I was likely to make a break at any moment.

The lead agent spoke to me slow and loud, like a lower-decibel version of a SWAT team leader talking a hostage-suspect out of a house.

“Mister Young. Go ahead and TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES and place them IN THE BIN. Ok, now Mister Young, do you have a laptop in your bag? We need you to TAKE IT OUT AND PLACE IT IN THE BIN….”

Redneck airport symptom #4: Giving the celebrity treatment

Every TSA agent at the airport who wasn’t gingerly guiding their suspect through the body scanner had assembled stage-left, in the most non-subtle way possible, to watch the spectacle. It was pretty much exactly what you think it would look like when people with small lives get the only dose of stimulation they’ll see this quarter in their otherwise barren existence.

In short: Huddling, whispering, gawking. In that order.

Redneck airport symptom #5: Being more incompetent and clueless than normal.

If you’re a jetsetting terrorist and think the TSA agents at normal airports are surprisingly clueless, small airports are on another level.

“Are we supposed to wand him too?

“Do I swab his clothes?”

“Don’t give him that yet, it needs to be cleared.” (re: ID)

“Making this up as they go” has an all new face. And it’s called the TSA in rural airports.

Now, dear terrorist, next time you do that Joplin to Green Bay red eye, you know what to expect.




-Jetsetting Terrorist

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  1. Deetles

    Oh you should try the Cody WY (Yellowstone regional airport). If you ever are going to travel to yellowstone go through these guys. I frequented them CONSTANTLY for most of my life as a standby flyer and you will love these clowns. Things I’ve had screen through my hometown airport and even bigger airports like San Diego and make it through without a hiccup (like suntan lotion in a TSA approved oz bottle size) have been taken by these good ole boys. Of all the airports and all the TSA agents I’ve dealt with these guys are my #1 on the hate list.

  2. Bill who's totally not a terrorist

    Back in the 90s, after the FBI was pretending that TWA#800 was a terrorist attack instead of a malfunction, they started making people turn on laptops, which were new, confusing, and had big clunky opaque batteries. It didn’t bother me too much that I got asked if I had a laptop in Boise airport, though turning it on meant finding an outlet because the batteries weren’t very good.

    But flying out of San Jose and getting asked if I had a laptop? I had to refrain from saying “Am I in the wrong airport? You know what people do for money here in San Jose, right? Is there anybody flying out of here who doesn’t have a laptop?”…

    That was also where I first encountered the made-up rule about making people take their hats off. Most of the people who wore hats there in those days were Mexicans wearing cowboy hats. I was a bearded bald guy who wore hats to keep my head warm, and I could pass for Hasidic if I were wearing a dark suit, but I’m also a Quaker and we have a history of government officials making us take our hats off to acknowledge who’s boss. If anybody’d tried making up a rule like that in LaGuardia airport, the Lubavichers would have had them fired for discrimination in a day.

    • The Jetsetting Terrorist

      The culture of a town noticeably affects TSA behavior. In Seattle, most of the time, they act stoned and indifferent. In St Louis it’s all hostility, all of the time.

  3. Foreign girl with 5 bags

    So I used to regularly fly out of CLL. This airport is incredibly fun, because they have too many officers for 2 companies, so they don’t have much to do and open *every* bag to go through stuff. As a foreign graduate student, I get “selected” every time for extra “screening”. As a scientist who regularly carries field work equipment such as tubes, I know I’m like a baby zebra with a broken leg in front of half a dozen lionesses, but nothing could have prepared me to be bullied by the American Airlines employees instead of the TSA.

    I was flying out of the country and taking my books to my parents’ place, so I was going to pay extra to carry 5 bags. My boyfriend was flying with his super terrifying vinyl records. They don’t have any decent carts there. Because we are foreign, we have to be at the airport 2h before the flight, which meant that the 800 sq.ft. hall was completely empty when we got there. So we got out of the cab and, not being octopuses, started pushing 2 bags at a time, leaving the others a few feet behind every time.
    This guy from AA came hurrying:
    “mme. you can’t abandon your bags”
    “i’m not abandoning my bags, I have too many for this cart. can you give me a hand”
    “no. you can’t abandon your bags.”
    “how am I supposed to push them? i’m not letting them out of my sight. there’s nobody here. i just want to get to the counter”
    “you can’t leave them behind”
    “so can i bring half to the counter, check them, then come back for the rest?”
    (at this point this guy is mad, and starting to talk really loud, kind of panicking)
    “you can’t abandon your bags and if you insist I’ll have to call security on you”

    This was 2 or 3 years ago and i don’t remember how we managed to get around this. I think my bf must have found a way to pile them up and push a bunch together, I don’t know. I filed a complaint with AA afterwards, since nothing could justify that attitude- nothing on Earth. Unless he was on something. But of course I didn’t even get apologies.
    I haven’t tried to get out of the US since that trip.

    • Foreign girl with 5 bags

      Ah yeah, we got the celebrity treatment you describe in #3-5. The only difference is that it started at the balcony even before the bags were checked.
      I just wanted to add that I had nothing in my appearance that was bound to alarm them other than my passport.

    • The Jetsetting Terrorist

      Airlines treating us like the TSA our our fault is the subject of an upcoming article. These airlines will often sacrifice relationships with the people who give them money to remain supplicant to, and in good favor with, the TSA.

  4. Not remotely srrpuised that this is what hides behind the TSA security theatre. I cannot be the only person who has significantly cut travel just because its become such a miserable experience, with no small part of that down to the idiocy that is the TSA. When it was first being created, my initial thought was that objections to setting up the TSA as a government agency were just a knee-jerk anti-government reaction. However, the TSA has shown that the government bureaucracy hires badly, manages poorly and is virtually completely unaccountable in this area. Security theater at its worst. As you say, get government out of this business.

  5. Olivia

    Never been selected for the dubious pleasure of SSSS, but once a few years ago, flying from Warsaw to JFK through Heathrow, something curious happened. In Heathrow, before the extra-screening US gate (next over hyper security gate was flight to Kosovo :)) an aiport worker asked us whether we were transferring and, if so, where from. After saying Warsaw, I was directed to a nice booth where they grilled me for pretty much everything that wasn’t my mother’s maiden name. And behind me was a nice line of people flying from, you guessed it, Warsaw!

    I later approached the employee and asked if they were asking for people from Warsaw. She said no. I looked back at the small line. Every single person had flown from Warsaw. They might as well have announced “Fliers from Warsaw please prepare for interrogation at booth ##!”.

    That happened only once, and ended happily. Whee. I’m a US citizen, but my permanent resident mom and brother are put through their paces pretty often though :/. They keep swabbing mom, and of course zilch comes up.


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