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?”
TSA agent: “Did you purchase your ticket in the last 24 hours?”
TSA agent: “Did you fly out of the country recently?”
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.
“Mr ______. Go ahead and TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES and place them IN THE BIN. Ok, now Mr _____, 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.