I WIN: How I parlayed an intrusive TSA search into a free flight
In a rare victory over the TSA, I capitalize on their incompetence and get a free flight out of it.
New Orleans. It was the same story. Get to the gate, hand them boarding pass, machine lets out a head-turning squawk, and the ticket taker spends the next 1 to 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the computer system to let me board.
So I got to the gate and of course the gate agent couldn’t figure out what she was supposed to do. A minute ticks by, she’s getting flustered, pecking the keyboard aggressively, and the computer is still telling her I’m not allowed to board. Finally she asks me to step aside so she can let the other passengers on.
More minutes tick by. Everyone boards. Two airline employees are hovered over the computer, frantically trying to figure out what the TSA’s system wants so it will tell them I’m allowed to board. It’s about 7 minutes to takeoff. They’re closing the jet bridge. A flight attendant comes out to ask what’s going on.
“I can’t clear this passenger. He’s a Selectee.”
No one knows what to do. The plane is ready to depart. Finally, in a flustered tone, she says-
“Just…. Just go ahead. Go.”
…and waves me on the plane. Some variation of this happens all the time. In flagrant violation of Homeland Security / TSA protocol, I might add.
This is where it gets good
My layover was in Salt Lake City or something like that. Boarding my connecting flight, I handed my second boarding pass to the gate agent, and the machine let out a really weird squawking sound. One I hadn’t heard before.
Frantic keyboarding pecking followed. Then a whispered phone call. Then a few questions about where I’d come from. Another hushed call. More computer punching. And then…
“Mister _____, according to our computer, you never boarded your flight in New Orleans. Did you give the gate agent your boarding pass when you boarded?”
This guy was clearly going for the stupid-question-of-the-year award.
“Ah, yes.” I said.
“We’re showing that you never boarded that plane. I can’t let you board.”
If ever there was a more colossal example of someone outsourcing their mental faculties and five senses to a computer and looking massively, record-breakingly stupid in the process, this was it. THIS WAS IT.
“Tell me how am I am right here if I’m not here.” I said.
That stumped him.
“I…. I can’t let you board.”
He wasn’t kidding. He wasn’t even pecking around on his computer anymore. He was just staring at me.
“Figure it out.”
“I spoke with the gate agent in New Orleans, and they say you did not board.”
“Figure. It. Out.”
The jetbridge closed and the plane pulled away. That was it. I was now caught between two computer systems, a derelict terrorist lost in that narrow crack between a stupid agency and an incompetent airline. Was this Kafka-esque or Orwellian? Or both?
There’s a level of rage and contempt that transcends any physical or verbal manifestation. I was there. All the fury of holy hell was channeled through my eyes and burning a hole in this bozo’s face.
“Figure. It. Out.”
I dropped my backpack and slumped myself forward on the counter.
“Think real hard about how you’re going to tell your boss why you have a permanent resident at Gate C-8. I have all. Fucking. Day. Figure it out. “
There was no way I was going to expedite this by telling him what I knew: I’m on The List, New Orleans never figured out how to TSA-clear me, then just gave up, and doomed me to airport-purgatory.
I think he realized this problem (i.e. me) wasn’t going away.
“Sit down.” he said.
Phone calls were made. People from up the chain gathered. Finally, a man I hadn’t spoken to yet called me over.
“Mister ____. I think we figured out what happened. And we’re really sorry.”
After several minutes of my well-played one-man “good cop / bad cop” routine (“I know you aren’t the one who made me miss my flight, but…. This is unbelievable!“), and endless apologies (while the original gate agent stood to the side, looking very guilty I might add), I was offered the following compensation:
- $400 flight voucher.
- Three meal vouchers.
- Three on-flight drink vouchers.
And I was on the next fight out, two hours later. I don’t consider my time cheap, but getting the equivalent of $400 for two hours to do computer work that I had to do anyway… I consider that a pretty good return on my investment.