I Try To Take A Laptop Onto An Plane. Here’s What Happened.

Jun 24, 2017 by

I Try To Take A Laptop Onto An Plane. Here’s What Happened.

Washington DC gets involved in the TSA’s latest hard-fought effort to embarrass itself.

Readers of Wayne Dyer – and pretty much everyone in this weird New Age town I currently live in – will tell you that you manifest the energy you project. So it’s no surprise that when I showed up to the airport ready for war, that’s what I got.

Let me back up…

The TSA had a new rule: All passengers on international flights had to power on their laptops to show they were real and not bombs.

My flight that day was domestic. But it didn’t take a huge, conspiratorial leap of logic to assume that what they required of all international travelers would also be required of convicted terrorists domestically.

That was what I knew what was coming. Then there was what I feared was coming…

There would perhaps be no greater feat for the TSA than legal clearance to warrantlessly copy the hard drives of everyone on The List. They already copy hard drives at Customs (see: “Flying internationally as a convicted terrorist, Part II”) And while file-jacking wasn’t what these new TSA rules called for, this was a massive leap in that direction.

Small editorial sidebar

Writing a story is the world’s most privileged, self-indulgent, un-heroic, and feeble form of non-pro­test. There are people in prison (at home and worldwide) for defending their freedoms, and there’s nothing more insulting to them then a fake progressive keyboard-gangster with a blog grand­standing about striking a blow for the oppressed from behind the safety of a Mac Book. I won’t exaggerate the impact of a blog. It’s just words. No courage required.

What’s more, I’m not just not part of the solution; I’m part of the problem. By submitting to in­trusive TSA screenings, groping, et al; I have already, in a large way, rolled over. There’s no amount of ego-deflating insults or blog posts I can hurl their way that offsets my complicity. By flying, however reluctantly, I have bowed.

But I have one non-negotiable bottom-line. One immutable line in the sand:

There was no way the TSA was getting access to my computer.

If they ask for passwords, I’m gone. That’s it.

The day they start probing my computer is the day I stop flying.

Would they ask for my password? Wayne Dyer says “what you fear, will appear,” so…. I was trying not to think about it.

Let’s get this over with: Arriving at the TSA checkpoint

The TSA woman told me to power up my laptop. The screen illuminated. There was a long dra­matic pause while I waited for her next words.

“Okay, now the other one.”

I exhaled.

This brings up something I left out: I brought two laptops. You know those old ones that wouldn’t yield $5 on eBay today, but you keep them around because just because you can’t throw away something that cost you $1,500 five years ago? It was one of those. There were files on there I needed for my trip, I didn’t have time to copy them, so I threw it into my carry-on.

The battery had been dead for years. Not just uncharged, but non-functional.

“Dead battery. I have to plug it in.” I said, pointing to the outlet 5 feet to our right.

“I don’t…. I don’t think that’s possible. One moment.”

She left to confer, then came back.

“It has to be turned on with battery power.” She said.

“Dead battery. Won’t hold a charge.” I said.

“This is a new rule that went into effect this week. If it can’t be turned on with the battery, you cannot board.”

“I’ve flown three times this week. You’re the first one to make it an issue.” I said, lying.

She left again. Someone with the swagger of a boss approached.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “We can’t let you use this outlet,” he pointed, again, to the one 5 feet to our goddamn left. “But I’m going to have this agent take you downstairs where you can find another one. Just show him it can turn on, then we’ll proceed with the screening.”

I couldn’t be sure, but this appeared to be a case of a TSA agent inventing a totally arbitrary and nonsensical rule on the spot, without explanation, nor the ability to provide one even if there was a gun to his head, and doing it with a straight face and a strange lack of concern for looking totally stupid. I, for one, was totally shocked.

A third agent told me to follow him downstairs. As we scanned walls for an outlet a full hundred yards away, a call came through his radio. He listened intently, then he turned to me,

“Boss says there’s been a change of plan. Let’s go.”

Back upstairs, the boss says,

“I spoke with someone, and… The new rules state electronic devices must be powered by a battery.”

“Why.” I said.

“New rules.” He said.

“So you’re saying I have to go downstairs and pay $25 to check this laptop because of a rule that didn’t exist 7 days ago, that you can’t explain.” I said.

“No. I can’t let you check it either.” He said.

There aren’t enough trees and ink to transcribe the ensuing conversation.
Here’s the rough outline:

Why.
Because.
Why.
I don’t know.
Why.
Doing what I’m told.
<A hundred laps around that>
<Crossing my arms, embracing the stalemate>

One thing I had going for me: This guy was nervous. He repeatedly confessed this was virgin territory, and this rule he’d declared was merely his personal interpretation of a new, vague, and untested policy.

“I’ve been trying to reach someone who knows the rules here,” he said. “But the DC office is closed.”

Prior to that moment, the TSA was in a 99-way tie for its all-time-low. But this one leaped right to the top – an explicit admission of what we all knew anyway: They invented their rules, on the spot.

I know I know, I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath…

Through it all, I sensed this guy was scared, and felt that if I missed my flight, there might be consequences. Precisely why, when dressing for the airport, I cultivate the image of a guy who has a lawyer. On retainer.

We were over 60 minutes deep into this. A change of tactics was overdue. It was just me and him, off to the side, next to an unused X-ray carousel.

“Listen…” I leaned forward and raised a conspiratorial eyebrow. “If I go downstairs and come back in 5 minutes without this laptop, is that going to be a problem?”

He didn’t take the bait.

“I can’t let you check it in.”

I clearly wasn’t going anywhere, and he was clearly getting nervous. He made repeated trips to a back room, where I watched him pace around on his cell phone. Then come up for air. Then fin­ger-stab his phone for another round.

30 minutes later, he emerged.

“I had to pull my boss in DC out of dinner with his family.” He said. I think this was where I was supposed to feel bad or something. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You can check in your laptop.”

And no, the TSA wouldn’t cover the check-in fee. I asked.

Lightning Round Recap

The final tally:

  • Number of minutes for the entire standoff: 110
  • Number of times the TSA changed their “rules”: 3
  • Average frequency of TSA changing rules: Once every 36.6 minutes.
  • Number of dollars the TSA cost me because they’re stupid: 25
  • Number of times the TSA boss said “I don’t know”: >1,000

Oh, and one more

  • Number of paid “reputation crisis management” experts it will take to repair their decimat­ed reputation and untangle them from their 12 year parade of stupid: trick question. Not possible.

TSA: You’re on the wrong side of history and an even wrong-er side of the Consti­tution. You’ve done a lot of talking about your mission to secure this country. Here’s mine: Being your worst PR nightmare. You’ve done a lot of talking about your rules. Here’s mine: For every “SSSS” I see on my boarding pass, I’m going somewhere cooler, hanging out with smarter and more attractive people, and sending you the pictures.

Living well is the best revenge.

-Jetsetting Terrorist

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