Almost anyone that travels via commercial airlines has a story to tell about lost luggage, flight delays, or the latest TSA rules. It was such a hot topic among my buddies right before one of my trips that I did a little research and posted, “What does the TSA really do?” Read it here.
Just recently, Sheila and I got to experience first hand the TSA techniques for handling undocumented travelers. Yup. Undocumented. Sheila misplaced her official photo ID (her driver’s license) and had to not only prove who she was, but go through a very thorough search to boot.
Here’s how it played out:
We took the hotel shuttle van to the local airport, ready to fly out on a commuter leg that would get us to a major hub. Something told me to take an early shuttle van, so we arrived three hours before the flight. We had checked into our flight while still at the hotel and already had our boarding passes, so we rolled our suitcases up to the baggage check-in area, expecting a quick handover of the lightly packed bags.
Sheila took out her wallet, but couldn’t find her driver’s license, so she waved me ahead. The airline agent checked mine and took my bag. I stepped away and looked over at my wife. She was frowning. The agent wasn’t busy yet, so he stood there, watching. Sheila took every single piece of paper and credit card out of her wallet, but could not find the license. She had grocery cards, office supply cards, medical ID cards, but no license. Gulp.
“Is it possible you put it somewhere else for some reason?” he asked, so very kindly.
She took apart her briefcase and her tote bag, piece by paper by book. She turned everything upside down and shook it.
“The last time I remember seeing it was when we checked into the hotel.” She sounded a touch panicky.
The agent walked away to take care of other people and we called the hotel. We were put on hold for fifteen minutes while the hotel manager looked in the safe. No ID.
Sheila took everything apart again. I called the agent over and asked what would happen if she couldn’t find her ID. Would Sheila be able to board the plane in this post 9/11 world?
“Does she have a passport with her?” (We weren’t that far from the Canadian border, so that was a reasonable question.)
“We weren’t planning on leaving the country, so, no.”
He called a TSA supervisor, who explained that they would have to establish Sheila’s identity through the Homeland Security Office and after that, conduct an extensive search, a process that could take up to six hours. We would probably miss the flight – the last one of the day.
Anyone that flies in the United States knows that photo ID is required in order to buy an airline ticket and to board the plane. It is usually a driver’s license, but can also be a passport or an official non-driver’s license photo ID. Mom, who no longer drove and whose license had expired years before, had to get one of those in order to fly.
Photo ID is also required when checking into a reputable hotel – not the fly-by-night or rent-by-the-hour type.
Sheila and I had just finished a great weekend at a Police Academy training site – yes, she had fun, too. She shot an AR-15 for the first time and even had a tight grouping on the target.
As the flight time loomed closer, Sheila decided to give up digging for her license and undergo the search and questioning. The officers made a call to the regional Homeland Security office and agreed to accept her business card photo (the card also had her name, website, and email address) that she did have in her wallet. Since several people with their legitimate driver’s licenses had vouched for her, as long as she could pass the questioning phase and go along with the search, she might be able to board. I think it helped that there were cops in the group who vouched for her.
Sheila’s suitcases had been placed on the side, away from everyone else’s. An officer opened them up, pulled everything out, and began the questioning.
“Why are you here?”
“What was the conference about?”
“What was the best class?”
“What do you do for a living?”
“What hotel did you stay in?”
“How long were you there?”
“Who ran the conference?”
The questions went on for twenty minutes. The personal search was conducted in front of the public, but the officer was polite/efficient and Sheila was focused on getting on that flight.
We did make the flight – barely. But, still puzzled as to what had happened to the license that she always puts in the same place.
It was midnight when we got home, but Sheila pulled everything out again. The last thing she looked at was the only item that she had not bothered with at the airport. The badge from the conference. It has a slot behind the name tag that attendees use to store business cards and hotel key cards. Very convenient. Sheila had helped sell raffle tickets at the banquet, thought that a purse would be in the way, so stuck her license and room card in that slot.
At least nobody stole her ID, a nightmare both of us had considered.
Lesson to be learned:
Stick to your normal routines for keys and licenses when traveling. We have those routines for a reason – so that we don’t forget where we put them. Ooops!
We had visions of staying quite a while in the airport. We were lucky that we happened to be traveling at the same time as so many other people who had attended the same conference. We were lucky that Sheila had a business card with her photo on it. We were lucky that reason had prevailed.
*Photos by Patti Phillips
Traveling during the holidays? We all try to stuff too much into the carry-ons, but there are special rules for what you can and can’t bring with you on the flight.
Just in case this is the first time you’re flying since 2001, when the regulations changed for everyone, here are two of the biggest no-no rules:
Don’t carry knives
Don’t carry guns
There are signs near every single U.S. security check area for carry-on luggage showing you the general list of what CANNOT be brought onto the plane, and some of the baggage check-in counters have physical examples of the no-nos. Here is a partial list of items that the TSA doesn’t want on the planes:
Why do you suppose people want to bring these items onto the plane? Because they are probably trying to avoid the extra baggage fee. Guess what? Nobody wants to sit next to a passenger that stows dynamite under the seat, no matter how much it is needed it for your business. Check with your airline for other no-fly items.
Click on the TSA link for their list:
The TSA has actually had to confiscate:
Click on the link below for other items that can’t be transported in the passenger section of a plane, and in some cases, not at all:
Suppose all your stuff is legal and you are good to get on the plane. All your shampoos and other liquids are stowed in your checked luggage. But, you still have a lot of carry-on paraphernalia – Laptop, book, coat, food for the plane, presents. Hmmm…
Space on a plane: It’s the time of year when people want to bring back the presents they have been given at their holiday gatherings. Unfortunately, most of them do NOT fit in the space below the seats or in the overhead storage. Those overhead spaces are SHARED space, meaning that you are allowed a space that is about the size of a weekender suitcase on a cross country plane with 100+ passengers.
If you are flying on a regional jet, there is barely enough room for a briefcase or a jacket up there, let alone packages or suitcases. Think kid’s backpack for overhead space size on a regional jet. You may be asked to keep your coat on, rather than stow it and in most cases, you will not be allowed to keep the presents/laptop/iPad in your lap during takeoff or landing. I’ve been on flights that have been delayed while extra items are taken off the passenger part of the plane and checked in with the baggage.
Your solution? Have your friends/family mail the packages to you. It’s cheaper than you think.
Take a look at the photo at the beginning of this article. No matter how much Sheila wanted to bring the Santa, the books and the maracas onto the plane, they did not fit into her carry-on. The bag is the regulation size (12” ruler in front of the bag) that fits under the seat and will fit nicely next to a laptop case in that same space. BUT, it is not big enough for the Santa, etc. We had to ship them back to our house at a cost of about $25.
Connecting flights: Plan ahead for your trip. If you have connections, see if both planes are the same size. Generally, they are not. And the different sized planes have different overhead space and under the seat space. I flew on a plane that had NO overhead space at all. That’s where the life jackets and oxygen masks were kept. Ask ahead, so you won’t be surprised and can pack or ship accordingly.
True story: Back in the 90s, a guy tried to board a plane in the Caribbean with a car door in tow. He needed it as a replacement part. He was given the option to have it placed in the cargo hold. He wouldn’t agree, so he and the door stayed behind. The entire incident defied logic because the door didn’t fit into the seat rows and certainly not in the overhead compartments. Plus, it was heavy! LOL
Have a safe flight and be kind to your fellow passengers and flight attendants! 🙂 That way, the Air Marshals won’t have to get involved. (“What does the TSA really do?)
*photo by Patti Phillips
Most of us associate the TSA (Transportation Security Agency) with annoying lines in the airports and intrusive searches through baggage, electronics, and personal belongings. In fact, the agency has 50,000 members and is also responsible for conducting inspections in rail cars and for patrolling subways in cooperation with local law enforcement men and women.
This most recent variation of airport and border security agencies was formed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 – the day of the worst terrorist attacks the USA has experienced. The TSA was organized and revamped in order to make travel throughout the country (and beyond) safer. These days, they operate under the umbrella of Homeland Security/Office of Law Enforcement.
Before September 11, 2001, airport screening was provided by the airlines/airports themselves. Afterward, the TSA was given oversight control of personnel training, in addition to the screening process itself. Not all airports had screening procedures in place, so that was changed as well. Bulletproof and locked cockpit doors became the norm because of the TSA, rather than the previous open door, friendly-to-all policy.
Other changes brought about in order to improve national security and passenger safety:
Federal Flight Deck Officers As terrorist threats in the air became more of a concern, the TSA created the Flight Deck Officer Program. Certain crewmembers are authorized and trained to use firearms as well as self-defense maneuvers to defend against anyone trying to get control of the cockpit/plane. On any given flight, it could be the pilot, co-pilot or navigator holding the gun that protects the crew.
Federal Air Marshals travel undercover on many US flights, not only domestic, but throughout the world. They protect the people onboard (as well as in airports) by detecting and responding to threats, managing any incidents (such as hostage situations) and generally acting as the law enforcement group within the TSA. The FAMS is most likely to have trained the canines used in patrolling the airports.
Federal Air Marshals have been around since 1962 in one form or another, under the jurisdiction of different agencies, at one time special volunteers for the program, but now a mandated position. They also assist other groups (such as the National Counterterrorism Center) when their special expertise in airport security is required.
Just knowing the Marshals are onboard, makes me feel safer when I travel. These guys and gals have to work without backup, so they train in all kinds of scenarios in order to protect the passengers and crew while in the air. Marshals are highly skilled in the use of handguns, but shooting inside a plane is pretty much a bad idea. The Marshals have other methods to subdue any people that might be crazy enough to disturb a flight.
Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR)
One of the arms of the TSA combines specialists from several areas and sends them out when needed in high-risk situations at transportation hubs throughout the country. They have been given the authority to work with federal, state and local law enforcement if transportation is affected by a terrorist threat. A team might include:
The team would receive any (or all) of the following in order to get the job done:
Yup. They do more than screen the baggage.
For more information about the TSA, please go to www.tsa.gov.