TSA Failure: Leaving Orange County

View down the Southern California coast

View down the Southern California coast

My departure out of of John Wayne in the predawn hours of Saturday made me even angrier at the TSA than I’m used to getting.  The couple in front of accidentally messed up their boarding passes, but the TSA personnel needlessly made a huge fiasco out of it at two different stages of the checkpoint.

An agent (I use agent instead of the TSA’s preferred Transportation Security Officer because these agents are not actually sworn peace officers) at the entrance to the screening area told the woman that she had to go back to the ticket counters to get  a boarding pass for her flight from Orange County to Atlanta.  She only had a boarding pass from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., while the man carried one for the Orange County to Atlanta leg.  I’m sure it happens everyday that people leave one or more of their set of boarding passes at the ticket counters.  In this case, it was a waste of time for the woman to have to go back and retrieve the additional boarding passes when it was abundantly clear that the couple were traveling on a legitimate itinerary.  It makes air travel no safer to waste peoples’ time in making them obtain duplicate information.

The man continued through the lines to the metal detector.  Upon passing through, the agent inspecting boarding passes said “This isn’t your name, is it?  Danielle?”  It turned out that he had been carrying his wife’s boarding pass for the first segment of their trip.   The fact that he had been allowed to proceed to the metal detector of course triggered a security breach.  One of the agents announced “Seven-November-One, wait no, Seven-November-Two !”, which presumably was a top-secret Homeland Security code for “one of our agents screwed up and read ‘Daniel’ instead of ‘Danielle’ on a boarding pass, and now it’s time for us to hold all these other passengers up and fire the agent at the front of the line.”  Whatever purpose the top-secret code had was eliminated as the agent sitting at the X-Ray, whom I will call Agent Crassa, fully explained the details and consequences of the security breach.  Two of the three TSA agents working the X-Ray machine I was at then had to escort the man back out of security.  Various passengers commented on how asinine it was for him to be escorted out of security, but we were reprimanded and informed that “It was for our own safety.” It makes air travel no safer to use needless “codes” or to require multiple agents to their stations and escort someone who is clearly not a threat back to the end of the line.

While I was waiting in line for the metal detector, one of the agents announced that they would be scanning all electronics, so we would need to remove all of our electronics from carry-on baggage to pass it through the X-Ray machine.  Anyone who knows me remotely well would know that removing all of my electronics from all of their containers would be about a ten-minute long process.  So, I did as I normally do when I’m told to remove all video cameras, large electronics, and laptops, and only took out my laptop.  After agent Crassa told me that I would need to unpack everything, I requested that someone do a manual search, since it would take less time.  She muttered something incoherent and I went through the metal detector.  She then asked the agent working at the end of the X-Ray machine conveyor belt to “come over here and unpack this guy’s electronics, because he’s refusing to do it himself.”  The agent then went to the other side of the metal detector, pulled out my DV cassette case, camera case, and removable hard drive case to go through the metal detector.  She asked Agent Crassa “Is this all you need?”  Agent Crassa replied “yeah, it’s just those tapes and adapters left in there,” loud enough for the rest of the line to hear.  It should be noted that the actual electronics were not removed from their cases, so there was actually no advantage to screening them separately.  It would have been “more secure” if someone had just looked through the items manually, as I had requested.  Instead, some electronics (e.g. power adapters) were not removed, some non-electronics (e.g. a mini-tripod) were, and the contents of my bag were announced to all of the other passengers in the line.  It makes air travel no safer to decline manual searches when travelers request them or to announce the contents of travelers’ bags to other passengers.

A summary of these complaints has been submitted to the TSA in the hopes that their abysmal service will improve.  I doubt I will receive a response.  I do think it’s important to not blame the TSA agents for all of this incompetence and unprofessionalism.  One of the agents was actually very helpful in helping me find my drivers license after a passenger behind me, angered by all the delays, threw his plastic bin onto my belongings.  The agents are doing their job in trying to follow prescribed procedures, even if these procedures are time-wasting bureaucratic routines supporting a culture of irrational fear and concomitant mindless obedience that do nothing to enhance safety.

As airline pilot Patrick Smith writes in Salon’s “Ask a Pilot”,

[W]e should hardly be surprised, perhaps, at the Frankenstein monster now before us. Propped up by a culture of fear, TSA has become a bureaucracy with too much power and little accountability. It almost makes you wonder if the Department of Homeland Security made a conscious decision to present bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance as the public face of TSA…

The only pleasant things that saved the morning for me were watching a flock of Canada geese flying directly over a US Air A320 while waiting on the tarmac and the clear skies that allowed me to see Downtown Los Angeles and Mexico after takeoff.

Heathrow Expansion

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Lufthansa 747-400 on approach to LAX

Despite their environmental harms, I tend to think airports are a pretty good idea.  The Great Park is okay, but building a small airport at the former MCAS El Toro for general aviation traffic would have been preferable and would have reduced the number of runway incursions at John Wayne.  Administrators at John Wayne tend to  blame the small planes but ignore the larger structural problem of combining heavy commercial and general aviation traffic at a tiny airport.  Instead of building a bunch of soccer fields and a giant balloon, it would have made sense to move general aviation traffic to El Toro, safely out of the way of the commercial flights at John Wayne.  Small recreational aircraft and charter planes wouldn’t have to deal with the constant “Caution wake turbulence” advisories from John Wayne Tower, and they would be able to clear the foothills that El Toro airport opponents claimed would doom any takeoffs.  The larger planes at John Wayne would have been safer without all the runway incursions.

While I tend to argue in favor of additional runway capacity, I do have to appreciate some of the tactics being used against Heathrow’s proposed third runway.  One of the more creative ones:

Greenpeace has quietly bought a field close to the site of the third runway, right in the middle of what would be the expanded airport.

The plan is to parcel it up into tiny squares, and sell them online to people across the world.

“The airport will have to buy the land back from Eskimos and people living on remote islands,” said one Greenpeace activist.  [BBC]

Awesome.

Media Trolley Getaway Attempt

Route 101 Trolley at 69th St

Route 101 Trolley at 69th St

Earlier this week, two suspects robbed a bank in Media and tried to escape on public transportation.  They boarded Route 101, the trolley I often take from the Springfield Mall near Swarthmore to either Media or 69th Street.  From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Yesterday, after the Sovereign Bank branch at Providence Road and Baltimore Pike in Media was robbed, the two suspects were spotted climbing on board the Route 101 trolley…

News of the robbery went out on the police radio and officers were stationed at every stop along the trolley route, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.


Obama Letdown

Santa Ana Freeway

The Santa Ana Freeway - Will LaHood work for mass transit alternatives or expansion and induced demand?

I was well aware that President-elect Obama wouldn’t be able to live up to the high expectations that many people, including myself, had of him.  This week, however, has been a particularly rough one.  Monday’s announcement of his “Green Team” was lacking a Transportation Secretary.  As Streetsblog reports,

“Obama still hasn’t made the transportation – land use – climate connection,” Petra Todorovich, director of Regional Plan Association’s America 2050 program said. “It’s clear he’s thinking about these things in separate categories.”

When he did fill the spot, public transportation and livable streets advocates were not particularly pleased.  Most sources report LaHood to be pretty cozy with the highway lobby.  It’s disappointing to have such a valuable spot in the cabinet go to a politician who is not very progressive.  Again, from the Streetsblog report:

“This sends the message that the transportation secretary is a throw-away political appointment who doesn’t matter,’ said a city transportation official who, like others, asked to remain anonymous to preserve their relationship with the U.S. DOT. “This is the slot for the token Republican. It’s the bottom of the barrel. A bone you can throw.”

And to top it all off, it comes out that Rick Warren will be given the honor of giving the inauguration’s invocation.  I apologize on behalf of Orange County, but at least the conversations behind the decision have been made public.

The Spirit of Transportation

The Spirit of Transportation

In contrast to the last two years, where most of my regional rail rides were to/from Market East and Suburban Station, this year I’ve been spending a lot of time at 30th Street Station.  With my Intro to Education placement trips and my Megabus journeys, I’ve gotten plenty of chances to investigate different parts of the station, including the cool sculpture in the North Waiting Room.  The Spirit of Transportation, sculpted by Karl Bitter in 1895, was originally installed in Philadelphia’s Broad Street station.  A baby carrying an airship leads this procession of transportation innovations, “a prophetic vision of a mode of transportation to come.”

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Futuristic transportation: paddleboats, dirigibles, and locomotives

Cool Trip Back from New York

Megabus at 30th and JFK

Megabus at 30th and JFK

This evening, I returned from a trip to New York that will be my last for quite a while.  There were some enjoyable highlights on the ride back.  Of course, I got stuck in an aisle seat and out of respect of others’ personal space (which some of my fellow passengers seemed to lack), I couldn’t lean over to the window and snap any pictures.  What I saw:

  1. While I missed the moonrise last night due to clouds, I got an awesome view of a huge full moon rising over Manhattan as we emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel.
  2. Around Exit 14-14C of the New Jersey Turnpike, the lights of five planes on approach to EWR’s runway 4R could be seen stretching out in the distance.  They appeared to form a downward opening parabola, with the closest light about to land and the farthest just above the lights of the Goethals Bridge.  It almost looked like the lights of the bridge were flying off and skipping over to Newark.  Very cool.
  3. One of the tall gas flares at the Linden Cogen Facility had numerous strings of lights attached to the top, spreading out to form a circle at ground level.  That’s right, an illuminated petrochemical Christmas tree.  Only in New Jersey…
  4. We passed about 30 utility trucks and cherry pickers with their lights flashing heading north on the Turnpike.  Quite the convoy of reinforcements heading up to get the power back on up in New England.

TSA Failure: My Dad, the Terrorist

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My dad was unable to checkin online for his flight out of Philadelphia.  He apparently was placed on the government’s no-fly list over a year ago.  He requested that the TSA clear up the mistake, and after months of waiting, he receieved a response that the issue had been sorted out.  Since then, it’s been hit-or-miss whether he is permitted to checkin online or not.  If the government is going to subject citizens to inconvenient restrictions such as these, they should at least be consistent.

Inside the Silverliner V

I finally made it into the Silverliner V mockup at Suburban Station.  It’s quite the rolling stock.  Pictures:

Additional Door

Additional Door

Exterior LED Destination Display

Exterior LED Destination Display

Interior

Interior

Interior LCD Screen

Interior LCD Screen