Thursday, July 07, 2005

Security Policies Lack Common Sense

Before you read this story taken from Screener-Central, I just want the reader to realize something. In this story, the writer questions the common sense of the "Screener". We must remember that the Screener is more then likely the only person with any amount of common sense and he/she is only doing what a more then likely inept supervisor told him/her to do. This story only strengthens my low opinion of TSA administration and management. If you were to walk into a meeting of the minds of these people, one would be lead to think that they just stepped into Darwins Waiting Room.

Last month a group of veterans of the legendary Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division - made famous as "The Band of Brothers" - visited Bastogne, where they endured the awful winter of 1944, as the guests of a group of Dutch people. As a token of their gratitude for the Band of Brothers' role in liberating Europe from the Nazis, the soldiers were presented with individually engraved Zippo lighters, replicas of the lighters that were standard issue in World War II.

On one side, the lighters depict a map of the places where Easy Company fought. On the other, each veteran's name is engraved above a unit insignia. The lighters obviously were special commemoratives to anyone who would think for two seconds.
But never underestimate thick-headed bureaucratic stupidity. On the way back home, a Transportation Security Administration airport screener confiscated Easy Company veteran Bill Wingett's special lighter from his carry-on luggage. Lighters, you see, are forbidden aboard U.S. airliners. Wingett appealed to common sense, pointing out that the lighter had no flint and no fluid, and that he had no fluid in his luggage - so therefore it could not be used to make a flame. A supervisor, apparently just as dense, was summoned, then another. Wingett even suggested handing it to the airliner's pilot for safekeeping for the final leg of his flight home. The bureaucratic screeners dug in. No one would bend the rules, not even for an old vets' commemorative.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. A friend in the Oregon National Guard heard about the lost lighter and fired off phone calls and e-mails to the TSA, United Airlines and Army friends. One of the messages made its way to John Williams, a United Airlines claims representative whose father is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A message from Williams got to Jerry Golladay, a TSA aviation manager who is a Navy veteran. Soon every possible spot at Dulles Airport where the confiscated lighter could have gone was turned inside-out. The cherished Zippo was found on the second round of searching - and returned to Wingett.

The story highlights the continuing stupidity of airport screening policies that insist upon treating an 82-year-old military veteran exactly the same as a young Middle Eastern man traveling to the United States on a one-way ticket.

The TSA can't mandate common sense among its airport screeners, but it can rethink airport security policies that continue to wreak havoc on travel in large and small ways and yet fail to focus on the most likely security threats to airliners.


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