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Apple MacBook Airs are Cleared for Takeoff

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Photo of a MacBook Air laptop

Photo Courtesy Apple.com
So I was looking through my Google Alerts yesterday morning and something caught my eye. From a cursory glance of the day's blog entries, it looked as if the TSA was denying travel to Apple owners. I've never taken part in the war between Mac & PC users... I've used both and I enjoy using both, but I thought surely the TSA wasn't diving into the digital trenches and waging war against Apple. I know we're a versatile agency, but I would have to admit this would definitely be mission creep.

After digging into the articles, it turns out that a gentleman was traveling with his new MacBook Air . To make a long story short, it turns out the Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) gave some special attention to his new MacBook. Mac fans would tell you the TSOs simply couldn't resist getting a closer look at a fine piece of machinery. PC fans would tell you the TSOs are all PC fans and flagged the computer just to hassle the Mac guy. As a security fan, I can tell you that TSOs are trained to look for anomalies. Each TSO X-ray operator sees hundreds of laptops a day and some have been doing this for 6 years. They know what laptops are supposed to look like.

Here is my theory. Along comes the new MacBook Air. The thing is as thin as a potato chip, and looks completely different than any other laptop the TSOs have ever seen. They are seldom seen at TSA checkpoints due to their newness and the fact that they can be hard to find sometimes.

To help prove my theory, I've contacted Apple to see if I can process a MacBook Air through an X-ray and see how it looks. If it does indeed look odd, I'm going to take a picture and send it to TSA Training to help avoid future issues with MacBooks. The jury is out for now, but I'll post an update as soon as I can get my hands on the MacBook Air.

Click here to see my MacBook Air screening results (and, I've put together a movie).

One thing is for sure though. This was just a case of diligent TSOs paying special attention to something that caught their eye. Exactly what they are trained to do.

Bob
TSA Evolution Blog Team
*********** Update 3/12/08 ************
Still checking with Apple, but I wanted to highlight a post we received from Mr. Nygard. He’s the gentleman who posted about the experience he had while traveling with his MacBook Air. I’d like to thank Mr. Nygard for taking the time to comment on our blog. Here’s what he had to say:

It was my experience and blog post that got all this attention recently.

One of my purposes in writing this piece was to point out something I thought was interesting: namely that the x-ray screeners are trained to look for certain things--"landmarks", if you will--in the images they review.

Before last week, I had never given a moment's thought to the training or procedures behind the ubiquitous screening. Like many people, I supposed that they were just looking for obvious problems: suspicious outlines, coils of wires, etc.

I found it interesting that there might be a similar checklist of things that should be present: battery, hard drive, optical drive, and so on. I don't think most people would realize that.

Some people have interpreted me as variously "blasting", "vilifying", or "insulting" the TSA agents in question. This was not my intention. It appears to come mainly from people reacting to second-hand information, instead of reading the original post. ~ Michael Nygard


Bob

TSA Evolution Blog Team

Comments

Submitted by JohnF on

If Apple does agree to loan you an MBA, make sure they send one with an SSD, not a hard drive, as that is liable to draw attention on an xray.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Shouldn't TSA stay ahead of the curve on new technology, instead of trying to put a spin on it after it has left your grasp? Apple isn't exactly a fly by night company, and this new product was both anticipated and well advertised. It would be nice for the TSO's to get a heads up on things like this and know what to look for.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"It would be nice for the TSO's to get a heads up on things like this and know what to look for."

Oh hey, there's a new kind of shampoo out. Let's get all the TSO's together and brief them on that.

Oh, and I saw some cool shoes at the mall today, let's brief the TSO's on that too.

Come on. If TSO's had that much extra time to be briefed on every single new electronic item that came out, TSO's would never have time to do screening. They'd be sitting in a classroom their entire shift.

Regardless of what this blog says to try to help, people are going to cut it down. I'm not really seeing any viable suggestions from people commenting on these blogs. I'm glad that soldiers like me are still fighting in Iraq so you morons have the time/freedom/opportunity to post hateful and idiotic messages to a government branch that's trying to help you. I say that if you guys want it that way, cut off all the security at Laguardia, O'Hare, LAX, Seattle, and DFW for a week and see what crazy crap ends up on planes.

I say more power to the TSO's that are alert enough to check out something different so they know in the future what said product is supposed to look like.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said...
"Shouldn't TSA stay ahead of the curve on new technology, instead of trying to put a spin on it after it has left your grasp?...."

Yep, they should be aware of every piece of technology in the pipeline and know of every possible way that it could affect security operations in any way. Realistic thinking.

Submitted by Richard on

Anonymous said... "I say more power to the TSO's that are alert enough to check out something different so they know in the future what said product is supposed to look like."

Absolutely right!!!

Submitted by Eva on

I don't know. If I was that guy, and missed my flight because a TSO didn't know a laptop when they saw one... I'd be pretty aggravated.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Upon visual inspection and operationl demonstration, did it LOOK like a bomb--or small knife? And you still have the chutzpah to call them "officers".

Submitted by Anonymous on

Nobody's saying that the TSA has to be aware of every new piece of technology. But a computer from a major manufacturer? One that's received an enormous amount of press in the past months leading up to its release, both in the technological press and in the mainstream press? That I expect the TSA should be aware of.

Additionally, I'd like to hear a reason why they continued to delay this man when a second TSA came up and told them it was an actual computer.

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

Mr Anonymous...

First, thank you for your service to your country. You clearly believe in what you are doing in Iraq, and while there are not words strong enough in the English language to express the level to which I personally disagree with the reason that our government has chosen to send you there, I support your willingness to serve. Nonetheless, while I support you personally, I do take issue with the following bit of your statement:

"Regardless of what this blog says to try to help, people are going to cut it down. I'm not really seeing any viable suggestions from people commenting on these blogs. I'm glad that soldiers like me are still fighting in Iraq so you morons have the time/freedom/opportunity to post hateful and idiotic messages to a government branch that's trying to help you. I say that if you guys want it that way, cut off all the security at Laguardia, O'Hare, LAX, Seattle, and DFW for a week and see what crazy crap ends up on planes."

Going point by point:

1. If you have taken the time to read through everything on the various sections of the blog, you will find that many people have made many helpful suggestions, from signs that provide a passengers bill of rights, to enhanced training in customer service to TSOs, to cultural sensitivity training for front line personnel, to much clearer definition on the TSA website as to what is a liquid and what is not -- these would all help out. Nonetheless, what you view as helpful and what the TSA views as helpful and what the writer of any particular comment views as helpful may not be completely in line with one another. This a public forum and, at least in theory, "all views are welcome," including ones that don't agree with yours.

2. I personally happen to disagree with the proposition that the TSA does anything better or more thoroughly or keeps the flying public in any way safer than it was prior to 9/11 and I have yet to see anything that any TSO blogger or TSA apologist or "official" blogger has put out there to date that has changed my mind, yet I keep looking. I would like to see the TSA defunded, disbanded, and security returned to the control of the airlines as it was before. I resent the insinuation that because I don't fall hook, line, and sinker for the government line that I am some kind of "moron" (your word, not mine -- I have been very careful not to resort to name calling in my many posts here and while tempting, I shall refrain from doing so now).

3. The government's own auditors as well as TSA's own auditors have shown that the TSOs miss a significant percentage of the prohibited items that go through the checkpoints. There are plenty of "prohibited" items at any given moment past the screening area in any airport just as a function of running an airport (are you going to use a plastic butter knife as a screwdriver?) All we need is to keep the manifestly dangerous stuff off the planes -- the guns, the big knives, and the actual explosives -- you know the real ones, not the pretend ones that we're all supposed to be afraid that someone is going to cook up in an airplane lav while the plane is bouncing through turbulent skies, and keep those cockpit doors closed, bolted tight and reinforced.

Effectively Mr. Anonymous, the TSO was confronted with something that was clearly not a bomb. It was clearly not a knife. It was clearly not an explosive. It was clearly not on the prohibited items list. You claim to be fighting for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is that under the law, anything that is not expressly prohibited is permitted. TSA's ignorance of new technology is not an excuse anymore than TSA would accept someone claiming ignorance of the rules at the security checkpoint while trying to bring through a 5oz tube of toothpaste.

I also remind you Mr. Anonymous, you took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution when you put on that uniform. You did not take an oath to defend the country, you did not take an oath to defend the government, you did not take an oath even to defend the commander in chief. So yes, you are defending my right to put ideas out there with which you may disagree. Dissent is patriotism in its highest form.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This is one of the reasons I really attemp to avoid flying with a digital o'scope made by Tektronix.

What is it?
O'scope.
Why does it say 600V?
That's the maximum input.
Can you hurt yourself with it?
Only if you repeatedly smash yourself in the head.

Submitted by Chance on
Additionally, I'd like to hear a reason why they continued to delay this man when a second TSA came up and told them it was an actual computer.

As I'm not a TSO, perhaps I'm speaking out of turn, but while we definitely should trust our fellow workers, I would personally not want to be the guy that let something through that shouldn't have, and my only defense being "Well, Bob said it was cool". Yes, the Mac isn't a knife, bomb, or gun, but better safe than sorry.

Chance EoS Blog Team
Submitted by Yuhong on

BTW, the MacBook Air isn't the only computer that have a solid state drive, another computer that have one is the ThinkPad X300. BTW, the TSA had issues with new products before, for example, the OQO, Ultra-Mobile PCs, Nike+iPod.
See http://www.news.com/8301-13579_3-9890349-37.html for some other examples.

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

Chance, you said:

"Yes, the Mac isn't a knife, bomb, or gun, but better safe than sorry.

Chance EoS Blog Team

March 11, 2008 7:08 PM"

As I said to the fine gentleman a little earlier, TSA's ignorance of technology is not an excuse that actually flies (whine all you like about budgets and resources, if you were really interested in keeping on top of things you'd find them somewhere). TSA has a list of prohibited items. Presumably anything that is not on that list is permitted on the plane, so long as it meets the size restrictions for carry-on baggage. Are you now telling me that TSOs can make up their own rules on the spot?

How did TSA compensate the gentleman who missed his flight because of TSA's ignorance and incompetence?

Submitted by Josh Minzner on

Thats very funny seeing as the MacBook Air is targeted towards frequent fliers!

Submitted by Anonymous on
TSA has a list of prohibited items. Presumably anything that is not on that list is permitted on the plane, so long as it meets the size restrictions for carry-on baggage. Are you now telling me that TSOs can make up their own rules on the spot?

They do this by the one line that says (something to the effect) "this list is not exclusive in that any item we deem to pose a threat, may be confiscated."

How did TSA compensate the gentleman who missed his flight because of TSA's ignorance and incompetence?

Give you two chances and the first doesn't count. I suspect that they waved the guy through before having a laugh at this expense.
Submitted by Winstonsmith on

Hehehe Mr. Anonymous... funny.

"TSA has a list of prohibited items. Presumably anything that is not on that list is permitted on the plane, so long as it meets the size restrictions for carry-on baggage. Are you now telling me that TSOs can make up their own rules on the spot?

They do this by the one line that says (something to the effect) "this list is not exclusive in that any item we deem to pose a threat, may be confiscated."

This is pretty much why I post the stuff that I post. People are afraid of the TSA because the TSA has license to act in a capricious and retaliatory fashion. The person at the receiving end of TSA's abuse dares not complain for fear of further abuse. My family is convinced that I'm "in for it" the next time I go through airport screening because of the less than complimentary things that I have said about the TSA and its policies and how I have urged people to use whatever legal means are at their disposal to protest. Terrorists use fear to manipulate. Does this not seem to be what the TSA is doing as well? When the rules are unclear, or when they can be made up on the spot; when you can be detained for any reason or no reason at all and not have to have that reason even disclosed to you; all of this smacks of police state tactics that we as Americans fought against in WWII, the Korean War, and to a lesser extent Vietnam and even the Cold War against the Soviet Union. We are much better people than that.


"How did TSA compensate the gentleman who missed his flight because of TSA's ignorance and incompetence?

Give you two chances and the first doesn't count. I suspect that they waved the guy through before having a laugh at this expense."

Heh... I already know the answer... I just want to hear someone from the TSA admit it and try to defend it.


March 11, 2008 8:05 PM

Submitted by Troymccluresf on

The Macbook Air's what?!

Submitted by Trollkiller on
Don Kichline said...

Check out this blog post on how a mac book air made a person miss his flight.

Blog Post

Thanks for posting a link to his blog, it provided more information than the other source.

Reading the blog it looks to me as if Mr. Seasoned Traveler did not allow enough time for the screening. If he would have been there the recommended two hours before departure he would not have missed his flight.

Reading the blog I noticed a few things, one the TSOs were not rude to him, two the TSOs did not seem to take an extraordinary amount of time to determine the Mac was safe to fly.

Sadly not everyone keeps up on the bleeding edge of consumer electronics. The TSOs did the right thing, they came across something they were not familiar with and investigated. Once they determined, with the help of a younger TSO, that the device was really a lap top, the man was on his way.

It is not the TSA's fault that the passenger did not get there with the recommended "time to spare".

The TSA has enough real faults to complain about, not knowing about a Macbook Air is not one of them.
Submitted by Andy Granger on

I agree with johnf, but I would expand on his post:

I would recommend that you have Apple send TWO MacBook Air units, one with the standard hard drive, and one with the solid state drive. This is so that TSOs can know that the unit is not a threat when they see one coming through the XRay machine, look at the physical location where the hard drive is in the laptop, and see "something else" besides the telltale disc-and-arm-in-a-rectangle configuration of the standard drive.

That would be covering all the bases: Send two images to all TSOs, one with a standard drive, and one with the solid state drive.

While I think it's somewhat comical (and if it happened to me, unspeakably frustrating) that this poor gentleman was stopped because of his MacBook Air, I can imagine that, on an XRay, a solid state drive might look something like packed explosives...

Submitted by Al Newberry on

This is exactly why airport security should be returned to the airlines. The airline has incentive to protect AND serve its passengers. The TSA just follows a set of guidelines and asserts its power, with NO ACCOUNTABILITY TO CUSTOMERS. The airline is a business and as such can't afford to have a reputation for allowing its flights to be unsafe. They also have to do this while maintaining a reputation for treating their customers well. TSA doesn't give a rip about treating customers well. What results is security being provided inadequately at times while alienating customers. This is bad both for the airline's reputation and for customers' safety.

Submitted by JoelG on

Even if the TSO was "admiring" the new laptop - I think that's a poor excuse for stopping a patron. Especially when he ends up missing his flight. Shouldn't TSOs be professional enough to wait and "admire" the MacBook Air at their local Apple Store during their off-day? It'd make more sense than the officer gawking at it, calling his superior over to see it and eventually making the patron miss his flight.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Yes, because quite clearly anyone wanting to sneak something onto a plane is going to enclose it in something that's going to attract attention.

Duh.

Submitted by Anonymous on

WinstonSmith, you and me both. I suspect that if they knew who I was, were intent on showing who was boss, then they would have me dragged away from the screening process by my heels, disappeared, nevermore to be seen.

Orwell was right, except for the year

Submitted by Tangent on

Frankly, I am more concerned with a more convenience in getting to the gate and taking off on time than I am with terrorism on airplane. So what if there is a tiny bit more risk of dying due to terrorism. I'll take the chance.

Now, we lose hours of productivity waiting in the security lines and suffer lots of stress being harassed by the TSOs and worrying about missing our flights. It's not worth it. I'd pay extra to not have to suffer the TSA, but what does the government care about my preference?

Submitted by A Free Man on

Gee Bob, way to spin the story to make it look like TSA agents were just 'paying extra special attention' rather than being complete dimwits who couldn't figure out what the heck a laptop is.

I guess we should all be thankful we're even allowed to wear clothes on the plane. I'm sorry, but security does NOT equal safety; not in the slightest.

Way to protect us from solid-state drives and any shampoo bottles bigger than three ounces, fellas. Too bad you're doing it on MY dime. As a taxpayer, I look forward to the day when I can say to all of you: You're fired!

Submitted by Yangj08 on

Umm... to all the people that says that it's too hard to keep up with new tech-

The TSA shouldn't need to actively keep up because Apple's practically parading the thing in everyone's faces. I've seen the commercial for the Macbook Air at least 3 times per hour of TV. If the TSOs *still* don't know what it is, it's ignorance, plain and simple.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Well, my thanks to all of you for the lively discussion, so far. Both Spitzer and this new spin by the TSA caught me off guard today though my girlfriend has an even more jaundiced and cynical eye than I have. She is really cynical about crusaders, no matter what stripes or uniform they wear.

We'll get to hear how our resident BDO, Bob, fairs staring down a Mac Air, if indeed he doesn't get tired of waiting for Apple to send him one or two... so stay tuned for another day of constant bickering, meandering, and hopeless CYA defense.

Submitted by Ian on

Agreed on the last comment, about privatization of airport security. Maybe things would work quicker that way...

About the Macbook Air though, it seems like some TSA checkpoints know about the device and some don't. I have now taken my (HDD-based) Air through the Frontier Airlines security (DEN) twice and SAT security (can't remember the terminal) once. No problems there. Even though I was toting aorund TWO laptops (one regular, one Air) at the time. Guess it's a big case of YMMV...

Submitted by Dave X The First on

So TSA raised another false alarm and the dude missed his flight. That's what happens if you have people do visual inspections on 2,000,000 people per day looking for a less than 1 in a billion terrorist: you get all false alarms.

What threat is TSA protecting us against here? Bombs? Bombs aren't good for hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists didn't use bombs because you can't fly an airplane into a building after you bomb it.

Submitted by Mtnygard on

It was my experience and blog post that got all this attention recently.

One of my purposes in writing this piece was to point out something I thought was interesting: namely that the x-ray screeners are trained to look for certain things--"landmarks", if you will--in the images they review.

Before last week, I had never given a moment's thought to the training or procedures behind the ubiquitous screening. Like many people, I supposed that they were just looking for obvious problems: suspicious outlines, coils of wires, etc.

I found it interesting that there might be a similar checklist of things that should be present: battery, hard drive, optical drive, and so on. I don't think most people would realize that.

Some people have interpreted me as variously "blasting", "villifying", or "insulting" the TSA agents in question. This was not my intention. It appears to come mainly from people reacting to second-hand information, instead of reading the original post.

Submitted by Chance on
They do this by the one line that says (something to the effect) "this list is not exclusive in that any item we deem to pose a threat, may be confiscated."

This is pretty much why I post the stuff that I post. People are afraid of the TSA because the TSA has license to act in a capricious and retaliatory fashion. The person at the receiving end of TSA's abuse dares not complain for fear of further abuse.

If a TSO discovers a device that is dangerous, but which due to its newness or novelty or through a mistake isn't on the prohibited list, common sense would say that this item should be stopped. On the one hand several posts are criticizing our apparent lack of flexibility in not being aware of the Mac and other new tech, and yet criticizing us for giving our TSOs the flexibility to deal with this item.

Chance - EoS blog Team.
Submitted by Anonymous on

mtnygard said:

"Some people have interpreted me as variously "blasting", "villifying", or "insulting" the TSA agents in question. This was not my intention. It appears to come mainly from people reacting to second-hand information, instead of reading the original post.

March 11, 2008 10:29 PM"

I thought your blog was reasonable, balanced and maintained a humorous tone. Fine writing. Too bad you missed your flight.

Submitted by Chance on
What threat is TSA protecting us against here? Bombs? Bombs aren't good for hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists didn't use bombs because you can't fly an airplane into a building after you bomb it.

The Bojinka plot involved bombs, and would have cause casualties similar in scale to the 9/11 plot if successful. A more recent example is the 2006 UK transatlantic aircraft bomb plot. It too involved bombs on airplanes.

Chance EoS Blog Team.
Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA should stop all such devices from going through security. One of them might be "Mac the knife"!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

This post should embarrass the TSA. Not only couldn't they figure out that a "mystery device" with a 13" screen, apple logo and keyboard was a computer. They now make a post kissing the butt of a corporation and praising their work.

This is a government agency. Not a fanclub. If your guys can't figure out that you should boot a computer to check if it's a computer then the agency shouldn't even exist.

Way to humiliate yourselves. See you in line...

Submitted by Anonymous on

chance @ March 11, 2008 11:01 PM said:

". . . On the one hand several posts are criticizing our apparent lack of flexibility in not being aware of the Mac and other new tech, . . ."

I think perhaps you have misunderstood the posts. The criticism was not of a lack of flexibility but, rather a lack of awareness of a product that is 1) produced by a major company, 2) has been the subject of extensive advertising, and is 3) aimed directly at the frequent flyer market. It takes no great leap of imagination to realize that the Macbook Air will almost certainly become a common item carried by the traveling public.

I really don't think that it is unreasonable to expect TSA to provide periodic refesher training to its screeners on new items that they can be expected to encounter. The episode discussed here demonstrates that either such training did not occur or the screeners in question were too dense to absorb it.

The fact that a TSA person has now asked for a loaner Macbook Air for training purposes is an encouraging sign, but it does confirm that TSA is still a reactive agency, always locking the barn door after the horse has fled.

Submitted by Hawthorn on

Bear in mind that the guy missed his flight because TSA subjected his MBA to further screening, and because the guy didn't leave sufficient extra time for unexpected screening. That is why the TSA and the airlines advise you to arrive early. Many people listen to this advice and figure, heck, what are the chances, I'll probably make it. And they usually do. Except when they don't. Fortunately when that happens, they have the news wires and gripe blogs to complain to!

Submitted by Anonymous on

>> I say more power to the TSO's that are alert enough to check out something different so they know in the future what said product is supposed to look like.
Not on my time when I'm trying to catch a plane, you don't. I don't care to be a guinea pig for some TSO's ignorance. Train your people ahead of time. Analysis of both threats and non-threats is part of intel.

Do I now have to worry about being detained because I have some piece of electronics that the screeners are unfamiliar with? I sometimes travel with a Panasonic Toughbook CF-17, which is also a rather unique, ruggedized notebook PC. The case is a magnesium alloy, and the "ports on the back" are not immediately visible, because they're behind weatherproof covers. Also, it's a lot smaller than a standard notebook. What about my MP3 player, which is a Sony model that never became popular in the US? Are the screeners going to assume these items are bombs because they've never seen one before? It doesn't help that screeners don't seem to listen to explanations that might help dispel their doubts. (Oops, I forgot -- all passengers are assumed to be criminals.)

If the TSO's have doubts about some piece of electronics, why can't they Google the make and model, then review the results? When they start seeing hits on a variety of web sites, they'd know they're looking at a legit product. I shudder to think I'm at the mercy of the TSO's knowledge level of electronics (or lack thereof).

If the TSA as an organization works so hard on intel (the subject of the previous thread), why don't they look at new known non-threats, like new flavors of electronics coming on line?

I think I know the answer to my own question here -- the TSA is reactive and not proactive. It doesn't help that so many of the organization's knee-jerk reactions are devoid of common sense, and that the organization doesn't grasp the obvious until they have their face rubbed in it. Consider the following examples:

-- TSA is formed and bans actual weapons (makes sense), along with eyeglass repair kits and nail clippers (silly). Starts getting laughed at. (I loved the comedian's routine where he said TSA stands for Take Scissors Away.)

-- TSA mandates flying with luggage unlocked. Complaints of theft from luggage begin. TSA and airlines point fingers at each other. Passengers are left holding the bag (no pun intended). TSA suggests using zip ties to close luggage. TSA never explains how passengers are supposed to cut through zip ties at destination, because of "no knives or scissors" and a pair of wire cutters violates the "no tools" rule.

-- Eyeglass repair kits and nail clippers they are now OK, but cigarette lighters are banned. Matches are OK. Theory is that the smell from a Richard Reid wannabe lighting a match to set off another shoe bomb will alert surrounding passengers. I guess they are supposed to act faster than the fuze can burn.

-- Lighter rule done away with, because of the distraction of screeners searching carryons for lighters seems to negatively impact search for more serious items, like bombs. Funny, if you don't have the bomb, then the lighter doesn't do you much good.

-- 3-1-1 rule comes online after the "liquid bomb" plot has already been "foiled".

-- TSA ends up tied with IRS for negative public opinion. Only FEMA does worse. In response, TSA starts this blog. Appears surprised by the number of passengers complaining about various aspects of the agency.

-- Passengers complain of rude treatment by TSA personnel and retaliation from screeners and supervisors for complaining. TSA responds that passengers who are treated rudely should file report with on site supervisor, despite likelihood of retaliation (fox is watching the chicken coop). Why is it the passenger's responsibility to report inappropriate TSO behavior? Why doesn't the TSA police its own people? Why didn't the TSA notice the unnecessarily negative atmosphere at checkpoints and take action, instead of waiting for things to get this bad?

-- Passengers complain about incredible inconsistencies in application of 3-1-1. TSO's respond that if people would follow "simple rules" everything would be OK. If the 3-1-1 rule is so "simple", then why is it so hard to enforce on a consistent basis? TSO posts cite alleged requirements, such as that bottles have to be "labeled", but can't post a link to the requirement.

-- A mother complains of being forced to face away from her daughter during secondary screening. Mother is understandably very upset. (Are there no parents at the TSA to notice the problem with this procedure? Where's common sense? As Bill Engvall would say, "here's your sign.") TSA then changes procedures so that children and parents are not separated during secondary.

-- TSO starts to open sterile feeding tube. Passenger objects. Instead of realizing he might be wrong and checking with a supervisor, screener replies that he will if he wants to. (Just a little arrogant.) Story ends up in the media. TSA eats crow, and ends up apologizing. After six years in operation, the TSA doesn't know that sterile medical devices should not be opened during screening? Why didn't the supervisor note that there was a problem brewing and step in?

-- TSO's cause delay because of unfamiliarity with new Apple notebook, and passenger misses flight. Crow for dinner again. After the fact, TSA attempts to put positive spin on incident, painting situation as correct handling of an unfamiliar item.

Lest I leave myself open to charges of "doing nothing but complain", here's few suggestions (never mind that I think the problems stated above imply their own solutions).

-- The TSA should start taking responsibility for its own actions and inactions. Quit putting the pain and consequences of the organization's mistakes on the passenger. As mentioned before, if the 3-1-1 rule is so "simple", then why is it so hard to enforce on a consistent basis? As I suggested in another post, the same guidelines the TSA provides to its own personnel should be provided to the public, so we can all be on the same page. Do away with the local improvisations on the rules.

-- If items are wrongly confiscated, then the TSA should reimburse the passenger.

-- Screeners should have ready access to internet to check out unfamiliar items. Procedures should be in place to check with a central clearinghouse of subject matter experts when needed, instead of a bunch of screeners pooling their ignorance. (I find it frightening that a bunch of screeners can decide how much medicine, baby formula, contact lens solution, etc. is "reasonable" with no apparent training on the subject.)

-- Somebody needs to be the voice of reason and common sense at the checkpoint. Supervisors should stop automatically backing whatever the screeners say. If the screeners have so much latitude to decree that something not specifically prohibited can still be banned (inventing rules on the spot, in other words), create some checks and balances in the system. (What happened to the "government of laws and not of men", anyway?) If the TSA needs to create a separate "passenger advocate" at the checkpoint, so be it. This might have prevented the Apple computer and feeding tube incidents. Quit being so arrogant. The flying public knows the TSO's don't know everything, so quit pretending you do.

-- TSA should establish a "service level agreement" (as we call them in my profession) that says any passenger delayed over 15 minutes while the TSA scratches its head will be compensated. If the passenger misses his flight, the TSA will get the individual on the next available flight and reimburse any and all out of pocket expense.

JMHO....

Submitted by Trollkiller on

The dude missed his flight because he did not allow for enough time at security. If he would have been there at the recommended time he would not have missed his flight.

Please go read the man's blog, just take off your "I hate the TSA glasses" and read.

Once you are being honest with yourselves you will see the only reason he missed the flight is because he cut his time too close.

He is a seasoned traveler, so much so he has to check his Blackberry to figure out what town he is in. As a seasoned traveler he knows how "quick" he can get through security by knowing all the steps he has to complete. This time he cut it too close because he was not expecting a few minutes delay while they looked at the new laptop.

Human nature would dictate if the delay had been extraordinary he would have complained about it in his blog. He did not. He did complain that sometimes there is an airline agent to check his boarding pass and sometimes there isn’t, but he did not complain the delay was long.

Steve Jobs did not make him miss his flight, the TSOs did not make him miss his flight, HE made himself miss his flight.
End Of Story.

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

Well Chance, your tortured reasoning in the following leaves me nearly dumbstruck:

"If a TSO discovers a device that is dangerous, but which due to its newness or novelty or through a mistake isn't on the prohibited list, common sense would say that this item should be stopped. On the one hand several posts are criticizing our apparent lack of flexibility in not being aware of the Mac and other new tech, and yet criticizing us for giving our TSOs the flexibility to deal with this item.

Chance - EoS blog Team."

In another blog post, in fact the one just prior to this, you (meaning the TSA) were trying to sell us on the important role that intelligence plays in everything that the TSA does. Now of course this met with a great deal of derision and laughter from anyone who has actually had to deal with the TSA, myself included and much fun was had by all. But let's pretend just for a moment that you do have intelligence coming into the TSA. Would it not be reasonable to think that such intelligence would include information about new technologies that are coming on the mass consumer market that are likely to start to show up at airport checkpoints? The fact that this item did show up at the checkpoint and was not immediately recognized as a harmless personal computer smacks of both incompetence and negligence on the part of the TSA front line screeners as well as the Kip Hawley's much vaunted Keystone Cop-esque intelligence squad. "I didn't have time to keep up on the latest developments" is not an excuse the traveling public should accept on the part of the TSA any more than a TSA screener would accept a traveler saying "I didn't know that I had to have my liquids in 3 oz containers in a zip top bag outside my carry on for inspection."

In the case at hand the object clearly posed no obvious danger. It was not a knife. It was not a firearm. It was not explosive. It is not illegal to carry electronic equipment from place to place in the US. There was no reason to have stopped this gentleman. If your screeners can't tell the difference between a piece of electronic equipment and a gun, knife, or bomb, then perhaps you need to look at your hiring practices.

You have a tough job to convince me and many more like me that the TSA is an agency that has earned its right to consume my tax dollars when the only measurable results you have been able to show in terms of passenger safety put you in no better stead than the private screeners we had prior to 9/11.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSO's don't have net access? Why not make a quick visit to www.macbookair.com and have a look? Gone are the critical thinkers... 911 and your fear-mongering President has you all nervous at everything now... Maybe that SSD was a box cutter huh? Don't want to let one of those through...

I love the spin Bob, but you aren't selling me on your "theory." The MBA, out of the ordinary? Absolutely.

Hey look Bob, first google hit on: crack open macbook air: http://www.news.com/2300-1044_3-6233167-1.html

Wow, what a crazy fan-dangled machine that is... It's like something out of... umm... Infinite Loop.

TSO's need to get up to speed so they stop wasting people's time. An added 20 minute wait (how slow do TSO's move anyway?) can cost a customer a half a day...

All the TSO had to do in this case was fire it up and let the guy run a few programs (and that's what they eventually did). No fuss, no muss... but nooooo, they had to "earn" their wages...

Submitted by Jim on

Is this off topic?
It takes less training to become a TSA checker person than a star bucks barista. But who has more power. You can put a friendly coat of web 2.0 on fear mongering but the TSA is still whats its meant to be. You're not fooling independent thinkers, were sick of being treated like dogs by people who could not gain employment anywhere else.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Apple could have touted the fantasticness of the new mac book air for the last 3 years before release, unfortunately in all their commercials I don't recall seeing an xray image to go along with all the publicity.

The sad thing is you all don't truly understand how difficult image interpretation is and never will. Sometimes you just have to go on the "something just doesn't look right" factor. Along with any number of strange occurrences that can warp an xray image. TSO's do the best we can with the technology we are provided with

Submitted by Anonymous on

Al newman..

Found it quite funny that you think airlines care about customer service, seems you haven't flown in a very long time. There are little differences between the apparent lack of appreciation for flying patrons that TSA shows and the Airlines show, its all the same, and they could all use a basic 101 course on how to be friendly.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'm sorry, but this is yet another case of TSA incompetence. The comments supporting the TSA's harassment of this fellow with the Mac Book Air really shows how weak Americans have become. Instead of sticking up for themselves, they prefer to have a bunch of former welfare recipients "protect" them from the boogie man.

Land of the free and home of the brave? My fellow Americans who can't seem to function without "daddy" holding their hand through airports have basically wiped out that ideal.

These formerly unemployable people who are now TSOs want to keep you scared so they can keep their jobs. I agree with the previous commenter: disband the TSA and return safety and security to the individual airliner.

After dealing with the TSA once, I decided to never fly again. It's not worth the hassle and humiliation.

Submitted by WolfSkunk RedWolf on

Will I have the same problems with the Asus EeePC and similar "half-laptops"? I have one of these "unusual small laptops" that may also be looking unusual to the TSO's for the same reason as the MacBook Air -- no optical drive, no hard drive, looks more like an oversized PDA. Maybe it's worth spending at least $300 (on sale at Newegg.com) to run it through the machines.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Chance: The Bojinka plot involved nitroglycerin-filled contact lens solution containers, and could still be pulled off today (insofar as messing with nitroglycerin is ever a good idea--without desensitizers, it's likely to go off prematurely, and with desensitizers added you have to know what you're doing to achieve detonation). Even if you eliminated ALL liquids, and put "sniffers" at every portal, I can still think of a way to detonate a nitroglycerin-based bomb on an airplane. (Don't worry, I work for DHS and use my redteaming knowledge for good; not evil.)

The London bomb plot--making TATP in an airport lav--has been proven to be impossible. Please stop bringing it up; it only make the TSA look silly.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Chance, if your going to use examples of terrorist threats try using a recent example. The Bojinka plot occured in 1995 and failed not because of alert airport security, because the police discovered it because fo a chemical fire at the site being used to build the bombs.

If I remeber correctly the London plot was also stopped by the police, long before they even thought of getting on a plane.

Good intelligence will prevent terrorist attacks. The TSA needs to deal with TSO's high failure rate to identify guns and bombs during tests. Instead of using examples that don't apply.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Originally posted by Bob:
One thing is for sure though. This was just a case of diligent TSOs paying special attention to something that caught their eye. Exactly what they are trained to do…


Bob, you fail to point out in your little writeup that the guy MISSED HIS FLIGHT because the "diligent" and overzealous TSOs detained him for so long.

Laptops are not prohibited. If they were suspicious about the new model, they should have run an ETD swab (30 seconds), maybe had the passenger open it up or talk about it a bit (45 seconds), and let him go on his way.

Instead of saying your TSOs were being "diligent" and "doing their job," TSA at that airport and nationally should be issuing a formal, written, published apology to this passenger. Then TSA, perferably out of the pockets of the screeners/supervisors that caused this mess, should be forced to pay compensation to this passenger.

Any time TSA confiscates something or detains a passenger to the point of missing his flight over an item that is 1) not on the prohibited items list, 2) not an explosive, 3) not a weapon, 4) not illegal, the TSOs involved should be FIRED, with prejudice.

This incident is a perfect example of what is wrong with TSA. Bob, for supporting this debacle instead of admitting TSA's error, you personally owe an apology to this passenger, everyone who travels with a laptop, and the readers of this blog.

TSA is a disgrace. You should all be deeply ashamed of yourselves. :(
Submitted by Anonymous on

Not every TSO is a geek (I mean that with all respect as I am one). When I first saw the MBA on x-ray I had to pause for a moment. I didn't look like any laptop I've ever seen on x-ray.

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