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05/04/2008 - Watch Out For Your Personal Property At Security Check Points - No One Else Will
Approximately 15 minutes ago I passed through the TSA screening check-point at San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 1, headed for my 7:00am flight out to Philadelphia (and then home). While in the metal detector, watching my bags start to roll off the x-ray machine, the gentleman in front of me was pulled aside and selected for the for the Trace Detection Portal, aka: "the puffer." This is not uncommon, however what I witnessed the two TSA agents tell this man was astonishing (TSA Agents at SFO are not actually TSA agents, as screening at SFO is contracted out to Covenant Services Worldwide)
After asking the man to step aside for "the puffer" he reached for his items on the x-ray runoff, in the mix of his bins was a white dish with his wallet, his drivers license and passport outside of the wallet, a Timex watch and a small silver money clip. Before his hand could touch the items he was told he could not retrieve the items before undergoing secondary screening in "the puffer." The man protested explaining he didn't want his wallet and passport stolen and he asked one of the agents to watch the bin, or bring the bins to him. He was refused and was met with this answer "I'm sorry, we are not able to watch each individuals items here. Your items should be safe."
I love the choice words "should be safe." I know that if I had (what appeared to be) US$400-$500 out in a money clip next to my wallet, drivers license and passport I would not want to hear "should be safe." I watched four or five people stop and take a decent glance into this man's bins while his back was to them in "the puffer" and while both TSA agents had their eyes trained on the gentleman. Neither agent ever glanced at this man's items.
With the recent rise in petty theft at airports, and an increase in reported crimes at TSA check points you'd think these agents would be a little more vigilant and less flippant about the man's requests for the safety and security of his items. When the man returned to his bins, no one had touched his items. I did however stand back slowly putting my shoes on and putting my computer away to see what would happen.
I took a brief moment to speak with the supervisor at the check point. Often they key for me is to ask like an inexperienced flyer and just ask general questions to see what I am told. I didn't mention what I had just witnessed, but instead asked a hypothetical questions. I really just wanted the supervisor to confirm my thoughts.
Should you be parted from your personal property at a TSA screening check point you have the right to request that your items be brought to you before you let them leave your sight. Do NOT let anyone separate you from your personal items, if the TSA agents tell you to leave the items request (then demand if need be) that they bring the items to you , and place them where you can see them clearly.
For information and tips on how to protect yourself from theft at airport security check points click this link for my post entitled "Theft At Airport Security Check Points - Don't Be A Victim"
On a side note, the TSA has stopped the installation of additional "puffer" machines at airports as they have proven to be quite unreliable and inconsistent in their results. When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security purchased this machines they did not test them in the manner they would be used in the field........and they in turn left the TSA to deal with the fall out.