My TSA Customer Service Story

My friend Mark Stelzner, an HR consultant, travels a lot for his job. Because he spends so much time in airports, he often posts hilarious – and kind of sad – stories on Facebook about people and their airport behavior. Like this one:

 But one thing I have never seen Mark post about is similar strange and/or obnoxious behavior from TSA agents. Others, like my frequent flyer husband, confirm that while TSA agents may not always be chatty and effervescent, they are generally respectful, well-behaved, and take a lot of crap from members of the flying public who are the real behavioral problems.

So why does the TSA get such a bad rap? When I posted about having a great experience with TSA in Detroit recently, at least one Facebook friend thought I was joking. Others were skeptical. Here’s what happened:

I tried to return to Florida from Detroit with one carry-on bag and one small under-the-seat item, just like the rules say. When my bags went through x-ray, a TSA agent grabbed my carry-on and waited for me to get through the scanner to where he was standing at the end of the conveyor.

“You have 3 jars in your bag. What’s in them?” was his question.

I smiled and said, “Jelly. Preserves.” I said it with a smile because I was absolutely confident that you could bring food through security. After all, my meat processor husband never checks his bag, which often contains odd food items like corned beef, pastrami, or salami. Once he brought 5 pounds of bacon to me in Florida in his carry-on.

But Kevin, the TSA agent, explained to me that jelly, jam, and preserves violated their “no liquids/gels” policy, an idea which had never even occurred to me. Shampoo and toothpaste, yes! I had my little quart bag full of 2-3 ounce containers out and x-rayed. But Michigan sour cherry preserves and cherry butter? Not in my wildest.

The offending items

Kevin apologetically insisted that I had to check my bag. But instead of leaving me to handle the issue on my own,  he walked my bag (and me) back to the front of security, then moved the rope line so I could quickly get to the Delta check-in desk. When I was finished, I just walked back up to the front of security where Kevin was waiting for me. He escorted me back through x-ray and the scanner, pushing me up to the front of all of the lines and staying with me until I cleared security. He was pleasant and professional the entire time.

So why do people complain about the TSA? Because they pat down grandmas and children? If they only patted down Arabic-looking men, wouldn’t they be racist and stereotypical? Wouldn’t you complain if some nut case sacrificed their small child and blew up a plane because TSA never searched kids? Let’s face it, people do scary and awful things to their children sometimes. I’m a grandma, and I have been patted down several times. You know what? I’m still here.

I was breaking the rules, even if it didn’t enter my menopausal brain while I was packing. But when I was called out on my error, I was polite and humble with the TSA agent, and he was extraordinarily kind and accommodating with me.

So the next time you are inclined to TSA-bash, think about that Facebook post at the top of the page, and remember how many thousands of people like this the TSA sees every single day. Then remember my experience with Kevin Goins in Detroit, and wonder if you could possibly do that job any better.

(Thoughts or comments? Want to share a TSA experience? Go for it.)