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TSA Detroit Rant

Yesterday I left Detroit for Amsterdam. For reasons that aren't important, I had to use the General TSA security line. Which, in Detroit, is not next to the PreCheck line, but in the basement. No big deal, really. It wasn't terribly crowded. They were running 2 lines. In line #1 the agent was yelling at everyone "shoes do not go in the bin! Shoes are dirty! Do not put your shoes in the bin!" OK pretty much news to everyone else. And as my son pointed out, everyone in line wants to do the right thing, just tell as what the rules are. Put up a poster. Don't yell at us like we are idiots.
I headed for line #2. I did not put my shoes in a bin. I put them on the table.As instructed. In my 3 bins I had (1) my laptop, with my passport and boarding pass, (2)my coat and (3)my purse. There were several people lined up behind me. The person running the scanner, said "step into the scanner!". So I did. Then I had a short pat down. For reasons I can never explain, this always happens. As I turned to retrieve my items from the belt, I hear someone yelling my name. I look up and it's the man who is monitoring the belt/table that is feeding the bins into the Xray machine. He snarls at me "you forgot you stuff! You forgot your stuff!. Completely confused, I looked back at him with a shrug..what was I supposed to do? Then he shoved my bins into the Xray machine. The woman who had been behind me in line, said, I guess we are both in trouble. Apparently, he was not suppose to touch the bins (maybe they were dirty from the louts that put their shoes in them). And we were supposed to stay with our bins until they had entered the Xray machine ignoring the person running the scanner. Maybe he and the scanner person needed a better system of communication?
Again, as my son said, just tell us what you want us to do and quit yelling at us.

Posted by
4370 posts

TSA agents have difficult jobs. I get it, but so do a lot of people. And going through TSA isn't exactly fun for travelers, either. It's frustrating because the traveler has little recourse. If you complain you could get kicked off your flight! I've had good and bad experience. Once, there was an agent who was clearly stating the rules in a very humorous way. Everyone understood the process, we got through the lines somewhat quickly and I was kind of sorry to leave!

Posted by
494 posts

I understand that being a TSA agent is a tough job. I travel a bit. This situation seemed set up for failure. The whole process was demeaning and belittling to the travelers. It was very adversarial.

Posted by
4370 posts

Kateja, I agree with you. There is no excuse for rudeness. I also see you are from Amsterdam. I wonder when I see foreign travelers in the U.S. what kind of impression they get when TSA and customs/immigration employees are so rude.

Posted by
1781 posts

Hi Kateja, sorry you had a bad experience with TSA. I fly through Detroit a couple times every year and my experiences there have been very good. Sounds like you may have been caught up in holiday traffic which strains everyone’s patience. If you want a real treat, try flying through JFK, Newark, or Chicago!

Posted by
2916 posts

I've generally, although not always, had good experiences with TSA personnel. But in your case, a couple of things stand out: (1) The shoes. I've always put my shoes in a bin, as has everyone I've seen. What was up with that? (2) I'm not positive, but I think I've often gone through the scanner before my bins are in the X-Ray machine.

Posted by
1331 posts

"If you want a real treat, try flying through JFK, Newark, or Chicago!"

I have flown out of Newark several times and never have had a problem/hold-up at TSA.

Posted by
248 posts

How frustrating for you! It was not your fault.

TSA agents training and employee evaluations may be based on the premise that the TSA is essentially a quasi-law enforcement function and that the travelers in the TSA line are not really the TSA's "customers", similar to how police officers would not consider the public to be their customers, since their business is law enforcement. This would be in contrast to, say, a privately-owned airport restaurant that would presumably base employee evaluations partly, maybe heavily, on whether a particular employee has been rude to the restaurant customers.

Of course, my views are undoubtedly influenced by the tolerable treatment I've been lucky enough to have experienced from TSA agents, at least so far. TSA agents must face many frustrations during a typical working day.

Posted by
996 posts

OMG, what a nightmare!

I think TSA would be more efficient if they applied the same standards at every airport. I've recently had one airport where they yelled at me for not going through quickly enough (there was nobody behind me in line except my other half, and I literally took less than ten seconds to get my stuff on the conveyer belt and head for the next point) and others where they expect you to know how to use a bin system which is COMPLETELY different from the one I've encountered at other airports.

My home airport used to be heavily invested in those random security checks for people with TSA PreCheck. (I have PreCheck. I estimate we were randomly stopped and frisked/groped about 50% of the time.) The last two flights, I haven't seen that happening. In fact, the entire group of people working TSA seem far more relaxed and friendly. Even humorous.

Sorry that you had such a bad experience.

Posted by
99 posts

I too am sorry to hear about your negative experience. Might I dare ask, about your dog?

Posted by
8504 posts

So excited to see Amsterdam next to your name! Keep us up to date and that TSA incident in the rear view mirror.

Posted by
3081 posts

TSA agents are kind of like police officers. Most of them are honorable, decent people, but a handful of them are people who have professionalized their elementary school bullying.

The TSA agents at my local airport (GSP, Greenville-Spartanburg, SC) are super — friendly, pleasant, sometimes a little over-joyful about their job.

The place where I’ve run into the most obnoxious TSA agents is Atlanta, particularly when clearing security from international to domestic flights. Many agents there like to bark orders, yell, and denigrate the flying public. It’s really quite shameful, to be honest (as was the OP’s experience in Detroit).

One random occurrence at that security checkpoint: I went through a line where the TSA agent was barking orders, sighing, taunting, and rolling his eyes at every passenger passed. I did everything perfectly but girded myself for the attack as I passed. He looked at me/my stuff, broke out in a smile, and said, “You did good. You’re all right.”

Posted by
3493 posts

Your bins must always go into the X-ray before you go through the scanner. NO ONE is supposed to touch your bins. If something ends up in your bins that doesn't belong and everyone in line touched them, then who is at fault? I fly multiple times a week and often see the security lanes grind to a halt because someone left all of their possessions on the belt without making sure they entered the X-ray before they themselves went through the scanner. Many times this results in that person being then "randomly" chosen for the full pat down.

I learned this rule many years ago. While I do not ignore the person running the body scanner, I havenever had issue with one of them having any problem while I waited to make sure my bins have entered the X-ray.

I do agree that the TSA workers in general can be annoying, loud to the point of being belligerent, and seem to hate their job in many cases as well as each one having a completely different opinion of how passengers are supposed to clear through the checkpoints. And this leads to confusion which then makes them yell all the louder. It would be nice to go back to the security screeners in the good old days. They still caught everything they were supposed to keeping us safe, but all seemed to at least be tolerating their jobs.

Posted by
7259 posts

Sounds like the norm so what is the point.
And according to people I know that work for TSA the flying public can come off as snobby or drunken and rude also.

Posted by
5149 posts

Mark, I didn't know that the bins had to go through the scanner before we stepped into the peek-a-boo machine. Thanks for the heads-up.

I too, get pulled over almost every time. A TSA person told me this past spring that it's because of my long hair, which I wear in a single braid down my back. It evidently shows up on the machine as "unusual warm area." Live and learn.

Posted by
3936 posts

I still don’t understand why Americans are removing shoes (I mean, I know why they started it, just not why it’s still a thing). Never have to take mine off flying in Canada or Europe. It’s great.

Posted by
2575 posts

I think Kaeleku nailed it. The TSA culture is so variable from airport to airport. At some I get the sense that being in a position of authority is a chance for some to be belligerent and domineering, something they would otherwise never be able to do. Other airports, not so much. I flew twice weekly or more domestically for the last several years of my working days. When it comes to TSA operations if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one.

Posted by
21849 posts

I was always been told and followed the rule of never leave your bin(s) unattended. I usually have two or three. I will not leave them until the little flaps have closed behind the bin. Then I turn my attention to the scan equipment. If I pass, then I am instantly on top of my bins or as close to them as I am allowed to be as they come out of the machine but never take my eyes off the bins.

However, I am curious how he knew your name. And my passport and boarding pass never leaves my hand. I would never put it in a bin.

Posted by
1179 posts

I agree with Mark - you stay with your stuff until it enters the scanner. That also means you push it into the scanner. This also prevents theft. I’d rather have my stuff unattended for a few minutes on the secure side of the box.

I’ve had TSA agents try to get me to go through the scanner before my stuff has entered the box. I politely decline stating I want to ensure security by staying with my stuff. I’ve never received pushback from that statement.

FWIW, I almost always beat my stuff through the scanner.

Fun fact: Detroit TSA did a physical pat down on my upper legs without any warning to me first. I actually had my head turned when she started and it was quite startling. She almost got a knee to her face. I agree that Detroit is on the agressive side. Very diffferent from San Jose.

Posted by
12979 posts

I don't go through that peek-a-boo machine and tell TSA as my bins, usually two, are going the scanner. So, I have to stand a wait until a TSA guy shows up. In the meantime my 2 bins have already passed through without raising any doubts by the observer. They want the shoes in a bin, they're there.

My passport and boarding pass are in the jacket zipped up pocket. Most TSA guys I have had will carry your bins to the spot of my pat-down. There have been a few who were non-cooperative. On being yelled at by the TSA at SFO, it's happened more times I can remember. Getting yelled at is the least of my concerns. The main concern is for the bins to be close to where I can see them during the pat-down.

When everything goes like clockwork with TSA, it's fine, most of the time, luckily, it is like that. But the few times when I was told to open up the carry on because something raised their suspicion, while I'm waiting for the pat down, that's when you feel the most vulnerable, especially if the TSA guys are not in a very "charitable" mood. Chances are then I expect to get yelled at.

Posted by
3713 posts

Speaking of this, "And my passport and boarding pass never leaves my hand. I would never put it in a bin," and the Atlanta agents:

I made the dreaded mistake of carrying those through the body scan machine in my hand. The agent grabbed them, looked through every page and made me go backwards through the body scan, put them in a separate bin all by themselves, then go back through the body scan again. I was told to never carry anything through the body scan.

My stuff was already out of the scanner on the secure side and my husband was behind me, so I guess it was okay, but I'm sure the folks behind him were a little annoyed.

Coming back from Europe on a different trip, we were going through domestic security at JFK to get on the flight for home. I'd put my passport and boarding pass in a bin. We both had PreCheck, but because my docs were in a bin, I had to go to the regular line, take off my shoes, etc. My husband chose to stick with me.

Yeah, it would be nice if there was some consistency.

Posted by
6784 posts

Just my observations. More airports than not, that I've been to, TSA folks will ask/tell people to just put their shoes on the belt, sometimes politely, sometimes not. I've even seen signs saying that, before Pre-check days. Most passengers ignore it. Note, they don't wash those bins between uses, so I know I wouldn't appreciate getting your shoe-bottom crud on my Armani. Sometimes there aren't enough TSA folks for one to be there in the strip-down zone to politely advise you what to do, and they get tired of saying it. As I was told (rather unpolitely) they are not supposed to divert their attention, to handle and manage your luggage unnecessarily, so prefer you making sure your bins are actually moving along and not sitting there and creating a traffic jam before the rollers.

I'm not saying its fun or even reasonable, but its not just capricious.

Posted by
3081 posts

As I was told (rather unpolitely) they are not supposed to divert
their attention, to handle and manage your luggage unnecessarily, so
prefer you making sure your bins are actually moving along and not
sitting there and creating a traffic jam before the rollers.

Actually, it should be their job to give clear instructions that help passengers manage luggage so that it moves efficiently through the screening process. That would be the most effective intervention to prevent traffic jams at the rollers, and there would be less diversion of their attention.

And... that's how security checkpoints work in virtually every airport I have used in Europe. I walk up to the line and an agent is there to remind me to take out whatever needs to be taken out and to answer questions. Most recently in Bremen, I had a hard-sided roll aboard which I've never placed in a bin in the past, but in Bremen, everything goes in a bin. I looked at the agent, asked whether my roll aboard went in a bin, got a courteous reply, and stuck it in a bin.

Of course for that to work in the US, it would require more TSA agents, which would require more funding of TSA, which would require politicians to cooperate to do something productive for the American people, which... well... you can draw your own conclusion...

Posted by
12979 posts

Seeing the facial reactions of TSA guys, I do sense that they don't really want to accommodate someone opting for a pat down instead of doing what everyone else , mostly, is doing, ie going through the peek-a-boo machine. Obviously with some the negative reaction is more apparent...too bad. Telling "them" once that you want a pat down instead isn't enough. There have been times I 've mentioned that I am opting out, all the time my bin(s) are going through the scanner or is already finished with it.

Putting up with the moods or shortness of TSA guys is just part of this, which includes getting yelled at. Obviously, I remove the hidden pocket or neck pouch before getting to TSA. You don't do that, or genuinely forgot, they could just yell at you for that oversight.

There are times going through that at SFO is a breeze...plain and simple; other times security is swamped and it's obviously noticeable TSA is short-handed. At those times you can expect them to be less that patient, short with you, and raising their voices at you, if not literally yelling.

Posted by
3493 posts

| And my passport and boarding pass never leaves my hand. I would never
put it in a bin

This statement is so ridiculous I don't even know where to start.

Why? Why is the statement ridiculous? I never let my boarding pass or ID out of my hand except when it is being checked. If my belongings disappear from the belt before I get there (they have!) then how do I prove to anyone who I am? I can still make my flight if I must as long as I have those 2 items with me.

Posted by
996 posts

I never let my boarding pass or ID out of my hand except when it is being checked.

I've had TSA agents who are fine with the passenger holding something like a passport/boarding pass in hand. I've also heard TSA agents yell at people for daring to do such a thing. Again, I wish there was some consistency. It would make travel easier for all of us, passengers and TSA alike.

Posted by
12979 posts

Now with this "real ID" business I use my passport as ID for both types of flying, domestic and international, ie whether flying from SFO to LAX or London I bring the passport along as ID.

I have in hand the boarding pass or in the shirt pocket, likewise with the passport unless instructed to put them in the bin, which I do but not out in the open, not like loose change but concealed in a jacket pocket.

Posted by
2042 posts

The TSA stands for Thousands Standing Around. It’s theater pretending that harassment equals security. I actually know one person who quit because she couldn’t stand that daily game her supervisor played of “let’s make up new rules today”. ( and don’t forget that a lot of those “regulations” to protect you can be circumvented by airline and airport employees who somehow are automatically trustworthy. After all they never do anything wrong, so they?)

As for the panic over “real id”: Hmmm.....

Every few years this comes up. And every few years the theatre company backs down. Because they will have to let you fly without this. And they really don’t want to spend the time it will take to do the enhanced screening on everyone with the right iD

Posted by
3081 posts


I agree that much of TSA is more theater than security. I am about as low-risk as they come, but I got "randomly selected" 3 or 4 trips in a row for "additional screening" in the TSA Precheck line at GSP. My bag was searched, and my electronics got wiped down for bomb residue. After the 3rd time, I commented to the TSA agent that it seems like there is a problem with a prescreening program if random additional screening is required so frequently. The ebullient local TSA agent said, "No sir, we find all sorts of things this way!" I wanted to say that there was a big problem with the guys looking at baggage through the x-ray machine if that was true, but I refrained.

The theater has to happen, though, in US culture. Profiling is anathema, so we do random "enhanced screening" on 85-year-old women who can barely stand.

I will say it's pretty rare that I see TSA agents standing around. They are usually pretty engaged in their jobs -- some pleasantly, some less pleasantly.

Posted by
6015 posts

just tell as what the rules are. Put up a poster. Don't yell at us like we are idiots.

Well, I can say that at my airport there are multiple sign, posters, and picto-grams; as well as people verbally providing instructions.....but still I will get behind somebody who is clueless or just won't listen.

Last trip the guy in front of me was kindly told "everything out of your pockets...keys, billfold, cell phone paper....."
(Goes through detector....beep, beep)
TSA: Anything in your pockets?
Guy: Well just my cell phone
TSA: Put it in the bin, anything else?
Guy: Nope, I'm good
(Beep, Beep, Beep)
TSA: Sir, is there anything else in your pockets?
Guy: No, they are empty, only my billfold
TSA: Put it in the bin, Sir, do you have anything else in your pockets, anything at all, papers, change, any metal, anything?
Guy: Look, I have told you several times, nothing is in my pockets!
(Goes through....Beep, Beep, Beep)
TSA: Sir, are you sure you have nothing else, otherwise we will need to search you and do a pat down.
Guy: I keep telling you, my pockets are empty, just my money clip, money isn't metal, you guys are making this real hard for me, I ought to talk to your supervisor, ~rants on for a bit~
TSA: Sir, why don't we grab your stuff and move over to the table there by the screens.......

And this was TSA Precheck, while this was more extreme, I see versions of this every time through security. Sometimes I feel for the patient souls that work TSA

Posted by
3335 posts

Even at TSA Precheck within the same airport, the rules vary and it is frustrating. The reasoning I heard when I asked (why at JFK T5 must I remove my shoes & belt at TSA Precheck but not at JFK T4) about the inconsistency of the rules is that security wants to keep people who might want to cause harm off guard as they don't want symmetry or regularity. This might be why no posters are made as the OP asked. They yell because the lines can be long and loud. In all fairness, some travelers who maybe travel once per year don't prepare in advance and wait until it's their turn at the x-rays to take off their coats, their kids coats', end their mobile phone calls, etc.

Posted by
3493 posts

Paul, I must have been behind that same person at another airport. That time he was wearing cargo pants with a handful of loose change in each pocket. Also had on lineman boots (knee high lace ups) that took him literally 15 minutes to remove. And multiple piercings in his ears and eyelids. After setting off the detector multiple times, He kept arguing that the only "metal" about him was his Metallica shirt. TSA was not amused. He might still be at the checkpoint.

I understand that not everyone travels as much as some of us do, but how much clearer does it need to be: "Remove EVERYTHING from your pockets. Place all items from your pockets in a bin." Arguing with the TSA about what you can or can't keep in your pockets is just not worth it.

Posted by
12979 posts

Even though given a choice if the price is the same, I much rather fly out of OAK than SFO, especially to Europe. To be fair SFO does have signs telling you what needs to be discarded or will be discarded, prohibited items, various instructions, and even sometimes TSA personnel telling you (though not yelling) what to do upon reaching the bins. Still, you can bet there are people who are clueless...very true about that. They don't seem to look at the signs or listen...absolutely clueless.

Being clueless will certainly enhance your chances of getting yelled at, (if one minds that), when your attention span wasn't there in the first place before you got to the bins.

I see getting through TSA and Security as a mere perfunctory experience. I don't joke with them, let them make the frivolous or negative, unprofessional or worse comments. When it's a breeze, great, but it can be taxing too...obviously, not so great. But, I have never been pulled aside, told to step here, etc, for additional "security." ...questioning, whatever. They won't waste time on me.

Posted by
3705 posts

Then I had a short pat down. For reasons I can never explain, this always happens.

Usually it is because of bunching of fabric. Pull out your shirt/blouse and let it hang loose. Do not wear sweatshirts thru machine. Do not cuff pants. Hike up pants to keep off floor. Generally wear tight fitting and thin clothing, any folding over or sagging can mean a pat down.

I have definitely encountered the "no shoes in bin, shoes are dirty" but not in Detroit, or commonly anywhere.

they don't want symmetry or regularity

I am sure that this is true, because it is never symmetrical.

Posted by
3493 posts

wear tight fitting and thin clothing

I guess only a speedo swim suit would be a bit extreme though. Sure can't hide anything wearing that. :-)

Posted by
154 posts

I've never had a problem with TSA. I enrolled in Global Entry a few years ago (which includes TSA PreCheck) and highly recommend it. The only glitch I had was in the Orlando airport, which on one trip completely mixed up the PreCheck and regular security lines, causing me to stand in the regular line during a high volume period (which in Orlando, seems to be 24/7/365;) Overall, I've found TSA officers to be friendly and efficient. Of course, as with any organization or business, you're always going to have a few no-loads....

I do see a lot of issues on the personnel side, however. As a retired mid level manager in the federal government, I'd love to have had the excess personnel I often see at TSA checkpoints in my agency.

Posted by
7696 posts

What Dave said

Actually, it should be their job to give clear instructions that help passengers manage luggage so that it moves efficiently through the screening process.