TSA Screener Professionalism & Crossing The Line

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) have the difficult job of searching for contraband items passengers may pass through security with. Along with TSA TSOs searching for prohibited items, the agency’s Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) watch and interact with passengers to determine passengers that they determine to be a threat to aviation security … despite BDOs often blurring the line between aviation security and law enforcement.


So … at what point does the TSA questioning passengers cross the line? There are stories all the time of TSA TSOs crossing the line from their job description into the realm of offending passengers.  Passengers have been stopped for traveling with crutches, insulin pumps, a TSA TSO at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport informed me that my cameras could not pass through the X-Ray scanner unless they were put away in a bag … despite the fact that the cameras were on my shoulders and I was not traveling with any bag … but every once in a while a new incident of a TSA TSO crossing the line comes to my attention.


This morning an incident around 5:15am, at Sacramento International Airport, involving “Betty” (she asked that her real name not be used in this blog post) caught my attention. This incident probably won’t make headline, or make it into the media, but for me, it is an incident that is completely unacceptable … TSA BDOs using their unfettered access to passengers, and duty to ask them questions, to go beyond professionalism and use their position to get irrelevant personal information from passengers.


This morning “Betty” was in the gate area at Sacramento International Airport, waiting to board her flight, with a TSA Agent approached her and asked her if she was on Facebook, and personal questions of that nature.  After a moment, “Betty’s” husband, who was traveling with her realized that she was not being detained and questions, but rather than TSA Agent was flirting with her and hitting on her. “Betty,” a PhD Candidate who has been researching the TSA for part of her thesis, was not amused by this line of questioning.


Following the incident, the TSA Agent once again found “Betty” in the gate area and apologized for being so forward, but the damage is done.


The TSA cannot tolerate this type of behaviour from any of its Agents, at any airport, for any reason. Passengers who are approached by TSA TSOs or BDOs must not feel as if they are prey, they must not feel sexually harassed, Agents must act professional and show strict professionalism at all times, otherwise they undermine the seriousness of the TSA’s mission.


Abuse of power by a TSA Agent, such as the line of questioning “Betty” encountered this morning is unacceptable, and is on the same level as TSA TSOs questioning passengers on the origin of their cash, having passengers remove a sweater if the passenger informs them they only have underwear on under the sweater, separating an autistic child from their parent or not allowing a an adult to assist their incapacitated parent should secondary screening be required.


Aviation security is a serious responsibility … and one that must adhered to at all times from the highest levels of the agency right down to the bottom rung screeners.


Have you had an experience like the one “Betty” encountered? Drop me an e-mail at fish @ flyingwithfish.com or find me on Twitter at @flyingwithfish


Happy Flying!




  1. SMF is my home airport and I have never encountered a problem there. TSA has always been very friendly, professional, and amazingly efficient- I don’t think I have ever had to wait in line behind more than 2 people.

  2. Fundamentally, government is not very good at running things. To paraphrase a British expression, they couldn’t organize a drinking session in a brewery. Just look at the “efficiency” of any government department and you see evidence of complete incompetence, total disregard for any form of service to the public, etc. This is not really surprising as it’s not what government is about and, often as not, it doesn’t matter. When it does, it’s often trivial – the DMV springs to mind.

    But the problem with the TSA is that it’s not trivial, it affects so many people’s lives and the powers are unfettered. To my mind, they need private contractors, operating under license and under strict supervision. The standards below which the contractors cannot fall are based around security – if they fail, they lose the license, pure and simple. But the performance metrics, for remuneration and for renewal, should be based around the service ethos. This is not dissimilar to many organisations – food service being a good example. You simply cannot poison people so hygiene is paramount. But after that, the people who win business are those who have the best overall proposition.

  3. Thos BDOs (Bozos works better) rarely state that they are TSA ‘agents,’ but just start with the questions. Without some basis, I regard it as similar to internet ‘Phishing’ and hit Close or Delete. Clearing the TSA check point is supposed to be a ‘Secure Procedure.’ When traveling, my guard is already up and I do NOT welcome Structured Chit-Chat from anyone that I do not know, or who has not properly identified themself. I will gladly answer legitimate questions, but as a Personal Security Measure, I first need to know who is doing the asking. If properly credentialed TSA representatives have reasonable questions, I will gladly respond. When they assault me with seriously personal questions, have no possible connection to flying, flight security or anything else, I will continue to refuse their chit-chat engagement attempts, making on-site complaints as necessary. For example, my reason for refusing their Back-Scatter body scan is simply none of their business. They may use other methods if executed within policy. Why do declare and carry medications and very modest medical equipment? The proper papers and certificates are before you, TSA and I have complied with all of your silly rules. WIth the requirements met, additional questions or God save me, a detailed discussion of my ‘condition,’ is simply NOT going to happen. I’ve complied with ever published rule, so pass me! If you do not, we’ll be talking again through the complaint or litigiation process. I’m easily ready to prove that you don’t follow your own rules. Look for bombs and weapons and threats, but don’t second-guess my needs when every “T” has been crossed.
    To be sure, I carry copies of the relevant TSA rules and instructions with me. Relevant parts are highlighted for thebenefit of those who do not read so well. I help them through some of it and try to explain the Big Words. Most of them have never read their own agency’s regulations and work based on what a supervisor told them to do. The Supervisors… Let’s don’t go there, at least during this visit. In the end, TSA is a gaggle of thousands, but with perhaps a hundred who understand how to communicate with the flying public. Some German tactics of the 40s come to mind. Nuff said. -C.

  4. Typical example of TSA “professionalism”. Just like the sleazy screener who left the note in the female bloggers bag after finding her vibrator.

    TSA is nothing more than a jobs program for unemployable misfits trying to create an illusion of airline security. Last week one of these ‘”professionals” was arrested in Maryland last week for possession of child pornography. Does anyone really think that have a strange adult feel up their child in public is improves security?

    There have been 56 TSA screeners arrested so far this year, a rate of one very six days. Of these, nine are charged with sex crimes involving children and four with helping to smuggle drugs through security.

    Of course, these screeners didn’t know for sure whether the contraband was drugs or explosives. This is not only a national disgrace but also very dangerous, since these employees become vulnerable to extortion and bribery by terrorist groups, placing passengers at great risk.

    So while TSA workers may take bribes that ultimately allow a bomb on a plane, you can be sure that there won’t be any four ounce containers getting past them.

    This agency needs to be replaced with something sensible and that is accountable for their abuses.

    TSA Crimes & Abuses

  5. The TSA are civilian employees, but they’re acting on behalf of the government, and they’re asking questions that are designed to detect activity that is criminal in nature. Therefore, the correct response is “Under the protections afforded me by the fifth amendment of the constitution, I respectfully assert my right to remain silent.”

  6. Mike,

    If you try and pull the 5th Amendment the TSO/BDO calls law enforcement and they can prohibit you from flying until you have been vetted. Do I agree with that if you’ve already been through the TSA Checkpoint? No I do not, but that is a likely scenario as to what will occur.

    Happy Flying!


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