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Steve Jobs Made Me Miss My Flight

Or: On my way to San Jose.

On waking, I reach for my blackberry. It tells me what city I'm in; the hotel rooms offer no clues. Every Courtyard by Marriott is interchangeable.  Many doors into the same house. From the size of my suitcase, I can recall the length of my stay: one or two days, the small bag.  Three or four, the large. Two bags means more than a week.

CNBC, shower, coffee, email. Quick breakfast, $10.95 (except in California, where it's $12.95. Another clue.)

Getting there is the worst part. Flying is an endless accumulation of indignities. Airlines learned their human factors from hospitals. I've adapted my routine to minimize hassles.

Park in the same level of the same ramp. Check in at the less-used kiosks in the transit level. Check my bag so I don't have to fuck around with the overhead bins. I'd rather dawdle at the carousel than drag the thing around the terminal anyway.

Always the frequent flyer line at the security checkpoint. Sometimes there's an airline person at the entrance of that line to check my boarding pass, sometimes not. An irritation. I'd rather it was always, or never. Sometimes means I don't know if I need my boarding pass out or not.

Same words to the TSA agent.  Standard responses. "Doing fine," whether I am or not.  Same belt.  It's gone through the metal detector every time. I don't need to take it off.

Only... today, something is different. Instead of my bags trundling through the x-ray machine, she stops the belt.  Calls over another agent, a palaver. Another agent flocks to the screen. A gabble, a conference, some consternation.

They pull my laptop, my new laptop making its first trip with me, out of the flow of bags. One takes me aside to a partitioned cubicle. Another of the endless supply of TSA agents takes the rest of my bags to a different cubicle. No yellow brick road here, just a pair of yellow painted feet on the floor, and my flight is boarding. I am made to understand that I should stand and wait.  My laptop is on the table in front of me, just beyond reach, like I am waiting to collect my personal effects after being paroled.

I'm standing, watching my laptop on the table, listening to security clucking just behind me. "There's no drive," one says. "And no ports on the back. It has a couple of lines where the drive should be," she continues.

A younger agent, joins the crew. I must now be occupying ten, perhaps twenty, percent of the security force. At this checkpoint anyway. There are three score more at the other five checkpoints. The new arrival looks at the printouts from x-ray, looks at my laptop sitting small and alone. He tells the others that it is a real laptop, not a "device". That it has a solid-state drive instead of a hard disc. They don't know what he means. He tries again, "Instead of a spinning disc, it keeps everything in flash memory." Still no good. "Like the memory card in a digital camera." He points to the x-ray, "Here. That's what it uses instead of a hard drive."

The senior agent hasn't been trained for technological change. New products on the market? They haven't been TSA approved. Probably shouldn't be permitted. He requires me to open the "device" and run a program. I do, and despite his inclination, the lead agent decides to release me and my troublesome laptop.  My flight is long gone now, so I head for the service center to get rebooked.

Behind me, I hear the younger agent, perhaps not realizing that even the TSA must obey TSA rules, repeating himself.

"It's a MacBook Air."

Comments

I just had to sign up fot the whole typeface or what the name of this hosting blog thing is, just to write this:

I WAS LAUGHING OUT LOUD!... so well written, and soooo funny!

enjoyed it very much. thank you!

Great story, Michael. Bummer you missed your flight...would've driven me crazy given I try to make airport/rental car/hotel trips, like you, as much a standardized non-event as possible. haha.

Please consider a post on your MacBook Air experience given the rhetoric out there, on both sides. Seems like it would be quite usable.

Hmm... Shouldn't they be more concerned about one of those huge laptops from the 90s rather than a sleek, thin laptop that couldn't hide a knife, let alone a bomb? TSA employees need some lessons in common sense...

If you're a drudge fan: drudgetracker.com

Enjoyed this on multiple levels -- the monotonous life of the frequent flyer and the lack of (pretty much everything) reflected in TSA agents. Thank you for sharing.
rebeccalbrown.tumblr.com

Hi Mike, Great story! I am sorry you missed the flight - if not I would have laughed a bit longer.

In an interesting way, the agents did pick out the odd-ball laptop out. Yours must be one of the very few , or, apparently, a first for most of the TSA agents there. Should we be glad that they are able detect the out-lier?

I didn't see it funny at all. It's total stress related.
I've had to stand there before. They can stare at a typical DSLR and be baffled.
It must be some fancy hiding device for war fare.
I had to send camera to Canon for service. Almost every shot worthless.
They are not trained to handle this class of camera.
It's having to deal with retards from the lowest level. I swear their shopping, and you are their personal N. Camera agent.

Fortunately, my Apple Powerbook seems to get through w/o much hassle.
The view they have from the Xray should be real time to the supervisors console, and 3 seconds later confirmed with no questions. Not monkey zoo babble.
There shortsightedness should grant you a free first class fare at minimum.
I travel to Europe often with my gear. It's a pain. Laptop, Canon DSLR, and all related crap you can't send to cargo. Or it's never seen again. Like my partners gear. His bag was later found in a dumpster.

Most times it goes pretty smooth, I have things arranged purposely in quick see through inspection packs to not have cords, batteries, etc. flying out.

Amsterdam is the main stop. No one is more professional. Same in Sweden. I've been pulled from the line there as well, and your treated with respect. I've never had an issue there in over 3 years.

But, before we get there, long layover went to Pennsylvania and they rip stuff apart beyond belief. Never again do I accept fares that switch there. You swear you time warped to a Zimbabwe Jungle inspection. Everyone is on something, Yelling just to talk, and has a power trip infection. Just proves there are no standards set. As long as the cattle drive gets through the gates.
Happy Trails

As a frequent flier myself I see the commercials on the crappy hotel/motel/fleabag crap-a-room tv about how romantic it is to fly with xxx airlines. What a joke. If you aren't getting the third degree because you are a blonde-haired blue-eyed terrorist, then your equipment must suffer the same fate. Yeah, especially while you are standing on the yellow feet. Then you have to suffer further retardation by actually having to board the flight from hell. They are all flights from hell, except the rare 2 or 3 that only have 5 people on them on a red-eye which is heaven, but then you get your balls busted because all of the jet fuel wasted to fly these people makes certain people cringe. As if watching a desiel powered MTS bus with one homeless guy in it at 1:30 in the morning going to god knows where somehow doesn't illicit the same indignation from the same said certain people who are already pissed off about the 5 people jet flight...

Yeah, yeah and the circle goes on. To Philscbx, hey bro, it's Pennsylvania, the land of knuckle-dragging retards who still think Van Halen is the hottest band ever, pass them another keystone.

This behavior is sick. It induces fear. The disrepect given to travelers has not helped do anything, but detail innocent people.

The only reason people are not rioting in the streets is that they know they will be shot with tazers and rubber bullets or worse. Our free country has become a police state.

How many lives have been saved for all of the millions of hours these tsa workers have worked. The product is fear. If that is the point of the exercise than we've heard it loud and clear.

Great post and story.. Sorry you missed your flight.

You have to give the younger TSA agent credit for knowing about the SSD etc.

I wonder if FSJ will find your post and write about it. Then again, he probably never has to deal with pesky TSA agents when he flies. Private jet all the way I'm guessing.

Etan

Oh, the ridiculous TSA. They should know better - doesn't the MBA have to be sent back to apple to have the
explosives - er - batteries replaced?

What a waste that you had to endure that stupidity. Ugh.

One dumb question: hasn't there already been DOZENS of superslim Windoze sub-notebooks? I had a Sony 505 without any internal optical drives almost ten years ago.

Arun, I'm not as convinced re cameras:

I flew from Phoenix to Seattle toting a 5D, a 70-200/2.8 IS, 24-105... and the big daddy, a 400/2.8 IS, all 13 pounds of it, in a big hard case... guy behind the X-ray didn't bat an eyelid, called another agent over, and said, "Just so you know what it looks like, this is just a really big lens".

That being said, airline travel in the US is a travesty every which way...

OK, I'm a terrorist. I want to be just another traveler, like inconspicuous. So which one of my nefarious devices disguised to promote my just-another-traveler pretensions do I bring with me? The one that is like everyone else's or the one that looks like no other?

This is another example of the fundamentally wrong aspect of TSA's approach to airline security. The MacBook Air was suspicious because it looked different? If you are looking for devices that are dangerous then you need to search the ones that look NORMAL. A terrorist will go to the extreme to look normal, not different. This is why the TSA still consistently fails their own security tests by more than 90%.

While started with good intentions, the TSA has rapidly morphed into just another government bureaucracy, whose sole purpose is to maintain it's existence, spend money, and proclaim success despite evidence to the contrary. No doubt it is destined to be with us for years to come (or at least until we suffer the next successful terrorist attack on US soil, at which point it will be scrapped and we'll start all over again).

Just out of curiosity, I checked to see what else the TSA covers in terms of job description. On their site, under News & Happenings, is this:
March 8, 2008
TSA Statement on Incident at San Diego International Airport
and was wondering if this had to do with your predicament.

An alarmingly funny incident, if I may say so, scandalous in the face of what the top security people at US airports are supposed to be. I guess they ought to take the ACMT tests as well. Poor MBA, only because despite the coming-out hype, it was an anonymous suspect in an all-American milieu.

Etan Horowitz: Apparently you can get the battery of the MBA replaced at any Apple store for about $150 while you wait, but you'll have to have a scheduled appointment.

You should have opened up GOATSE for him so he could have his mind boggled twice in 30 seconds.

Loved this story.
Recently convert to mac, but have the (older) MacBook Pro...
I know I am SUCH a pedant, but I just have to ask, what happened to your checked-in bag!???
Did they not have to get it off the flight, if you were booted off!?
If not, what kind of "security" is that, one has to ask!??

I hope they compensated you fully for making you lose your flight. But thanks for a very amusing story (well, amusing to us, but I doubt you found it amusing at the time). :-)

jdandison asked: One dumb question: hasn't there already been DOZENS of superslim Windoze sub-notebooks? I had a Sony 505 without any internal optical drives almost ten years ago.

>>>

The concern was not its lack of an optical drive (CD or DVD) but its lack of a mechanical hard drive because his MacBook Air has a solid state drive.

Great story, and it just goes to prove a point I made just last week. I had recently applied to the TSA and was rejected. A family member could not understand why they would turn me down, since she travels often and is aware that most of the TSA employees are not all that brilliant. I told her that it must be their policy to not hire anyone with an IQ of over 90. Obviously, based on your story, I was right. Why they didn't have you turn it on right away and see that it is a computer is beyond me. If they thought logically, they would have done this, and you probably would not have missed your flight.

http://www.boingboing.net/2007/03/30/tsa-missed-90-of-bom.html

Undercover agents were able to slip bombs and IEDs past the Transport Security Agency checkpoint at Denver airport 90 percent of the time.

http://politicalinquirer.com/2007/10/19/airport-screeners-miss-75-percent-of-bombs-snuck-in-at-lax/

Airport screeners miss 75 percent of bombs snuck in at LAX
Posted on October 19, 2007 by Lance

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/01/28/tsa.bombtest/index.html
TSA tester slips mock bomb past airport security

=================

Just how many real bombs have TSA detected throughout the years and billions of dollars of their existence? how many real terrorists acts have been prevented? I guess zero? or one, the shoe bomber?

They are there only to intimidate, it's their one and only function. And as the time passes and they still have zero of real job, naturally, they are and will be becoming more and more aggressive.

JKlein> Why they didn't have you turn it on right away and see that it is a computer is beyond me.

I think it's obvious - they were scared to be blown up right there, if the owner was a suicide bomber and it was indeed a "device".

The real mistake you made -- and so many others like you - is you consider the TSA as a indespensible part of your business life. That's only true for those lackeys among you who travel on commercial flights.

Try joining with people like me who organize frequent flyer professionals into charter groups who fly private jets -- and don't need to worry about some bureaucrat searching through your luggage.

What bothers me is that the flight left with your checked bag on it but not the owner of the bag. I though that this was a complete no no in the airline industry.

3/18

Found the link to your apple air story on reddit. just goes to show that TSA may stand for Terminally Stupid Airline Security. Ah Maybe that is too harsh. But after some of the things you see on the news that airline security testers get thru security, it makes you wonder.

Late to the party, I know.

My wife's new MBA was thoroughly looked at prior to clearing it back in February... and we didn't even spring the extra $1000 for the SSD, so there was a spinning HDD for them to see. (It went through the x-ray right after my old beat up PPC G4 -- I would have liked to have seen the comparison).

What I find most bizarre about this is I know a couple people who lugged around a Clio on trips until just recently and they never had a problem with it. It was a flash-based HPC and surely looked much like the MBA on x-rays with just a larger battery.

The only thing truly new about the MBA is that in the past such a device would have been an HPC with all the limitations thereof, rather than a fully functioning computer... and that's something you could only know after powering up (absent prior knowledge of the model and working only from the x-ray). Well, that and the stylus.

I am a former TSA screener and author of: "I Might As Well Be Naked: How to Survive Airport Screening With Your Clothes On."

I completely understand the frustration passengers are experiencing with the MacBook Air. TSA is used to seeing a drive in computers and since terrorist LOVE using computers for bombs, this causes a big to-do with them.

The problem is the Macbook Air is coming across as organic material that looks like C4 exposives when being x-rayed; however, TSA should have been briefed on this new technology. So, really there's no excuse.

I remember being briefed on kid's shoes that had electronics and that lit up when they walked. Remember those?

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