Nasty floors, Nasty TSA: Detroit fails to impress

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the busiest travel days. Some people save all year to afford the opportunity to visit relatives or take a long-deserved vacation. The holidays are special. It’s a time when we anticipate a little bit of cheer and glad tidings.

One of the worst things I fear for my vacationing customers is having the dream trip of their lifetime ruined by missing their flight or starting their journey on a sour note. Some things can’t be helped, like a winter storm delaying flights. Other things are totally inexcusable.

I’ve seen hideously long security lines at various airports before, and got the impression the TSA was apathetic toward scheduling a sufficient amount of employees to handle the passenger loads. In the past, after I asked a TSA agent if they could open more lines or do something to help keep people from missing flights, I got the cold answer: “You need to show up early.”

This morning I checked in for my flight from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale. I walked to security where some 70 people stood in line. When I noticed no one was moving forward, I saw TSA employees looking at us from beyond, but none of them was working. TSA wasn’t “open” yet. Although TSA knows when flights depart, they disregarded their own sermon to “show up early.”

At the entrance to the lines stood a very short man. Like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, sometimes he pointed to the left, sometimes to the right, or sometimes in both directions. Unlike the scarecrow, he didn’t speak; he just pointed. It may have been too much an effort on his part to say hello or good morning to the passengers. It was as if we weren’t human, but rather some sort of objects being volleyed about.

The Detroit Airport handles 35 million people per year. Each passenger pays TSA a minimum of $5 per round trip. That’s $175 million we are paying them, and that doesn’t include the mandatory amounts the airlines must also pay TSA. So what kind of service are passengers getting from Detroit’s TSA for that annual $175 million?

When the line began moving and we inched slowly to the first screener, he asked for our IDs. The young man looked at Marco and said, “This passport is expired.” Marco’s passport is from Italy, so obviously the expiration date is written in Italian. Why would they hire a screener to check passports if he or she cannot read IDs in common languages? The sentence “Il presente passaporto e rinnovato fino al 14 APR 2010” should be clear enough to a reasonably trained screener that the passport expires April 14 2010.

As we entered the x-ray area, five men pushing wheelchairs abruptly crowded the lane’s metal detector, directed the old people therein to walk to the other side, and thereafter abandoned the wheelchairs – blocking everyone else’s way. The three old people ahead of me were completely confused and were repeatedly sent back by a screener to place something additional onto the x-ray conveyor, like shoes, belts, and multiple chains worn as jewelry. Realizing that there were three confused people plus five old people pushed by strangers ahead of us, I decided it best to go to through the metal detector to safeguard our bags coming out of the x-ray machine.

I’ve lost 2 bags and a set of keys before at the x-ray machine. The men pushing the old people in wheel chairs were strangers to the passengers, so they wouldn’t easily recognize whose personal effects were whose.

Meanwhile, Marco started calling out in panic from the entry lane “I can’t find my boarding pass!” One of the confused people took his boarding pass by accident. Marco kept shouting to me on the opposite side of security “Do you have my boarding pass?” I kept saying “No.”

Two TSA employees, in kind of a sadistic passive aggression, just ignored his situation, rather than tell him he could pass through the metal detector and have the boarding pass re-issued at the gate. Apparently, apprising the passengers of such information was not written in their job descriptions.

After I convinced Marco to pass through the metal detector, we waited for all of the items to pass through x-ray.

Considering that Marco has lost his billfold three times in America, considering that I’ve had two bags taken from me at the airport, and considering that his boarding pass was currently missing, I asked him “Do you have your billfold?”

Marco stepped in gum while passing the metal detector area, and was wondering what other kinds of crud and bacteria are on the floors where everyone removes his shoes.

He didn’t answer me. So I asked him again “Do you have your billfold, yes or no?”
To this, a TSA agent replied, “Take your arguing out there!” pointing to the concourse.

I told her “We’re not arguing. I asked him if he has his billfold.” To this she added in a most hateful tone “Then take your attitude out there,” and pointed to the concourse again.

Detroit passengers are forced to pay these people $175 million and this is how we are treated? I would be appalled for her to talk so nasty to one of my customers.
She had her airport badge turned backward so no one could see her name. I told her to tell me her name. She pointed to a little pin that said Alyssa, snapping “I’m Alyssa, and that’s my supervisor over there, so go over there with your attitude.”

Not being a fan of being told where to go by hateful people, I called her bluff. Most people would be in a hurry to get the plane, and would run to their gate rather than take the time to register a complaint with a supervisor. I went to the supervisor, saying “I want to file a complaint against Alyssa for being nasty to me.”

Not only did the supervisor agree with me that I had the legitimate right to ask Marco if he had his billfold, she was happy to look for a TSA feedback card for me. In the meanwhile, a second TSA officer who had been eavesdropping a little came up to me, giving me two feedback cards, so the complaint could be doubly registered. I took that to mean my experience with Alyssa was not unique.

I began to think how unfortunate it is for visitors to Michigan to have to deal with Detroit’s TSA. Our dying automobile industry has the state scrambling to entice investors to choose Michigan. What kind of impression does it leave on potential investors when the local TSA has employees treating passengers like dirt? For some visitors, the most memorable thing they remember about Detroit was how nastily they were treated at the airport.

The TSA is part of our government. The government exists to serve us, not to denigrate us. Detroit passengers didn’t pay $175 million to be insulted at end of the x-ray belt when we assess whether we have all our property.

Considering the current economy, TSA employees should be grateful they even have jobs. As a resident of the Detroit area, I am ashamed that visitors have to be subjected to TSA employees like Alyssa.

If you have a poor experience with TSA, don’t let them walk over you. File a complaint, with a cc to your US senator. The TSA Customer Comment Card reads: “The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pledges to ensure that your experience at the security checkpoint is expedient and customer-friendly. Please help us to meet these goals by telling us about your screening experience. Suggestions, compliments and complaints are welcomed and encouraged.”

You can contact TSA by calling 1 866 289 9673 or sending an email to .