Learning about learning
Yesterday I was returning home from the ATD Conference in Denver and participated in a unique customer experience that I suspect will make a good case story someday. We start with the rental car shuttle dropping me off at the baggage claim, which meant schlepping all over the airport to find ticketing. The airline I was on was new, had one gate, and minimal signage, so there was extra schlepping involved. Once I found it, checked my bag an got my boarding pass, SCORE!!! I was TSA Pre-Check.
I'd made a point of getting to the airport two hours early so I could spend some time relaxing and typing up my notes from the conference. TSA Pre-Check would expedite my getting to the gate and give me a bit of extra time to savor the Caribou Coffee I'd planned to procure. It was a Thursday morning, so the airport was relatively quiet. Things were going along as anticipated when I got to the security area to read a prominent sign that said, "No TSA Precheck at this Checkpoint". No biggie, I thought. The line is short, so this should go quickly.
Not so much. Little did I know what I was in for.
Sarge in Charge
After a few moments, Sally Supervisor comes over and examines what Arnie Agent hands to him. She looks me over, and asks me if I had anything else to prove my identity. I explained about the missing wallet and offered to pull up something on my phone, which she all but slapped out of my hand and informed me was not acceptable. Mind you, I have an iPhone that uses a fingerprint for identification, and had a picture of my lost license on it, along with several other items that could have been used for identification. No, no. This was not acceptable.
She asks me if I have my old license with me. Seriously? No, I did not. Passport? No, I was not traveling internationally. Costco card? Are you kidding me? How about a piece of mail with your name on it? I don't know about you, but I generally don't travel with yesterday's mail in my backpack. I emptied my backpack, hoping to find something beyond gum wrappers and conference handouts, but alas, came up empty handed, since the receipts stuffed in there for travel only had the last four numbers of the credit card I'd handed her, which didn't count. As the clocked ticked, I wondered where this was headed.
Sarge takes the walkie-talkie in hand and announces to someone in some office, I suppose, that they have a female ICVV in hand. Wondering what they heck that is, she marches Arnold over to the corner and informs them that they need to call security about this. She fishes a clipboard from under the corner desk, rifles through a folder, attaches the paper to it, and hands it to me to fill out. It asks for my name, address, phone number and signature. While I'm filling this out, someone who appears to be Arnold's manager informs him that he needs to go take his ATS training, and Sally nearly bites his head off and informs him that no he cannot, he must finish this first.
I hand her the clipboard, and she compares it to my temporary license. She confirms to Arnold that it matches. (Like I would put a different address if I were a terrorist, smuggler or whatever they decided I was??) Sally looks Arnold in the eye, shows him the phone number to dial, and tells tells him in no uncertain terms that he is to tell the person on the phone that the subject has no identification. "But she has a temporary license with her picture and signature on it...." "I don't care!! You tell them that she has nothing! DO YOU UNDERSTAND??" "Yes ma'am."
Arnold dials the phone, and proceeds to read my information from the clipboard. The person on the phone must have asked about ID and he mentioned my paper license and I thought Sally was going to club him. "NO! She does not have a license. She has a receipt for a license, NOT a license." I guess the person on the other end heard that, so he asked Arnold questions to ask me. Data of birth. Job. Address (didn't I just write that down for you?). Close relative. Where do I live? (Everything I've given you says Rhode Island. Don't you believe that? And how do you think I got here in the first place since this is dated a week ago? Walk?) Apparently the person on the phone believed I was who I said I was and gave Arnold the number to let me go to the next part of this adventure. Before I go there, don't you find it odd that they people we bank with can pull up a database and ask me questions about places I lived and jobs I worked at 15 years ago to verify my identity, but the TSA has nothing of the sort. This does not inspire confidence, folks.
Sarge announced once again into her walkie-talkie, now attached to the paging system, and that she had a female ICVV, and needed an assist. Sally had me take off my shoes, pull out my laptop, empty my pockets, and she and Arnold marched me over to the screening machine, carrying my stuff, and flanking me on either side. (Did she think I was going to make a run for it?) I assumed the spread-eagle-arms-overhead-position and the machine scanned me. As usual, it detected my padded bra straps, requiring the typical pat down by the agent on the other side to ensure I wasn't smuggling anything in them. Gel, maybe? As she did this, she was joined by six (Six?? Do I really look that scary?) female agents and another male agent who picked up my stuff and carried it all over to another area to be searched. Sarge dismisses Arnold, and tells him to expect a call in an hour asking if the police got involved.
Each of the new agents took a swab and wiped down my shoes, laptop, and emptied every item out of my backpack, gum wrappers and all. The swabs were put into a testing machine to be examined for explosives. The male agent injected a little humor about the book I was planning to read on the plane: Conflict Without Casualties, as he apparently recognized the irony of this situation. One of the female agents ran a wand around my outline, then front and back, then put on rubber gloves and patted down every inch of my body after asking if I wanted to be taken to a private room for this. No, that wouldn't be necessary. She swabbed the gloves, and put the swab into the bomb detector machine. As the clock ticked, I wondered if I was ever going to get out of there and onto my plane.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was handed my shoes, laptop and backpack and told I could leave, since I'd passed the checkpoint. As I was tying my shoes, I heard another manager ask another agent about going and taking the ATS or whatever it was training, and I watched an agent patting down another agent. I wondered if they were in training mode. I also wondered if Sarge wasn't an auditor, out to show people how things should be done.
What Did I Learn?
I learned a few things that day.
First, Rhode Island Temporary Licenses actually do say receipt on them. Despite the fact that it has a photo, signature, indicator of organ donor status, it does not say temporary license on it. DL does not count. I think I shall make a call to the people at the registry about that.
Second, if you are training someone, don't make a spectacle out of a customer. I suppose the TSA doesn't consider the people they inspect to be customers. Their job is to screen for the riff-raff and any other suspicious activity. However, I felt sub-human during this process as orders were barked at me. Perhaps that is an intimidation tactic, and had I been in the military, might have dealt with a little better. My black male friends tell me stories of being treated like this because of their skin color. I have a ton more empathy now.
Finally, always travel with a passport. Or your Costco Card.
What about you? What travel nightmares have you experienced? Share your story in the comments.
Teacher by training, learner by design.