An airport story

Last Updated on April 14, 2017 by Dave Farquhar

I found a link to a six-week-old story by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) about an adventure at an airport.
Long story short: Jillette got grabbed in the crotch by a security guard. Whether it was intentional or not, when Jillette pointed it out, the guard went on a power trip. But touching someone’s crotch without permission is assault. Even if you’re a post-9/11 airport security inspector. The big question is whether someone can be charged with assault while working that particular job.

A juicy quote: “[F]reedom is kind of a hobby with me, and I have disposable income that I’ll spend to find out how to get people more of it.”

As I read it, I couldn’t help but remember some stories Charlie told me about flying in and out of Israel. I don’t recall whether he said he was searched, but he was interviewed. It’d be a whole lot better if he’d tell the stories, but he said at the end of the interview, he felt like a terrorist.

They’d point at random people and ask if he was with them, and if he answered yes, they’d ask for the person’s name. If I were traveling with a group of 50 people and just met some of them, I’d get uncomfortable. (I’d also answer the question wrong.) Sometimes they would say the other person had told them something outrageous about him.

That line of questioning would make anyone with pure motives uncomfortable. They didn’t seem to be as interested in Charlie’s answers as much as they were interested in how he answered them.

Now, when I go through airport security here in the States, I always get screened. Maybe I set off some kind of religious zealot alarm or something. I don’t know. But they always want to test my shoes and my carry-on for explosive properties. And I’m always carrying lots of electronics (a laptop computer, still and video cameras, and, with me, you never know what else), so they want to see them working, to make sure I haven’t figured out how to build a bomb into a Micron TransPort laptop.

So it’s not much fun for me to get onto an airplane. I try to be as gracious as I can, because I know these guys get more lip from people than probably anybody else in the world and I know giving them more isn’t going to get me anywhere.

Neither will putting vile and disgusting things in my luggage so that they have to touch them when they look through my stuff. That’s really immature.

There are some things I’d be packing anyway that probably do work in my favor. There’s my Bible (single white Protestant males aren’t exactly known for blowing up airplanes), and when I think to do it, I wear a cross, for the same reason. I figure since, legal or not, constitutional or not, politically correct or not, there’s profiling going on and nothing’s going to stop it, so I might as well make it work in my favor.

The last time I went through airport security I had a brief and nice conversation with the security cop about video cameras. Yes, I have had a nice conversation with an airport security troll. It’s possible. I hadn’t given him any trouble so I guess I seemed like a fairly nice guy, and he liked my camera, so he asked about it. And let’s face it, by asking me about my camera he was paying me a compliment.

I try to be as polite and nice as possible to everyone I can, whenever I can (there are times when I’m not very capable of that). And I’ve found that most people–not all people, but most–want to be nice to strangers and will be if given the excuse. They’ll just as quickly be not-nice if given the excuse. That’s true of the checker at the grocery store and it’s true of the airport security troll.

Now I don’t know if Penn Jillette got an attitude with the guy in the airport or not. I wasn’t there, so I have no way of knowing. I can think of some people I’ve had the misfortune of meeting or corresponding with who’d have real problems in an airport because of their attitudes. Some of them are twice my age, but they still need to grow up.

Personally, I’m willing to give up some convenience–within reason–to keep the plane I’m on from becoming a missile. The problem I have with a lot of civil liberties advocates is that many of them forget that my individual rights end as soon as my exercise of them starts infringing on someone else’s individual rights. Sometimes one individual’s rights trump another’s.

If the owner of an airplane doesn’t want me on the plane because s/he doesn’t like the color of my shoes, then that’s his or her right. If I want to carry an armory with me when I travel, then I can get my own plane. Most freedoms have always been for those who can afford them.

The biggest problem I have with the current state of airport security is that I think there’s a better way.

One, take the feds out of the equation. I can’t think of a single airline that can afford the financial hit of having an airplane blown up at this point in time. Airlines have a whole lot more at stake than the federal government does. Let them handle their own security. If the feds want to “help,” then fine. Give the airlines money to pay the salaries of their security people. But make the security people accountable to the airline, not the government.

Two, change the approach. The U.S. approach looks for weapons. The problem is, that’s changing all the time. Weapons used to be guns and knives and pipe bombs. Then it was anything that could cut. Then it was shoes. It’s a moving target and it’s always just a matter of time before some terrorist organization gets around it until we cut off the terrorists’ air supply by not buying oil. Since we like our gas guzzlers too much, that’ll never happen.

The Israeli approach doesn’t look for weapons. It looks for terrorists. And it doesn’t really differentiate between armed terrorists and unarmed.

Israel definitely has its problems, but safety on its airplanes isn’t one of them.

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14 thoughts on “An airport story

  • January 5, 2003 at 3:00 pm

    “Most freedoms have always been for those who can afford them.”
    Your hair must be almost white.
    From someone thats spent twenty three years working
    in the public, honey works better than vinegar at airports or any where else.

  • January 6, 2003 at 2:45 pm

    I lived in Israel for 6 years. I flew in and out countless of times. I have learned a few things about airport security which also work well for other things in life. You touched upon this one: Always try to be nice to people. I have seen on countless occasions when people blow up and start screaming and shouting. What that gets them is the wrong type of attention that will usually cost them more time in interrogation. If you are nice, look people in the eyes, smile and try answering their questions to the best of your ability then you will certainly go through their system faster. Also, screaming at these people doesn’t help at all. They don’t make the rules. They just carry them out. If you got a problem, ask to see their superiors.

    You also forgot to mention one piece of Israeli airport security. when you fly with EL/AL they *always* place an armed civilian on the plane. You never know who it is but rest assured that there is one on the plane that is packing.

    /Dave T.

  • January 6, 2003 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks, Dave. I didn’t forget to mention there’s an armed civilian on El/Al planes–I didn’t know. Thanks for that info.

  • January 7, 2003 at 6:37 am

    Of course, Israeli planes haven’t been successfully hijacked since the 1970s.

    So their system works for them.

  • January 7, 2003 at 8:22 am

    You can find Charlie’s response here (I don’t have Trackback working yet, otherwise I’d trackback you, Charlie).

  • January 7, 2003 at 11:17 am

    If you got a problem, ask to see their superiors.

    And then see how far you get.

  • January 7, 2003 at 12:04 pm

    Dave F.,

    I want to apologize to everyone on this thread for firing before aiming; I posted a reply with two links regarding US security screeners’ behavior before I went back and re-read Dave T.’s post referring specifically to ElAl’s security screeners’ behavior. Mea culpa.

    Oops, time for my Ritalin 😉

  • January 7, 2003 at 12:23 pm

    I can easily remove comments if you’d like that one gone. Just let me know.

  • January 7, 2003 at 10:53 pm

    Maybe it’s time to ground flight attendants and replace them with armed, uniformed security guards. Visible presence, visible deterrence; boost passenger confidence for a fraction of the cost and red tape of the air marshall program or the controversial guns-in-the-cockpit plan. It would be worth it to me.

  • January 8, 2003 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks, Dave; but as Lincoln (or was it Cromwell?) said, “Leave the warts in.” I’m mature enough to take my lumps when I goof. Besides, even if such horror stories don’t apply specifically to El Al, the stories of ‘airport-security retardation’ seem to be proliferating, and the word should get out there.

    Some more relevant links from my collection:

    Arm the pilots (and everyone else)
    by Dr. Chuck Baldwin

    Shotgun News Column on Terrorism — Sept 12 2001
    by Neal Knox

    How to Stop Hijackers from Using Planes as Weapons
    by Clayton E. Cramer

    Safe Travel
    by Jay Chris Robbins and Jamie Beckett

    How to prevent air hijackings
    compiled by Steve Kirsch

    Rebuttals To Misguided Legislators Who Think Pilots Should Not Be Armed

    Why Leave Pilots Defenseless?
    by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)

  • January 8, 2003 at 8:52 pm

    Large groups of stoopid people treat symptoms, not diseases…

  • January 9, 2003 at 3:15 am


    I just saw your comments. No offense taken at all. However, I can respond a bit to your post and the two links you posted. I haven’t been to The States since 1997 or thereabouts so I haven’t experienced the airport security there lately. From what I have heard from friends and family in the U.S. along with what I have read I can only say that things are different in the U.S. than for example Europe. Sure, our airport security in Europe is reaching new hights as well and things take more time (I do travel quite a bit in Europe) but in my opinion people working the security here have been pretty much professional about it. Sometimes they seem a bit distracted and they want to get you out of the way but I can only imagine their job situation. I have yet to experience any uncomfortable or unnecessary measures in airport security on this side of the Atlantic since 9/11. The only frustrating thing is that things take much more time but I have learned to adapt to that as well. I got a few tricks up my sleve that will get me through the controls faster. For instance, I always carry my laptop with me so what I do is that I have a little plastic bag with me in my laptop case. While I am standing in line for the security controls I remove everything from my pockets and all things metal and put them into the bag and into the laptop case. My watch, small coins, tie clip, the works. That will get scanned by by their machines. The only thing that will halt your process is if they want to see your electronics work (computer on standby, mobile phone on so that isn’t a problem) or if they want you to remove your shoes.

    Dave T.

  • January 9, 2003 at 1:31 pm

    Sure, our airport security in Europe is reaching new hights as well and things take more time (I do travel quite a bit in Europe) but in my opinion people working the security here have been pretty much professional about it.

    Dave T, I’m relieved to hear that at least some security screeners have managed to retain their professionalism, instead of succumbing to the temptation to become little tin gods.

    Thanks for your informative post and the kind words.

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