The TSA is now tied with the IRS for least popular government agency in America, according to an AP poll. They're even less popular than FEMA -- the bunglers who brought you the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
In 2007, I spent many, many hours in TSA lines. I went through dozens of secondary screenings. I had toiletries stolen from me. I had a TSA agent break a one-day-old, $400 camera at a checkpoint in September (and then had the TSA's insurer deny my claim on it). The TSA also broke a watch of mine -- dropped it during a swabbing (Update: It turns out the camera was broken by a private security staffer from CAS, the contractor at the SFO checkpoints). The litany of TSA complaints laid out in the AP poll read like my travel diary since 2001.
How does any of this make us safer? Take away our liquids, leave us with our laptop batteries. Screen us before we get to the terminal -- but leave hundreds of people bunched up in the security queue, in a handy, bomb-friendly knot. Short of knocking us out and tying us up, they're not going to render us harmless.
And, as one man wrote to the TSA: "Have terrorists succeeded in making us that scared of each other?"
Take, for example, a mother and daughter traveling out of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport on Sept. 4. In an e-mailed complaint to TSA, the mother said the TSA screener was rude and inconsiderate. While she was in secondary screening, the mother was made to face away from her daughter. "Someone could have taken my daughter," the woman wrote. "I understand you have to have security, but your people don't need to be rude!!!"
On Sept. 3, a man leaving Orlando, filed a lengthy complaint because he said a screener touched him "like no man ever has – not even my doctor." "This type of bodily inspection, privately or publicly, is undignified," he wrote. "Have terrorists succeeded in making us that scared of each other?"
Nearly 9,000 such complaints flowed into TSA between January and October of this year, and the agency made a selection of them available at the request of The Associated Press.
Screeners are "just rigid, intransigent, inflexible, unpleasant, and they always have the fact that they've got the security of the nation that they're falling back on," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. Stempler said he has no way of telling whether TSA has addressed any of the hundreds of complaints it receives each month.