A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew to Colorado to participate in an SCA event where we were teaching classes on medieval cooking, including a hands-on class at which we planned to actually cook several dishes. One required sourdough, so I put some in a small glass jar, screwed the lid on tightly, put the glass jar in a slightly larger plastic jar, screwed the lid of that on tightly, and put the whole assembly in my checked luggage.
When we picked up our luggage in the Denver airport, one of the two checked suitcases was partly open, with a broken latch. Fortunately it also had a luggage strap on it which kept it from opening very far. It was a Zero Halliburton metal suitcase, the luggage equivalent of a tank, purchased long ago for transporting a personal computer in the days before laptops. Breaking it is not easy. I do not know whether TSA or the baggage handlers were responsible.
When we unpacked the other suitcase, we discovered a second problem. It contained a note from TSA saying that they had searched it. It also contained sourdough—out of the jars and spread over the contents of one end of the suitcase.
At first glance, that could have been due to carelessness rather than malice, a TSA inspector who opened both jars to check what was in them and did not take much care in closing them. But one of the things at that end of the suitcase was the case for my electric toothbrush. It was zipped closed when I packed the suitcase, zipped closed when I unpacked it—and there was sourdough inside it.
I cannot see any plausible way that could have happened other than the sourdough having been deliberately dumped out of its jars and over the contents of the suitcase, at a point when the inspector had unzipped the toothbrush case. Hence I conclude that I was the victim not of carelessness but of deliberate vandalism.
There is a simple way in which TSA could make both vandalism and pilfering by its inspectors much less common. All they would have to do is to include on the note saying that the suitcase had been searched a number identifying the inspector who searched it. If they got multiple complaints about the same inspector, they could investigate and take appropriate action.
The fact that, more than ten years after TSA was set up, they have not yet taken that simple precaution seems to me to be overwhelming evidence that, as an organization, they do not much care whether their employees rob or vandalize the luggage they are given access to, and at least weak evidence that they would prefer not to be able to identify those responsible.
Interestingly enough, on a different trip, I found that the note informing us that our luggage had been searched did contain information identifying the agent who had searched it. The note was not from TSA but from a private firm contracted by San Francisco Airport.
|Doing it wrong and doing it right|