I make it no secret that I am not a fan of TSA. They like to waste a lot of money, and I don’t feel that they are as effective as they could be when I hear about people accidentally getting large knives through security. That being said, they do prevent many weapons from getting on airplanes, and probably more importantly they deter more than we will ever know.
On the other hand I feel like other agencies are on a bit of a wild goose chase, and in some people’s opinions are targeting completely innocent people. I came across an article from The Atlantic written by James Fallows talking about the rash of pilots being searched by various agencies for no apparent reason and it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago.
I was working at an FBO in Austin, TX pulling the night shift which was generally pretty boring. Other than the occasional late businessman most of our work involved getting ready for the next day, and handling the same few cargo planes that came in every single night. We actually became friends with these pilots as they were our only company at night.
On one of these routine nights, we had a Cessna 208 Caravan come in with a pilot that had been flying this same route for at least five years. I went out to greet him as I always did, and as I stood up from chocking his plane I heard another jet pull in that I hadn’t even seen because it pulled in so fast. I quickly grabbed another set of chocks and ran over to the jet to chock it as well when I saw the words Border Patrol painted on the engines.
I approached the plane like always and greeted the crew asking what I could do for them. It was about that time that I realized they had weapons out and they just lifted a hand and told me to wait, so naturally I did. I merely went about my normal job just watching them all from a distance.
The Border Patrol agents performed their search without incident took a few hundred gallons of fuel and left within about two hours. When I asked the pilot what was going on he said they felt he had flown to close to the Mexican border so they had followed him up for about an hour or so just to check the plane.
Just to be totally clear this is what happened. A registered cargo carrier that flies the exact same route, in the exact same plane, with the exact same pilot, at almost exactly the same time every night MIGHT have flown straight on departure a little longer than usual. In response four Border Patrol agents flew a private jet for a couple of hours to poke around at a few boxes, buy $6,000 in fuel, and go back home for the night.
In talking to the pilot this happens about once a year or so, which is an incredible waste of time and money. In the grand scheme of things $6,000 isn’t that much money, and it wasn’t a terrible inconvenience for the pilot who has become accustomed to it, but that isn’t something that any normal law-abiding citizen should have to deal with.
These agencies do provide a valuable service with certain things that they handle, but it seems to me that some of the decision-making processes need to be reviewed. If people are really being profiled in any way like the above article suggests then they may need a little more than a simple review.