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TSA Watch List

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Ken Chan, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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    I've taken the same short trip on Southwest Airlines about 100 times in the past ten years. For those that don't know, Southwest has open seating, like a bus; you need to get on early to guarantee a spot for your larger carry-on, and to avoid the less comfortable middle seats. Recently, they've allowed online check-in: you print your boarding pass at your home/office, and if you don't check luggage, you just go through security (don't get me started) and get on directly. So you can guarantee a good spot and not have to get to the airport early to check-in. I last took the trip two weeks ago.

    When I tried to check-in online for my trip yesterday, it wouldn't let me. After conferring with customer support, they thought it might be random security screening. Although the web page generically suggested using the automated kiosk -- which of course is no more secure than online -- I suspected it wouldn't work; when I got to the airport, I was right.

    So I got in line for the ticket counter. Thankfully the line was short. When I got to the counter, the agent started typing away and then said the two dreaded words: "watch list". She then handed me a 57th generation photocopy of a TSA letter that basically says Dear Traveler, you have been dinged by the watch list. (Instead of "dinged" I thought of using a different word, but I've mostly gotten that out of my system.)

    Apparently, there are lists of names of Bad People, and I have the misfortune to have a name that is the same as, or similar to, one of them.

    So I gave her my ID, and with no fanfare, she printed out my boarding pass and I was able to proceed as normal. It was group B instead of my usual A. But since I had shown up an over an hour earlier than usual because I anticipated problems, I was able to get in the front of B (by sitting on the floor for 45 minutes), which is about the same as being in the back of group A, and had no problems with my carry-on and seat.

    But do have to do this now every time I want a decent seat? Waste an hour of my life to get there earlier than everyone else that can check-in online? And this time, the line at the ticket counter was short and the flight was not full, as they often are. So this will only get worse, not better.

    There's a fairly onerous form that you can send in, along with three different notarized/certified pieces of ID to get on another list of People With Similar Names To Bad People, But Aren't That Bad. (To add insult to injury it also asks for your Social Security Number; the small print says it's optional, but if omitted, they might not be able to verify you -- with the other three pieces of ID.) Depending on who you talk to, the process takes "up to" or "at least" 45 days to complete. And even then, you might not be verified. And even if you are verified, there is no guarantee that you can check-in online. You may be stuck going to the ticket counter for the rest of your life. (It's not clear whether names ever come off the Watch List.)

    The irony is, even without being on that second list, all I did to get my boarding pass was show the ticket agent one piece of ID, something I already do at the security checkpoint. So how exactly is this extra layer of security supposed to work? When confronted with the pleasant agents at the ticket counter, the Bad People spontaneously admit to conspiracy and beg to be arrested? Is it the psychological pressure of dragging your luggage through the winding queue to get to the front that breaks their will?

    Furthermore, the airline already has my name and address, as does the federal and state governments. I've been using the same frequent flyer number for a decade. Why do I have to fill out that form? Don't they already have all that information on me already? Can't they figure out I'm me?

    This is bullshit, and I will be writing my congressman about it.
     
  2. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris Screenwriter

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    Welcome to the club. I too have that problem and as you can see, I have a common name. I was first made aware of the problem when I could not do a kiosk check-in with Independence Air last year. The agent was very helpful and I was on my way in about 15 minutes and I was able to do on-line check-in for the return leg. But, it is a pain and the TSA form is a royal pain the butt. Its nice to know that I have a security clearance to access the most secure military installations but I have to prove who I am to the TSA.
     
  3. Linda Thompson

    Linda Thompson Supporting Actor

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    Not to make light of your frustrations, Ken, but I must say that your post made me grin... You see, security issues...and being placed on various national-security-ralated lists...is a major plot point in Bruce Campbell's latest book, "MAKE LOVE THE BRUCE CAMPBELL WAY." If you're a fan and haven't yet read** it, you might enjoy it...and you'd definitely empathize.

    (**Better yet is the audio version, presented as a sort of audio "play" by Bruce and several actor friends, including the always-wonderful Ted Raimi. I've already listened to it 4 times through.)

    But...back to your original post... I feel for you, and I wish you luck in rectifying /simplying the situation.

    I was once put through the ringer (in public) in a store because I had the same name as a known bad-check-passer. I've NEVER written a bad check in my life, and I was totally peeved. The situation was, of course, resolved, and the store apoligized. Didn't make me any less angry or embarrassed, though. Nor did it give me back the time wasted while they got it all straightened out.

    And, that was NOTHING compared to your situation...

    Bureaucratic red-tape BS...and, as usual, YOU'RE the loser...
     
  4. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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    I see the audiobook on iTunes. Maybe I'll get it to pass the time sitting in the airport. Thanks for the recommendation [​IMG]
     
  5. CameronJ

    CameronJ Stunt Coordinator

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    Good luck. The average congressman/woman is just fine to have the TSA implement security measures that serve the sole purpose of making the public think that flying is now safer. I've written my reps many times on this topic, and get cursory replies at best.

    Whether we like it or not - the TSA doesn't seem to care about making the skies safer. If they did, no cargo would be allowed on passenger planes and the money spent on fancy flat screen displays in the screening areas would be spent on explosives detection equipment that could detect explosives on the passenger (read - every passenger). Instead, I have to take my shoes off at many airports (in direct violation of TSA policy) and god forbid I take a small allen wrench on the plane ("It's a tool").
     
  6. Michael Harris

    Michael Harris Screenwriter

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    The thing about removal of shoes is that TSA's site says that taking them off is not mandatory but then they go on to explain the types of shoes and footware that may require additional screening. The list is so extensive, it becomes "voluntary mandatory".

    When I go to the airport, I now ensure that all my pockets are empty, belt is removed, watch off and put everything into my carry-on. Speeds things up.

    One time, while going through an airport in Spain, I saw some fellow Americans taking off their shoes and belts and the security folks just looked at them with a "what the hell are you doing?" stare.

    About 10 years ago, I was flying from Japan to the U.S. I was carrying my Swiss Army knife, which I've done countless of times, and the Japanese security screener told me that I could not carry with me. But, he did not confiscate it. He told me that I could reclaim it in L.A. Sure enough, it was at the airline's counter in LAX after I cleared customs. Security and customer service.

    I am still at a loss as to the utility of a "watch list". Why should it matter who you are? If the 9/11 hijackers did not have their box cutters and no access to the cockpit, would they have been able to carry out their plan? Seems that TSA is spending so much time and effort preventing certain people from flying as opposed to preventing people from doing bad things when they fly.
     
  7. CameronJ

    CameronJ Stunt Coordinator

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    Michael - In essence, the current SOP is that shoes with heels (not soles - heels) in excess of 1 inch in height are subject to mandatory screening. Of course, you and I can't see this SOP, as the TSA has designated it as SSI (secure sensitive information, I believe). Essentially, the TSA has designated everything they do as SSI, that way they aren't accountable to the public. The argument of course is that if the terrorists knew the policies they could defeat them, that ignores the fact that any terrorist with a 6th grade education can figure out each airport's weaknesses with just a few hours of observation.
     
  8. CameronJ

    CameronJ Stunt Coordinator

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    Ken,

    Sorry - I hijacked your thread with my favorite topic - bashing the TSA. A couple of thoughts though on your original questions.

    First, theoretically the TSA does remove people from the watch list, although I've heard that it takes a while after you've filled out the form and then met with someone in person. Secondly, the government doesn't have YOUR name and address (as it relates to travel). The current system of the watch list and the CAPPS system do two things. First, the watch list is a listing of names that have come up in investigations, etc. The fact that your name matches the name of someone else in the world is what got you on the watch list. The CAPPS system just takes information from the current flight, like origin and destination, method of payment, full itinerary, etc in determining who whould be subject to secondary screening. There are a number of proposed systems (CAPPS II, Secure Flight) that will take additional data and actually create a traveler profile on you personally. There are tremendous privacy concerns here.
     
  9. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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    I also have no illusions about having actual privacy. The government coordinates with the airlines to implement these policies. With a little competent effort, they could figure out who I am. But instead we get the worst of both worlds: inconvenience and little, if any, safety.
     

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