The TSA in Atlanta: More Destructive Than a Sherman Tank

Once again, we are reminded that it isn’t terrorists who harm airline passengers the most: it’s the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Last Wednesday afternoon, a screener at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International believed she had discovered a bomb in a passenger’s bag. The resulting panic closed the airport for two hours.

The whole snafu was due to a software glitch. Hard to believe, given their inability to stop contraband from flooding aboard planes, but the TSA continually tests screeners by sending "phantom" images of weapons and explosives to their screens. These are followed a few seconds later by a disclaimer. When the disclaimer didn’t appear, the screener clicked a button that supposedly confirms the test. That, too, failed to respond. She then alerted her supervisor. They searched not only the bag under scrutiny when the image appeared but every carry-on in the vicinity. They also matched each rifled bag with its owner (I will hazard a guess that those unlucky passengers were "detained" — Amerika’s new euphemism meaning "arrested for no cause whatsoever" — and are well on their way to Gitmo by now).

Screener and supervisor would seem to have eliminated every possibility. Reasonable folks at this point would conclude, "Mistake," or "Computer’s messing up again," or "Evil genies are conspiring to ruin my day." But we are not dealing with reasonable folks. We are dealing with the TSA, morons paid to believe that you and I are all terrorists bent on blowing ourselves sky-high. That’s when the order went out to shut the place down.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield is the busiest airport in the world. A passenger described what happens when Our Rulers, coddled and protected from the consequences of their decisions, delay at least 120 flights: "Showed up, and there’s this big old line here," Dave Williams told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV. "Just go to the back of the line, form two lines and keep going. We have no idea why the line is like this." WXIA added that passengers queued "the length of the terminal twice, with people standing four and five abreast." Meanwhile, "security officers" grabbed their bullhorns to bellow the obvious. Good thing, too: passengers stranded in such horrific lines might never guess that flights would be late.

Luis Vila was meeting his wife and stepson, arriving from Venezuela, when he heard that "the airport was working to resolve the situation" without knowing what "the situation" was.

"They said to be patient," Mr. Vila told a local paper. "What does that mean?"

Well, Mr. Vila, that means, "We are The Authorities, and you are mere rats in a maze. Maybe we’ll give you an explanation, but, heck, why should we?"

The airport’s manager, Ben DeCosta, admitted, “We were a little late in the game in getting the word out to passengers."

Oh, indeed. And the TSA was a little late in appreciating the damage its numbskull closing of the airport would cause, too. FlightStats, a company which tracks airlines and flights, estimates that "just six per cent of the 267 flights scheduled to depart from Atlanta between 3pm and 6pm had done so, and only 24 per cent of the 269 scheduled to arrive at the megahub during that time had landed.

"CNN quoted Delta spokesman John Kennedy…as saying: u2018It will take most of the evening for operations to return to normal.’"

Passengers whose lives were upended, who waited hours at Hartsfield or elsewhere after missing their connections, who were forced to spend money they hadn’t budgeted on rental cars, phone calls, hotel rooms and meals, can console themselves with the knowledge that TSA Director Kip Hawley "apologizes" for the "inconvenience." But naturally neither he nor the TSA will compensate them for their trouble and expense. Hawley added insult to injury by attributing the computer error to a "first-time glitch" — would that we could say the same for the TSA — and crowed to various reporters that the system worked exactly as designed.

Yep. That’s the problem.