A little after 5:00 AM Tuesday morning, I had just awakened to pack my bags for my 8:10 AM return flight from Portland to San Diego via Oakland. Just then, a clearly embarassed and thoroughly apologetic Southwest Airlines passenger service agent called me. She explained that TSA had contacted Southwest to report that it had rejected an air compressor as checked baggage for loading aboard WN 3161. The compressor appeared to belong to a passenger with a name similar to mine.
"No it isn't mine," I explained. I asked how TSA had associated my name with the contraband equipment. She didn't know, but she would tell TSA that it wasn't one of my possessions. She again apologized. I empathized with her plight. She only was the messenger.
An hour and 40 minutes later, I arrived at Portland Airport. I went through security and I asked TSA about the association between the air compressor and my name. They had no clue about the air compressor itself, let alone how I might be connected with it.
Nevertheless, they insisted I submit to a virtual strip search in their back-scatter x-ray machine. Obviously, I might be a security risk. Gee, had I asked them an embarassing question?
Never mind that TSA could have done a little background research on me prior to the start of the day's misadventure. Hey, TSA, guess what! I'm not a completely unknown person in the aviation industry. In fact, quite a few people outside of TSA could vouch for me as as a low security risk pilot who they allow to fly their aircraft. Try Airbus, Boeing and virtually every business jet manufacturer. While you're at it, call a half dozen trade associations, some major names in the modifications business and perhaps some of the big avionics firms.
No, TSA isn't allowed to profile a person or do background checks to determine if he or she poses a security risk. Could it be that there was absolutely, positively no association between me and the contraband checked baggage? Determining that would haved required airport security professionals, such as those employed at El Al and Ben Gurion.
No, TSA's main mission remains the upkeep of its Mack Sennett-inspired Security Theatre, using staff with the skill set of fry cooks at McFastfood restaurants. Tuesday's experience reinforced the TSA stereotype of being the Keystone Kops of America's law enforcement industry.