The toughest job in transportation

Who do you think has the toughest job in transportation? Airline pilots? Long-haul truck drivers? Metro-North conductors? To my thinking, the toughest job is being an airport TSA agent.

Forget the recent furor over revised Transportation Security Administration rules soon to allow small knives in carry-on luggage. The plastic knives the flight attendants distribute in snack packs in flight are already sharp enough to slit a throat. By not worrying about every penknife and nail clipper, TSA agents should have more time to concentrate on truly lethal weapons.

A far bigger threat to aviation security is liquid explosives and non-metal knives. Ceramic knives are undetectable on magnetometers, which is why the TSA brought in those full-body scanners we love so much.

But I think the biggest threat to aviation safety is the public’s anger at the TSA agents who are just doing their job. After a thorough TSA screening at an airport last month, I saw an angry passenger literally curse at the agent. That passenger wasn’t pulled aside and given a retaliatory body cavity search. To her credit, the agent kept her cool and didn’t get into even a verbal fight. Could you be so thick-skinned?

It’s been 12 years since 9/11. Have we forgotten what can happen when determined, armed terrorists take over a plane? The TSA screens 1.8 million passengers a day. If just one of those fliers got an undetected weapon onto a plane and blew it up, imagine the uproar.

Remember the holy triad of service: fast, good and cheap. You can achieve any two of those, but not all three. Clearly, the top priority is “good” security. So in this age of sequestration we’re unlikely to see quality compromised for speed.

If you want to fly, put up and shut up: Put up with the long lines while the agents do their jobs properly to keep you safe and keep your mouth shut.

Passenger protests have brought some TSA screening changes that seem arbitrary. Like the recent rule allowing passengers over age 75 to keep their shoes on. Terrorists can’t be that old?

And what passes for the rare TSA inspection of Amtrak passengers is more for show than real security. Unless every bag is opened, the rare and random briefcase examination or quick dog-walk through a moving train seems to be just “showing the colors.”

What do all these TSA inspections do, aside from creating long lines and frustrated fliers? They turn up an amazing number of weapons. The TSA’s weekly blog makes for fascinating reading.

In one recent week alone, the TSA intercepted 32 firearms, 27 of them loaded, and 10 stun guns. There were clips of ammo, brass knuckles and (no surprise) sheer stupidity — a passenger flying out of San Juan told the ticket agent that her bag contained a bomb and she was going to blow up the plane. After an inspection by the TSA, her bag didn’t have a bomb. But as a result of her threat, the ticket counter, checkpoint and terminal were closed for nearly an hour, inconveniencing thousands.

And there were, as the TSA blog put it, “consequences” for the flier.

Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 22 years. He is chairman of the CT Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You may reach him at or . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see