6 Shockingly Childish Abuses of Power by Airport Employees
Anyone who's danced the airport waltz is probably familiar with random delays, overpriced everything, and security precautions that flirt with idiotic excess. The only thing that could make this ordeal any more infuriating is if the people working at the airport conspire like some fraternal order of travel trolls to worsen everyone's experience with all kinds of juvenile stunts and stupid behaviors.
SPOILER ALERT: This totally happens all the time.
Airport Body Scanners Have Been Used to Rate (and Berate) Your Junk
The advent of airport body scanners, broadly manufactured by the appropriately (albeit disturbingly) named Rapiscan Systems, has forced passengers and lawmakers alike to question the use of Superman vision to inspect people's junk for terrorist plots. But the TSA has long maintained the necessity of this creepily intrusive technology in the war on underwear bombs. Besides, it would be handled by only the most mature and highly trained individuals, right? Otherwise body scanners would render security screenings little more than an irradiated striptease for every puerile jackass with a voyeuristic streak.
Former TSA screener Rolando Negrin would probably beg to differ. While undergoing body scanner training at a Miami facility, his co-workers noticed on the screen that Negrin was packing a petite pecker. Naturally, Negrin's colleagues hounded him about this for months, withering his penis to an insecure husk and demonstrating the stalwart professionalism with which every airport patron is likely treated. Negrin, ill-equipped to dick-whip his assailants into contrition, cornered one of his co-workers in the airport parking lot, whipped out an extendable police baton, and proceeded to beat an apology out of his harasser. In doing so, he landed himself a stint in jail and guaranteed that any person confronting the probing eyes and hands of airport security would be examined in a dignified manner.
Or not. According to ex-TSA agent Jason Harrington (and every fiber of common sense in your exposed body), body scanners are much more effective for mercilessly ridiculing passengers from behind closed doors than they are for spotting terrorists. Plastic explosives were apparently indistinguishable from fat rolls, leaving screeners with little more to do than make a sport out of laughing at overweight passengers and guessing the sex of ambiguously shaped bodies passing through scans. And when they aren't laughing their asses off at man boobs and crotchular irregularities, screeners racially profile your genitals in the name of ... national security, or, as Harrington explained, "All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels." Which makes us feel markedly insecure. In our pants.
But all of that has changed, at least in theory. As of 2013, the practice of using passengers like X-rated Rorschach tests came to a long-desired end as the naked scan gave way to L-3 scanning technology, which produces cartoon-like renderings of bodies being scanned. And we have no reason not to believe them when they say this -- if we can't trust the TSA, who can we trust?
Baggage Hijinks and Wholesale Theft Happen More Often Than You Think
One of the more harrowing aspects of air travel, aside from unforgivably subpar food and the prospect of falling out of the damned sky, is luggage checks. Anything could be going on while a passenger isn't looking. And it turns out that secretly screwing with your stuff is par for the course. But for lawyer and Internet writer Jill Filipovic, that secret was crudely revealed when her checked bag was randomly selected for a TSA screening. The inspecting agent apparently uncovered the vibrator in Filipovic's bag and decided to offer words of encouragement:
If you can't read the photo, a disturbingly unsubtle note was written on a TSA slip and inserted in Filipovic's luggage: "Get your freak on, girl." Despite what the TSA agent must have seen as a bonding moment between joker and punchline, Filipovic didn't like knowing that the stranger paid to wade ear-deep through her panties probably imagined her in the throes of mechanized self-love and felt the need to share their reaction. On the bright side, at least the message was privately relayed, and the agent responsible was quickly dispatched like a gangrenous testicle. The same can't be said about the unknown baggage handlers who left a rather indiscreet message for a passenger retrieving his suitcase after a delayed flight:
But some commit far greater trespasses in the form of blatant thievery. While it probably comes as no surprise that people left alone with valuable objects occasionally succumb to the five-finger itch, some elevate that shit to crazy heights, like the TSA agent convicted of snagging $800,000 worth of items from travelers' bags. There's also the baggage handler who was caught on film adding to the $84,000 stash of stolen guns, jewelry, and watches he amassed over eight months. So it's not like it's easy to get away with it or anything.
Southwest Airlines Traumatized an Employee With a Fake Arrest
With all the stress of preparing to cram yourself and your loved ones into a flying sardine can, it's probably easy to forget how hard some of the airport employees have it. For example, if you work the ticket desk, your job is to keep a serene face as every breed of ill temper and halitosis invade your space and slide you passports with booger-tainted hands. It gets even worse if your employer's idea of a good time involves handcuffs and manhandling.
This was the awkward predicament Southwest Airlines employee Marcie Fuerschbach found herself in after completing her training to work at the ticket counter. A company known for a jovial, quirky atmosphere, Southwest apparently also specialized in elaborate pranks, like having its employees arrested in the middle of work.
With the aid of two real police officers, Fuerschbach was unceremoniously interrupted in front of all of her co-workers and the customers in line and dragged off in handcuffs after her badge and other belongings were confiscated. The charge? A crime that had allegedly been uncovered during her background check. This was all a shock for the mortified Fuerschbach, who began to weep uncontrollably, if not from fear or humiliation, then due to the physical pain of being forced into handcuffs.
Before Fuerschbach completely morphed into a giant ulcer, she was let in on the joke with a chorus of congratulations and clapping. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to dry her tears, which gushed so profusely that she had to be let off work early, only to return the next day and begin crying all over again. In the end, she was so overwhelmed by the impromptu initiation ceremony that the only way she could adequately express her gratitude was a lawsuit.
Unfortunately for her, the court ruled that Southwest was not liable for any damages (she would have had to go after the cops who did the arresting), and at most she was permitted to seek worker's compensation for injuries suffered. The lesson? The legal system is mostly OK with pulling pranks at airports that involve armed men. So go try it!*
And speaking of terrifyingly ill-conceived airport fuckery ...
A TSA Agent Pranked Passengers With Fake Narcotics
All the flack the TSA takes probably leaves some agents constantly resisting the urge to dick around with passengers out of spite, or at least to distract themselves from the daily tidal waves of traveler disdain. Combine that with a license to probe orifices on your body you didn't know existed and the authority to detain would-be flyers for offenses as minor as having a bad attitude, and you've got a recipe for some truly horrifying shenanigans.
So, one bomb appraisal officer working at Philadelphia International Airport decided to prank the fear of God (read: federal prison) into some unsuspecting victims passing through a security checkpoint. On at least two separate occasions, the officer, whose name is being withheld, decided it would be a great idea to convince air commuters that they'd been caught carrying cocaine. According to official documents obtained by the Smoking Gun, the apparently duty-free bomb appraiser left his post at will with a vial of creatine powder, the stuff of muscleheads, and passed it off as the stuff of crackheads, then approached flyers asking if it was theirs.
The first individual the officer approached apparently had a good laugh about it. But like a tragic hero in love with his own hubris, the agent approached two more people, one of whom was 22-year-old Rebecca Solomon. For some reason Solomon found little humor in the prospect of discovering firsthand that orange really is the new black and began to cry. The officer, failing to take Solomon's emotional distress as his cue to apologize and beg for the sake of his job, dismissively insisted that the prank was funny.
Unfortunately for the explosives expert, his joke bombed with airport officials, too, guaranteeing him a one-way ticket to Pink Slip City. It kind of seems like he should have seen that coming, since he worked for an agency that arrests travelers for merely joking about illegal activities.
But incredibly, that's only the second most insane airport prank we've heard about ...
A Baggage Handler at LAX Wreaked Havoc With Dry Ice Bombs
On a Sunday night in October 2013, operations at Los Angeles International Airport were suspended in the tense uncertainty caused by an explosion in an employee restroom. The next night, all airport activities were once more brought to a standstill by explosive devices, this time positioned near terminals and, according to some, possibly near airplanes. People seated for takeoff must have been scared shitless by news of the apparent attack -- the people seated in the bathroom even more so.
This booming mayhem wasn't the work of some diabolical terrorist cackling in the darkness, but rather the harebrained antics of a jackass with a few bottles and enough dry ice to make them go boom in a very loud if not particularly destructive way (no, we're not going to tell you how to make a dry ice bomb -- you'll have to go look it up yourself).
Who would do something so irresponsibly buffoonish in the post-9/11 era? Baggage handler Dicarlo Bennett, that's who. Good old Dicarlo decided it would be a good idea to snag some dry ice that was being used to refrigerate food on a plane and use it to simulate a terrorist act. "Why?" you ask? Well, why not?
According to law enforcement officials, Bennett was driven by a nagging "desire to construct and experience a device exploding," an urge that apparently couldn't be satisfied after just one night of widespread panic. Of course, he probably wasn't expecting what was essentially a bored middle schooler's last resort for mischievous fun to land him in jail with a $1 million bond and a set of federal charges to boot. We'd suggest that maybe the guy should have had better supervision, but it turns out his supervisor may have been in on the whole thing.
Dumb Security Breaches Are Made to Accommodate "Special" Passengers
Those of us who take the fateful march down Security Shame Lane for the sake of going airborne can take solace in the fact that all travelers share this awful experience like some secret Kubrickian cult (one premised on degrading submission to a perverse overseer, but severely lacking in awesome sex parties). After all, permission to bypass the gatekeepers of the sky is reserved for popes, presidents, and people with deadly frisking allergies -- those rare cases where easing up on security would seem totally reasonable. Plus Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Wait, what?
As it turns out, airport employees skirt mandatory safety precautions for reasons ranging from "some frivolous bullshit" to "some nepotistic bullshit." In the case of Kim-ye, a star-struck airport employee abused his security clearance in order to facilitate their journey to the plane without pesky security checkpoints, ultimately delaying the whole flight by 50 minutes so that Kardashian and West could be removed from the plane and properly screened. In other cases, government officials and airline executives have also been caught granting friends and family members access to nonpublic areas and helping them skip all those pesky pat downs and luggage X-rays.
How often does this happen? Well, of the 140 confirmed security breaches at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport over a two-year period, about 76 percent of them were security badge violations. In addition to being a slap to the face of all the law-abiding passengers, that's a massive security risk. Take, for example, Damien Young, who had his roommate, a customer service agent at Philadelphia International Airport, perform a Jackie Brown-esque bag switch to get a gun past security checkpoints so he could board the plane with it.
Other airport workers have been caught smuggling drugs, money, and even a freaking machine gun onto commercial flights on behalf of dangerous criminals, rendering moot every impromptu breast exam the TSA has performed on travelers in the name of security. And all it took was a flash of a badge -- because apparently the people who could most easily jeopardize lives are also the least monitored.
A.C. Grimes is a raving Cracked fiend who enjoys writing. Feel free to check out his other musings and compositions on the Web.
There's always room for Cracked in your diet. Check out 15 Postcards from After The Invention of Time Travel and 19 Bad Ideas for History Based Video Games.
Related Reading: If you make it past security but you're still stuck at the airport, read Robert Brockeway's guide to surviving while stranded at your terminal. Some airport officials go out of their way to be dicks, like the guys who demanded a fat passenger buy two seats but didn't put them together. In Slovakia, they test their security actual explosives. Because the only place balls belong are on the wall.
Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.