Saturday, May 15, 2010

TSA : Dumb as Sarah Palin, or Merely Dumb As A Box Of Rocks?

I have a new toy. It's called a NEXUS card. It is my new source of endless amusement when I travel.

As a US citizen, you can of course apply for a passport. Once you get a passport, you can apply for several different types of elite "Trusted Traveler" status levels with United States Customs. There is an elite status known as Global Entry, and there is an elite status known as Nexus.

Global Entry status allows you to avoid waiting in line (with the unwashed masses) to see a Customs agent when returning to the US from abroad. Once you apply for Global Entry, you must consent to an interview at a US Customs Port of Entry, where they conduct a background check (OK, I confess, I skipped first grade and got one "D" in college) and interview you. If you pass the checks, they take your fingerprints. Once you have Global Entry status, when you get off the plane after returning to the US from abroad, you go to a kiosk, put your fingertips on it, and if the machine likes you, a Customs agent waves you straight through to baggage claim. No waiting in line with the other 390 people on your 747 (and the 390 people from several OTHER 747s). No suspicious stares or strange questions from a Customs & Border Patrol agent.

When you achieve Global Entry status, there is no "card" or official doodad to show off. You're simply in a database, and you no longer have to wait in line.

You can also apply for Nexus, which is a program offered jointly between United States Customs and Canadian Customs. Although Nexus is only good for passing into Canada from the US (or vice versa), Nexus is way cooler than Global Entry, for two reasons. First of all, they don't use fingerprints...they use retinal scans. Your tax dollars at work, baby...just like James Bond. The 2nd reason is that they give you a plastic, hologrammed, secure card so that you can show your friends how totally special and elite you are.

I am both. I have a Nexus card, and I am in the Global Entry database. For Global Entry, I flew over to O'ahu last year and was interviewed at US Customs in Honolulu Airport. A few weeks ago, I had my Nexus interview appointment (in Edmonton, of all places) with Dudley DooRight and his US counterpart. They interviewed me, kicked my tires, took my retinal scan, showed me how to use their retinal scanning kiosk, and gave me a nice shiny new Nexus card.

One night shortly thereafter, I was sitting around Googling this and that, and I ran across a whole bunch of threads on various web sites (including FlyerTalk and TSA's own web site) containing vitriolic flame about TSA agents not accepting Nexus as valid ID at airports. We're not talking the airport in Buttfuck, Nebraska here; we're talking JFK, LAX, and ORD (among others). I read case after case of TSA agents being so dumb, so ill-trained, so Sarah Palin Stupid, that they rejected Nexus as ID because "its not government issued" (it is) or "I've never heard of it" (it's shown on the TSA web site, right next to a passport, as a valid form of government-issued ID).

Among the recommendations I gleaned from reading various flames was that anybody attempting to use a Nexus card as ID at an airport should carry a printout of the above page from TSA's web site showing that a Nexus card specifically IS valid ID to anybody from any division of Homeland Security, of which Customs and TSA are divisions.

But consensus was that even the printout may not help, as it seems TSA inspectors are simply either too stupid, too ignorant, or too Barney Fife to know their own organization's rules. It's kind of ironic, as any dumb-ass TSA moron will accept a State drivers license, which are extremely easy to forge and almost as easy to obtain illegally (can you say "McLove"?). But most will neither accept, nor even know the species of a Nexus card, which requires a passport, a background check, a personal interview with a United States Customs Officer, an interview with an officer of Canadian Customs, and a retinal scan to obtain.

I decided, when time allows, I will start trying to use my Nexus card as ID – just to fuck with people and to amuse myself.

Today I had my first entertainment. I was flying Maui – Charlotte via DFW, and due to wicked thunderstorms in the Dallas area, my plane was 3 hours late arriving at OGG (hence I would be 3 hours late leaving). American Airlines actually called me (as an Executive Platinum, they make somewhat of an effort not to piss me off) and warned me, so I arrived at the airport 2 hrs before the rescheduled departure time. I was literally the only person checking in at American, and there was literally nobody at the in the TSA security line. I decided to give the Nexus card a go.

When the American Airlines check-in guy asked me for ID, I gave him the Nexus card. I didn't expect him to accept it, because he's not Homeland Security and probably doesn't even work for AA (he's probably a subcontractor). He examined both sides of it, checked the picture against my face, and asked me "What's Nexus?" I explained, and then I showed him the printout from the TSA web site. He thought about it for a minute, and then said "That's a great idea. But I think they should perhaps put "Homeland Security" or "US Government" on the card, because I doubt many people know what it is. I certainly didn't. Never even heard of Nexus."

The gentleman had a good point, and he was smart enough to accept it as ID.

Then I went to TSA.

As I said, I was literally the only person in line, so I wasn't going to piss off a bunch of people waiting behind me if I got into it with the TSA guy.

I handed him the Nexus card. He looked at it for about 15 seconds. Both sides. Then he put it under his ultraviolet light to look at the hologram.

"Do you have any alternate form of ID"?

"That Nexus card is a valid US government issued photo ID. Your own TSA web site lists it as a valid form of ID".

I handed him the printout from the TSA web site.

"Yeah, I know what they are, but I've never seen one before, so show me another form of ID".

"You've never seen a Nexus card before?"


"You know that getting one requires a personal interview with US Customs, a background check, and a retinal scan, right?"

"Yeah, I know, but I've never seen one before, so show me some alternate form of ID".

This is actually going better than I expect, so I hand Albert Einstein my passport.

He carefully compares the passport photo to my face, as if the Nexus card doesn't exist. He hands me both.

"Thank you sir, have a pleasant flight".

More amusement to follow, I'm quite sure......


The Big Guy said...

Very cool...

In regards to valid IDs, I had all manner of fun using my State of Florida Concealed Weapon Carry permit as my primary ID.

I'm going to use it when I check in to my flight to DFW on Thursday.
After all:
"Effective June 21, 2008, adult passengers (18 and over) are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID that contains the following: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature in order to be allowed to go through the checkpoint and onto their flight. "
"Acceptable IDs include:...
* Drivers Licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) that meets REAL ID benchmarks (All states are currently in compliance)"

Since I'll be going in at about 5:30a I should have plenty of time to "recover" from their indignation.

But you're right on the money-
I will be bringing a printout of their "requirements" page...


BTW- Thanks for the coolest swag I've gotten in years!
The microbit mini driver is awesome.

The Mighty Skunk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Mighty Skunk said...

Oh, come on. That's not even fair. At least give the TSA guy a CHANCE to not look Palin Stupid.

Unknown said...

Sarah Pailin is only as stupid as the rest of the Americans who elected her.