TSA, Part 2

At the risk of jeopardizing my TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry status (to the degree that I have it – more to follow on that), I’ve decided to continue with my TSA-related story that I began about 15 months ago.  Why have I delayed in finishing the story? Because I have been concerned that criticizing TSA gets you nowhere, except perhaps being regularly flagged for secondary screening.

That said, I’m pretty sure given what I’ve been through on the TSA front that it’s unlikely much worse can happen. My Pre-Check/Global Entry status has been mucked up so many times, I consider that I’m just lucky to be able to fly some days.

To recap from 2013, I put in my application for Global Entry – for free, courtesy of the $100 payment credit that United offers its 1K and Global Services customers – and managed to get an appointment with TSA for the interview. You have to go through a in-person interview for the final screening portion of your application, after you submit the written information on line.  I made my appointment at BWI rather than IAD because IAD is so busy it’s practically impossible to get an appointment there within a month or two.  

Taking time off from work, I drove to BWI and arrived in advance of the time for my interview appointment.  There were scads of people ahead of me, and many also arrived as I did and afterwards.  Although only 2 TSA agents were conducting interviews, the helpful TSA scheduling system had at least 5 people scheduled for my time slot.  Already a bad sign.

More discouraging, however, was that one agent was patient and professionally conducting interviews.  The other, not so much, admitting freely to anyone in the interview room the lack of experience this agent had in doing the interviews, or with TSA generally.  Which agent do you think I was assigned to?  Let’s just say that I’ve had better luck communicating with people in countries overseas where neither of us spoke each other’s language.

After professing confusion with how to operate the computer, the agent proceeded to ask me the standard questions, unable to pronounce some of the words in the list the agent was reading from.  The agent also happily informed me that the agent was not familiar really with the interview process and was moving slowly as a result.  All of this – including the agent’s frequent laments about the difficulty of operating a computer – would have been tolerable.  Until we got to the portion of the interview where my fingerprints were required.

Believe it or not, the agent could not get my fingerprints.  Pressing my hands so hard against the electronic screen that it hurt, the agent kept insisting that my prints were not valid.  Then the agent told me that there must be something “defective” with my hands that prevented my prints from registering.  I calmly replied that I have had my fingerprints taken on several occasions for various purposes (including government jobs), and never had a problem.  The agent seemed unfazed by this and then suggested that my hands might be too sweaty, too dry, too warm, or too cold.  The agent asked if I was fasting, and when I replied that I was not, the agent said questioned whether this was true and said that people who do not eat may have problematic fingerprints.

After a 15 minutes of this insanity, the agent finally agreed to have the other agent doing interviews consult about my defective fingers.  That other agent looked thoroughly unhappy to be having any interaction with his incompetent colleague.  The other agent tried to offer advice about how to take the prints, but my agent kept repeating the mantra that my hands were defective.  Eventually, my agent called the supervisor of the office – proudly proclaiming to me that “my supervisor says I can call his direct line any time I get confused” (that must require a hotline type arrangement) – who consented apparently to accept my defective fingerprints in the system.

The agent then helpfully concluded the painful hour-long interview (it should take about 15 minutes, but when you have defective fingers, what the hey) by telling me I would hear from the TSA if my Global Entry application was approved.  The agent said I would not hear anything for a month or so.  

Resigned to the likely fate of defective fingers rendering me ineligible for Global Entry, I left the TSA office with little hope.   Two days later, my Global Entry card arrived in the mail – approved and ready to roll.  Or so I thought . . .  stay tuned for Part 3.

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