Thursday, May 8, 2014

Up Against the TSA: "I Asked Myself What I Did Wrong"

By Robert Ringer

A thirty-year winning streak of not missing a flight came to an end for me last week at Dulles International Airport.  My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:25 a.m. and, as is customary for me, I planned to arrive at the airport about an hour-and-a-half prior to my flight time.

My early arrival habit makes it possible for me to battle my way through security, hop a shuttle to my concourse, and arrive at the gate with plenty of time to spare.  If all goes well, I can relax and get in some good reading time while waiting to board.

On this particular morning, however
, I had been a bit lackadaisical about getting out of the house, and I knew I was cutting it close when I arrived at the airport at 7:30 a.m.  Still, I figured fifty-five minutes should give me plenty of time to make my flight.

Boarding pass in hand, I marched resolutely toward the security area.  But as I approached it, I was confronted with what appeared to be at least a thousand people herded together in the roped-off lanes.

After standing in line for a while, I glanced at my watch and realized that my flight was scheduled to depart in twenty-five minutes.  Given that it was the only flight that could get me to my appointment on time, I immediately employed one of my most sacred yet simple rules:  Ask!

I went up to one of the security people and explained to her that I was going to miss my flight if I remained in line with the rest of the herd.  I asked her if it would be possible for me to take a shortcut and move to the front of the line.  In a language that most definitely was not English, she talked it over with a guy who bore a remarkable resemblance to Mohamed Atta of 9/11 fame.

I was in luck.  He gave the woman a nod of approval and — Presto! — I was led to the front of the line.  Well, almost to the front.  There were still a half-dozen passengers ahead of me, and, unfortunately, one couple was stripping down in slow motion — and laughing hysterically as they explained to their small children why they had to temporarily give up their toys.  Grrr!

Finally, my turn.  I tossed my personal belongings into two filthy plastic containers and pushed them onto the conveyor belt to be scanned.  Surprise!  I had no weapons.  And neither did the ninety-something woman in front of me.  Even her cane passed muster.  What a relief.  And here I thought she might be one of those granny-bombers I’ve heard so much about.

Now I could begin my long walk down the stairs, through the tunnel, back up the stairs, and wait for a shuttle to take me to my concourse.  When it finally arrived, I got on and anxiously watched the signs for my getting-off point.

On arriving, I hustled off the shuttle, breaking into a trot toward my gate.  It was now just two minutes before my flight departure time, but … hey … planes are always late, anyway, right?

As I rushed up to the check-in desk, I asked the agent to point me to where my flight was boarding.  Her reply:  “It’s already left.”  Faking a warm smile, I responded, “But it’s just now 8:25.”  Agent’s gleeful response:  “That’s right.  And 8:25 is when the flight departs (heh, heh, heh).”

(Note:  Not all husbands and wives murder their spouses when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Some have the self-discipline to wait until they get to work, where they can take out their anger on the real enemy — their company’s customers.  Airline personnel seem to have a special affinity for this kind of sadism.)

I thanked Mr. Heh-Heh for his graciousness, walked calmly away, then did what I always do in bad situations:  I asked myself what I did wrong that brought my thirty-year winning streak to an end.  Sure, airport security may be a colossal waste of time and money … it may be outrageously intrusive … it may be absurd … but, nevertheless, it’s a reality of a world where the norm is to put everyday citizens through endless inconveniences.

The lesson I relearned?  When you have to be somewhere at a certain time, take into account the realities of life — not the realities of the perfect world you wish existed.  Things are what they are, and will be what they will be, so what is to be gained by deceiving yourself?

Perhaps you’re a sympathetic soul who is thinking, “But how could a person possibly have known there would be a thousand people trying to get through security all at once on that particular day?”  Answer:  I see it as my job — based on sheer self-interest — to take into account unforeseen circumstances.  Most people aren’t clairvoyant, but everyone can be prudent.

When I use the term unforeseen circumstances, I think everyone pretty much knows what I’m referring to — an accident that backs up traffic for an hour … not being able to find a parking space at the airport … and, yes, being confronted with a thousand people waiting to get through security.

The reality is that unforeseen circumstances are an integral part of everyday life, and the only way you can exert any degree of control over them is to make the necessary allowances in advance.

I intend to profit from the frustrating end to my thirty-year winning streak.  Not only will it be at least another thirty years before I miss a flight, I am now recommitted to always keeping in mind that unforeseen circumstances have a way of jumping in my path at the worst possible times.

If my memory serves me correctly, an old guy by the name of Murphy gave us a stern warning about this kind of stuff many centuries ago.

ROBERT RINGER is a New York Times #1 bestselling author who has appeared on numerous national radio and television shows, including The Tonight Show, Today, The Dennis Miller Show, Good Morning America, ABC Nightline, The Charlie Rose Show, as well as Fox News and Fox Business. To sign up for a free subscription to his mind-expanding daily insights, visit

Copyright © 2014 Robert Ringer


  1. Dulles pro-tip: Never use the security lines on the left (behind the United counters) always use the ones on the right side that serve all the other airlines and processes much less volume as a result.

    1. Dulles was a little too nut to butt last time I was there. I just try not to fly anymore. Too much of a hassle.

  2. Sorry, I have no sympathy for this guy. Someone who flies as much as he boasts, should know how airports are. Unless you're there at 6a on a Sunday, you'll never cruise through check-in. Even before the tyranny of the TSA, my family would arrive at the airport generally around three hours early. I still do.

  3. I was a platinum medallion flyer for years on Delta, taking at least one flight every week for 6 or so years or so prior to 911. Many times I would take 2 or 3 short flights in a week visiting customers. After 911 flying became so inconvenient because of the security delays that I decided to convince my customers to go to virtual meetings. It just became too unproductive with all the wait times and 2hr pre-flight airport arrival requirement. Today I mostly fly to meet new customers or take a vacation. I don't care about FF miles since I don't fly enough. And if a customer is insistent on face time, I now bill 100% of my travel time at full billing rates.

    1. I quit my last job(before becoming a business owner) because of 9/11 and its impact(gov't impact really) on flying, which I did a ton of at the time.

      I remember my first flight after 9/11. My boss used to make me drive from Charlotte(where I was living) to Greensboro to fly into my sales territory(long story, territory was the N.E.) because the fares were so much cheaper.

      So I would get up around 3:30am Monday morning and get to Greensboro just in time to catch a 6:00am flight and work the week, coming home Thursday or Friday. The first time I did this after 9/11, I was greeted with a line that stretched outside rinky dink Greensboro airport and took me 3 hours to work through(I missed my flight). I worked all week after flying in to BWI on a later flight, I made the rounds, renting a car and then driving to PA, up through NJ, into NYC, flying out of LaGuardia to go home later that week.

      It took me 3-4 hours to get through LaGuardia....I wasn't Platinum, but I was US Air Gold after just a little over one year and before 9/11 routinely ran the gauntlet with only 30 minutes prior to departure at most airports(never checked bags, always carried on one max spec carry on-that went to hell after 9/11 too)....

      So quit after 9/ thing I ever did. I rarely fly now, but it's truly a disgusting experience now as opposed to what it used to be. It's slow, demeaning, theatrical, & just plain stupid. It's a good analogy for what life is becoming here in the US.

  4. The airline industry has gone the way of the post office and public schools (soon to be followed by the health care industry). The customer is the last thing being considered.

    1. If you were subject to the number of regulations, dictates, taxes, and secondary and tertiary capital costs as the airline industry is, you'd be pretty bad at everything, too.

  5. My wife just flew Sydney to San Francisco and was forced to walk through the porno scanner. The other option was not flying. No opt out allowed. Poor girl was in tears. She got a taste of tyranny.