TSA Baggage: An Inside Look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at America’s Airports

Scott Becker worked for the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for twelve years. He started as a baggage screener, then was promoted to supervisor and manager. I would have expected that his time behind the X-rays within the high-security world of airline baggage screening would have provided more of an interesting, and for sure a more humorous read. Yet TSA Baggage: An Inside Look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at America’s Airports was a disappointment. It was boring to get through and at only 140 pages it didn’t reveal much. I got the feeling that Becker was trying to flesh out his twelve years at O’Hare with tales from his ordinary work day since there weren’t enough more interesting days to talk about. Even his encounters with celebrities seemed like who-cares passing glances. A casual greeting with a celebrity or politician does not make an interesting read.

This short book had plenty of black-and-white photos, but all of them were reproduced at a resolution that was much too dark. Perhaps this was a fault of my particular press run, but every photo was useless. The writing style was oral in manner. Perhaps Becker relayed his work history into a microphone, and then had his words transcribed. It was thus poorly written, as direct transcriptions from oral recordings always are if they are not carefully rendered to edit out the superfluous wordiness. I did not enjoy the flow of the story, and the excess use of abbreviations and parenthetical descriptors didn’t help any. Becker did provide a tedious glossary of abbreviations at the beginning of the book–not at the end–so there was no need to explain what any of the abbreviations meant.

Becker made constant claims about the lack of leadership within the TSA. A lack of leadership leaves the employees scrambling around aimlessly in a crisis. No wonder we hear so many panic stories about the inefficiency of American airport screening facilities when baggage screeners feel powerless. Becker summed this up well with the following remark:

“As I said earlier, we pass things up the chain of command to allow someone senior to make a mistake in screening and suffer the consequence. You never want to get caught making a mistake at a low level. The lower the level you occupy in the organization, the more severe the punishment for committing an error in judgment. But everyone was always afraid of making a mistake and getting fired.”

TSA Baggage read more like a school project where students describe their typical work days. This was not a lighter-side-of baggage screening, nor an exposé of airport screening secrets. The chapter on what he has encountered from passengers trying to smuggle stuff wasn’t the least bit funny. He was trying to make it light-hearted (“a baby squirrel hidden in a woman’s panties!”) but I couldn’t have cared less.

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