airport security, originally uploaded by d5o3

so, a funny thing happened on the way to the airport …

we had a rental car for the first half of thanksgiving week, so that we could drive down to eugene, and so that i could spend a day hiking around central oregon.

unfortunately, at one of those trailheads, i stuffed my wallet in the glove compartment … and then never bothered to pull it back out again. and then i returned the car. and then Enterprise re-rented the car.

obviously, much madness ensued — calls with Enterprise, arrangements with the sparklers-in-law to forward a photocopy of my passport, and discussions with TSA and United.

long story short: i got to go through security at the airport without a government-issued ID.

we weren’t able to get much out of TSA or United before we got to the airport, but pretty much everybody said to get there early. our flight was at 7:45 am, so we got to the airport when it opened at 5:30.

the aforementioned photocopy of my passport was more than enough to convince United to give me a boarding pass … though, in retrospect, I could have side-stepped their ID check completely had i thought to check-in online.

the TSA-manned security checkpoint weren’t quite so ready to accept copied documents that (admittedly) had no security value what-so-ever.

after meekly presenting by situation to the ID checker, i was waived out of line (expected), but the lady sparkler was sent on without me (not so much).

now, i would have thought that TSA would want to use her (or at least her ID) as some sort of corroborating identification, but they were just as uninterested in her as they were in the photocopies i had of my passport, social security card and birth certificate.

i was let off to a secure, undisclosed location.

now, when i get nervous, i get chatty … so i started talking up the nice young lady who was escorting me. turns out, people try and fly all the time without identification … and most don’t even have a good excuse.

she guessed that she sees 15 or so people try and go through security each day without an ID, and only one or two of them have had their identification lost or stolen. most just left it at home, and didn’t have the time or inclination to go back and get it.

we arrived on the admin floor of the terminal building, and i was ushered into the one small room that functioned as TSA headquarters for the airport.

It had a faux-command center feel: plasma screen televisions were showing security cameras and CNN, and a military-style bank of clocks allowed them to monitor the passage of time in such disparate locales as Tokyo, Portland, Washington, London and Riyadh.

I sat down with two very nice TSA security ladies, who absolutely had the “Cagney and Lacy” flavour of retired police officers. After introductions, they dialed up Homeland Security central for a teleconference, and asked me an quick series of questions.

Three minutes later — and one amusing retelling of my rental car experience — I was on my way.

Back at the metal detectors, I was taken to my very own security line where I got to go through a puffer and my baggage got hand searched and sniffed for explosives before they sent me through.

couple of thoughts if you decide to lose your wallet, too:

Get there early — the first thing the TSA officer said to me was “what time is your flight” and “good, you’ll still make your plane.” they had no doubt i was getting through, so long as i had enough time.

Ace the interview — TSA didn’t (seem to) care about anything except the interview. They didn’t care that I was on a round trip fare (so I obviously made it through security once), they ignored my wife (who had ID, and shared my last name, and my home address), and wasn’t interested in any cooroberating evidence that I was me (I had a bank statement addressed to me, and photocopies of my passport, social security card, and birth certificate).

Be friendly — I took every moment I could to chat up those escorting me and interviewing me, and it was a surpisingly posative experience. They seemed very interested in getting me on my plane, so I was very interested in not being an @$%&.

The whole event took less than 20 minutes, on the busiest travel day of the season. I’m not sure I could have expected a better ending.

UPDATE: I got my wallet back. Enterprise (who was great through this all) tracked down the people who had the car, while the new renters were unable/unwilling to find the wallet … it was there in the glove compartment when they returned the car.