Letter to TSA

I’m sending this letter through TSA’s “Got Feedback” form regarding the incident at SJC last Friday night.

The situation:

We went through the TSA checkpoint in Terminal A at SJC on Friday night, May 7, at around 8:00 p.m.. As veteran travelers, we had our 3-1-1 liquids bagged and out, and medically-necessary liquids in a separate bag and declared. Included in the medically-necessary liquids bag was a nearly-full 12oz bottle of Ciba Vision Clear Care Cleaning and Disinfecting Solution. I should note that we have traveled with this product, in this size, literally hundreds of times since TSA’s formation, always in the declared medically-necessary bag and never with any issue.

A uniformed TSA agent took the bottle of Clear Care out of the medically-necessary liquids bag and advised us it would have to be “tested”. The agent returned a moment later and said we could not travel with Clear Care, but was not able to intelligibly describe the problem. I requested a supervisor and one arrived reasonably quickly.

The uniformed supervisor conferred with the agent, took the bottle of Clear Care from him and approached us as we waited after collecting our carry-ons and shoes. Her apparent attitude as she approached was frankly hostile, with a scowl on her face and a defensive posture. She had the bottle of Clear Care with her but would not give it back to us. She said that the bottle had triggered an “alarm” on a test but would not explain what the alarm was or what about the bottle had triggered it, other than to say that this product had triggered the alarm.

We asked for more information and noted that we had, in accordance with TSA policy, declared the bottle as medically-necessary, and that we had traveled with this size bottle of this product many, many times. She was unmoved and continued to repeat that the bottle would not be allowed. I asked if she was the supervisor for this checkpoint and she affirmed that she was. I then asked for her manager. She made an exasperated noise and stalked away, first directing a nearby agent to perform additional screening on my wife’s items. I want to call out this specifically because it highlights the supervisor’s belligerent attitude: the supervisor pointed rudely at my wife and snapped “screen HER” at the nearby agent. It was very clear that this additional screening, which occurred well after we had passed through the checkpoint and regained our carry-ons and other possessions, was in retaliation for questioning her and requesting to talk to her manager.

The second TSA agent, to her credit, was polite and professional as she carefully examined my wife’s possessions and gave her a pat-down search.

A few moments later, the manager (not in uniform) arrived. The supervisor told her the situation, though again in language and tones that were quite antagonistic toward us. The manager then turned to us, with the supervisor still standing right there glaring at us, and said that Clear Care possesses “certain properties which cause the machine to alarm” (her words) and so we would not be allowed to travel with it. I asked her what those properties were and if it was possible that the machine was alarming incorrectly or not configured properly. She would not give any further detail or admit to the possibility of the machine being wrong. With our flight’s departure rapidly approaching, we gave up, collected our belongings and left the TSA checkpoint, leaving our bottle of Clear Care with the TSA manager.

The problems:

1. Nothing in published TSA public policy (that I could find, and I searched quite extensively) prohibits or even addresses Clear Care. No one at the Terminal A checkpoint (agent, supervisor or manager) could explain why Clear Care was not permitted. On the contrary, a document on TSA’s Web site ( http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/family_lane_expansion.shtm ) specifically mentions contact lens solution as a permissible medically-necessary liquid.

2. The supervisor’s behavior was shockingly unprofessional, unfriendly and confrontational.

Requested resolutions:

1. Exclusive of all other remedies, I would like to be reimbursed for the purchase price of one bottle of Clear Care. Amazon.com’s price for the 12oz bottle is $10.95 ( http://amzn.to/cAHeeG ) and this is roughly the same as average retail prices, so my request is for reimbursement in the amount of $10.95.

2. I would like someone with decision-making authority to contact me (my contact information appears below) regarding this issue. The discussion will be about both policy and training; policy in that nothing on TSA’s Web site prohibits traveling with Clear Care specifically and yet there seems to be an unwritten prohibition on it; and training in that not one of the three TSA employees with whom we interacted was able to explain what the problem actually was or where we could find written (or online) statements of policy regarding this product, and the unprofessional and hostile behavior of the supervisor.

3. Finally, I would like assurances that TSA agents at SJC (and other airports, of course) will be advised of all current and public policies as shown on the TSA Web site and directed to follow them without on-the-spot improvising.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Rich
[redacted]
andrew.rich@project-insomnia.com

I will, of course, post any follow-up or reply I may receive.

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