Thank you, TSA agents

We owe the fellows and ladies who keep us safe when flying every day a huge debt of gratitude. It is a credit to their professionalism that frequent flyers like us can and do take TSA agents at airport security screens for granted. So, during this painful shutdown period, why don’t we show them a little love?  They deserve it, and more than ever right now while they are not being paid, they need our thanks and appreciation.

Are they perfect?  Hell, no!  Complaints, aggravations, and screw-ups abound at airport security, and the screening measures are arguably less effective than we complacently assume.  But mistakes are going to happen when screening two million people every single day at 450 locations.  Neither should we blame the staff for administering an imperfect security process.  TSA agents didn’t invent it; they are just doing the best they can to keep us safe using the tools and techniques they’ve been given to work with.

To put it in perspective, TSA agents at our nation’s airports number over 50,000 of the 420,000 federal employees deemed “essential” during the government shutdown, meaning those employees are compelled to go to work without being paid until the federal government budget is passed.  No matter how long the political impasse, these guys and gals risk losing their jobs if they fail to show up for work.

Yes, they have been promised to be paid after the shutdown is resolved for the time they’ve toiled during it, but in the meantime, zilch, nada.  And Trump says it ”could be years” until it’s over.  Meantime, fifty thousand TSA agents, whose sole job is to keep us safe when flying every day, are working for free.

They don’t make much, either. TSA agents are among the lowest paid “essential” employees, with annual incomes of $25,000 to $45,000.  Most agents reportedly are at the lower end of that wage spectrum.

Such poor salaries makes it understandable that a lot of agents are living paycheck to paycheck.  Media are replete with stories about furloughed workers struggling with car payments, mortgages due, and cobbling together money for grocery shopping.

I admit that my first reaction to the extended shutdown was a selfish frustration that two near-term overseas trips (to Vienna, and then to Singapore) might be cancelled if too many TSA screeners failed to show up for work, causing a meltdown at the airports.  After all, every day there are reports of growing TSA agent absences due to sickouts.

It’s natural to think of my own plans first, but as I read news reports, it came home to me that these agents are not paid well and are under-appreciated.  Reflecting on my fleeting, but great many, instances at TSA screens, I realized that my face-to-face encounters with agents have come close to being universally good experiences.  TSA agents almost everywhere have been cheerful, helpful, and professional—sometimes even funny.

Thinking a bit more about it, I grasped that, yes, I have certainly come to take TSA agents for granted. Unconsciously, the TSA community has become part of my travel family.  I rely on them when on the road at airports to keep the rhythm of my trips in step. Instinctively, I calculate the consistency of their work product into my trip time management planning.  I depend upon their efficiency, which means I trust them.

“Trust” and “depend” are the key words. I have an unspoken bond with TSA agents at airports.  I can’t do my job unless they do theirs.  And they do, in good spirits!

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen who wear the TSA uniform and badge.  You are hard-working, well-meaning, and underpaid.  I appreciate what you do very, very much.

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