I had a 5:25a United flight to the Houston on Saturday morning and since the first train from 30th St Station in Philadelphia does not leave until 4:34a (22 minute journey to airport) and more importantly, because I can never sleep before such an early flight, I decided to head to the airport late Friday night. My goal was to clear security, set up by a power outlet, and get some work so that I could sleep though the flights. What do you suppose happened?
I took the last train of the night to the airport and arrived just before midnight. After printing out my boarding passes, I proceeded to the only open TSA security checkpoint in Terminal C. There were a few late US Airways flights going out, including one to Dayton at 1:10a.
By now, it was after midnight and I proceeded to the checkpoint where I was promptly stopped and told the checkpoint was closed.
ME: What do you mean its closed? Checkpoints cannot close until the last flight goes out. Besides, you’re standing here to check boarding passes, your colleague is standing in front of the metal detector, and your other colleague is sitting next to the x-ray machine.
TSA: Well, what time is your flight?
TSA: We open at 4:30a.
ME: Why can’t I go through now? [a US Airways crew was currently going through]
TSA: Because we are closed unless you are going out tonight.
ME: What do you mean tonight? It’s already Saturday.
TSA: I mean going out in the next couple hours.
ME: May I speak to your supervisor please?
[A two-striper who had clearly just been dipping came over]
TSA: What’s the problem?
ME: I have a flight later today. Why is your colleague telling me I cannot get through? I’ve done this before. [which is the truth]
TSA: When you going out?
TSA: That’s tomorrow. We’re not allowed to let you through.
ME: What do you mean that’s tomorrow? It’s after midnight!
TSA: No your flight is tomorrow.
ME: What day is it?
TSA: Friday night.
ME: Do you have a supervisor I can talk to?
[a three-stiper is summoned, who happens to be very nice–I see some fear in his eyes as well, like he’s ready for me to chew him out]
ME: Can you help me understand why it is that I have a boarding pass for a flight that departs later today but I cannot get through the checkpoint now?
TSA: These flights are technically Friday night flights, not Saturday flights. We don’t open for Saturday passengers for a few more hours. But there’s some nice chairs…
[I cut him off]
ME: Technically Friday? It’s now Saturday and these flights are scheduled to go out on Saturday.
TSA: Well, you’re right, but I can’t let you through because we are not allowed to.
ME: Says who?
TSA: Says the airport. It’s an airport rule.
ME: Can you show me the rule? I’ve done this on multiple occasions in the past.
TSA: No, but trust me, it’s the rule. You just must have been lucky last time.
ME: So you’re saying that if I book a ticket to Dayton at 1:10a, clear security, and cancel the ticket, that’d be fine with you, but I cannot get through with this boarding pass because the flight departs a little bit later?
TSA [chuckling]: Yeah, that’s right.
ME: Does that make any sense to you?
TSA: Um, not really. I don’t know why we have the rule, I just enforce it.
ME: And you can’t show me where the rule is?
ME: Do I seem like a security threat to you?
ME: If I had a flight at 11:59p tomorrow evening and I came the checkpoint in a few hours, about 19 hours before my flight, I’d be able to get through?
ME: So what’s the difference?
TSA: Well, I just can’t let you through.
At this point, enough was enough. I laughed, thanked him for keeping us safe (in a mocking tone he did not pick up on), and even shook his hand.
Thankfully I found a quiet place to work near the United ticketing counters with a plug for my computer and a decent wi-fi signal.
Good ol’ TSA: keeping us safe, one traveler at a time.