June 26th, 2008
11:50 AM ET

Am I a security risk?

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

I was pulled over in the airport security line and given a secondary security search the other night. I knew the routine. Way too well.

You see, I am a regular when it comes to being a suspicious character in our nation's airports. I have been pulled out of line, and patted and searched dozens of times; probably scores of times.

And why is that? My name is not on a watch list. My offense that makes me a risk to the TSA: I travel with a lot of one-way tickets. Because of the nature of covering the news and not knowing how long I'll be at a story, I don't usually buy a roundtrip ticket.

Now, don't get me wrong; I am all for robust security. We certainly need it to be safe. And I'm not trying to say that I as a journalist, I should not have to deal with such a search. I'm willing to submit to my share of random searches.

What I think is wrong and actually not helping us stay safe is that this isn't random.

I know that if I buy a one-way ticket and fly any airline other than Delta (that airline being an exception because of what I believe to be my frequent flyer status on the airline based in the city where I live). I will get taken into a separate area for the pat-down body search.

So is this a good use of the TSA's time? Here's why it's not: what bad guy is going to buy a one way ticket in this day and age when that particular "risk factor" has gotten so much publicity?

By pulling someone over every time he or she buys a one way ticket, TSA agents are wasting time and effort that can be used to better protect us. What's most ridiculous about my situation is that because I am never stopped with a Delta ticket, the inference is I am not considered suspicious on that airline, but I am on any other carrier.

Security experts at the airline and/or TSA take other measures into account when deciding whether your boarding pass has the SSSS code printed on it that signifies you will get a secondary search. But the robotic yanking out of line that I regularly get doesn't seem like the creative and forward looking security criteria that Americans deserve.

Filed under: Behind The Scenes • Gary Tuchman
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Sherri

    I think there are more instances of security personnel veering off track all the time. I had business in the county courthouse over the course of about three months last year. I have no problem putting my watch,keys, etc in the bin, having my purse x-rayed, etc. walking through the metal detector- no prob. I was pulled out an questioned because I wear a very thin gold ring on the second toe of my right foot. I wear a size six shoe- so, it's not a big ring. They also asked me to put my reading glasses in my car and return inside. I explained I could not conduct my business if I could not see the print to read. At the same time- three young men had swept up to the entrance, set a garbage receptacle on fire, threw paint on the windows and tried lighting a fire in a planter box- broad daylight, multiple witnesses. The witnesses corraled the young men. Security was so focused on my toe ring and reading glasses they ignored the real threat ! Finally a sheriffs' deputy on personal business took the situation in hand and apologized to me, sent me on my way and cuffed the three young men. I thing we need to take a breath and re-focus our attention in the right direction.

    June 27, 2008 at 10:00 am |
  2. James Dylan

    I was pulled aside once; upon a pat down the 20 something security guard found a can of tobacco in my pocket. He politely asked me to remove it and place it on a table. I obliged and he finished the pat down. He then handed me back the can of tobacco and said I could go ahead and board. With a completely straight face I asked if he wanted to see how much C4 I had in the can. With an equally straight face he replied no and I got on the plane. Yeah, I laughed and couldn't help but think I was getting on a soon to be hi-jacked plane.

    June 26, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  3. Megan Dresslar

    Hello Gary,
    Yes, I think so, I was way to airport and I am safety security, I feel that I am safe on the plane. It was so awesome, But I think you are safe anyway, No problem for me........ I don't think you are not terror at all. I hope you enjoy fly somewhere. I am praying so hard for you right now.
    stay safe! Cheers!
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    June 26, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  4. Annie Kate


    You don't look much like a terrorist; but you never know. Its the ones that look least likely to be a terrorist that show up with a bomb in his shoes. Seriously though having a one way ticket shouldn't automatically mark you for a secondary search. Too bad there isn't a program who could join with the airlines – a one-way ticket user club or something.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 26, 2008 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Sharon from Indy

    Because I carry cameras and lenses when I travel for business, I give myself at least an hour more to go through the security check points. When I carried film, it was even worse.

    It is quite an ordeal now to go through checkpoints. It includes loading and unloading my equipment, taking off my shoes and going through a "puff" machine of some kind.

    I refuse to check my equipment. The old Samsonite luggage commercial of a gorilla trying to destroy luggage comes to mind. Oops! I guess I am showing my age.

    June 26, 2008 at 9:05 pm |
  6. Minou, New York City

    Hmmmm, yeah they can be kind of funny with their ways, these TSA and also the immigration guys....
    I'm always amused when the questionnaire asks, whether I plan to commit a terrorist act in the US. Is that supposed to be a trick question or a joke?
    Anyway, hang in there, Gary. I hear they are doing something for those constant fliers so they can get through security faster. Don't know what they decided on at this point, but there's hope for you.

    June 26, 2008 at 9:04 pm |
  7. Susan


    I do not mind the security. Better be safe then sorry. We were way behind on our security as compared to overseas airports & airlines. We just played major catch up. There are two things that bug me: having to pack all liquids in your checked luggage & taking your shoes off ( even flip flops ). I have never gotten pulled out of line. I guess that would be the pits.

    Happy flying !!!! I hope that there are less random yanks for you.


    June 26, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  8. Kaye, Pensacola

    Hi Gary – you would think they would recognize you. Especially in Hartsfield-Jackson/Atlanta since CNN is on all the TVs there. Maybe they do recognize you and are afraid you have a hidden camera and are covering a story about how lax the security is at our airports. Hmmm...that's a thought. I was randomly picked at Hartsfield, and the rivets on my Levi's kept setting off the wand device, so then I was hand searched. It was embarrassing. Hang in there.

    June 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  9. Lilibeth

    I agree with you, Gary. They need to re-think about how they want to do their searches, otherwise what's the point?

    June 26, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Bev C NY

    Yes – – I thought you looked like a terroist. . .

    June 26, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    It's okay Gary. When the Expos were in Montreal, a broadcaster by the name of Monday was regularly put through the customs ringer!! You don't think it had anything to do with a certain homer he hit in a National pennant race eh?? Maybe you are being recognized and the staff want to ensure you and CNN they are doing their jobs 'with enthusiasm'!!!

    June 26, 2008 at 3:01 pm |
  12. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    I rarely travel by air, but the last time I did, I was pulled aside for a more thorough search and since I am in a wheelchair, I was taken to a side room and they checked me with hand held metal detectors.

    But no one ever checked my manual wheelchair which is made of hollow tubes which could hold anything. When I am taken aboard the plane and seated, my chair is tagged and thrown into the cargo hold but the hollow tube hand and foot rests are stored in the cabin bins above the seats.

    I mentioned this to the airport security man who was checking me out, but he didn't seem to be interested.

    June 26, 2008 at 2:21 pm |
  13. Monika

    Gary, I don't think it's the one-way ticket. I traveled recently with 2 one-way tickets on Delta. The first one, I purchased about 2 or 3 weeks in advance, the second one I purchased within 24 hours of departure. Only on the return trip was I frisked by airport security. The code you get on your ticket is put there by the airline every time you purchase a ticket within 24 hours of departure. You'll find this rule on the TSA website.

    So, I guess you traveling people better know in advance when you'll be traveling so that you can avoid this rule by purchasing your ticket more than 24 hours ahead of schedule. And yes, this rule makes about as much sense as giving up your water bottle or taking off your shoes.

    June 26, 2008 at 2:10 pm |
  14. Janna

    Gary, perhaps it would be beneficial to just buy round trip and then change the return date, when you have one, for the extra fee? or just buy a new ticket. I've found that round trips are actually cheaper sometimes...
    Hang in there. We appreciate it!

    June 26, 2008 at 2:07 pm |
  15. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    CNN reporters-the newest sleeper cell-Homeland Security beware! 🙂

    I understand TSA workers are doing their jobs in a flawed system. I realize they put up with a lot of garbage from passengers having to go through a system these workers didn't create but have to follow if they want to feed their kids. My being pulled out is my fault and not theirs. I often think tounge-in-cheek as I'm being searched for hand lotion and shampoo that he terrorists behind me just zipped through the line because they remembered the 2 ounces or less rule, and ridiculously I never do.

    Oh well, as much as we complain we need to look at it this way. No other plane has been hijacked since 9/11. So however flawed the system is and as much as we armchair security experts think it could be improved above and beyond what the real experts are actually doing, apparently something is thankfully still working right. I'd much rather the inconvenience that the alternative. At least we don't have armed guards with machine guns standing at point above us in the airport. Really, we whine a lot about nothing in America.

    June 26, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  16. stacy

    every time i fly am always searched. even when i wear my miltary uniform. so i feel your pain. i do not know what it is about my name or my face that says i need to be searched and stripped of my dignity.

    June 26, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  17. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Thank you Gary, I will not purchase one way tickets. That is nuts and I agree that it is a waste of valuable time on the TSA's part.

    Poor Gary, you just can't seem to catch a break. Deep snow, freezing cold, armpit deep in water. Geesh! Please know that there are many of us out here who feel for you and hope you get a break. I know it is your job, but still. You are the best. Be well.

    June 26, 2008 at 1:19 pm |
  18. Gordon

    Ain't that the truth...

    As a marine surveyor attending casualty's I have had US officials question why I visited Syria and Iran and after explaining the ships had suffered damages and I was the surveor appointed to attend, I got the reply that couldn't you move them? I explained they were to big to fit in my pocket...

    On another flight with Delta from Athens to New York I was grilled by some young fellow working for the airlines for around 20 minutes with many crazy demmands like provide a buisness card, show my driver's licence and passport and boggles of other questions. After all this i simply stated that I thought the Warsaw Convention (that small print on the ticket terms) said that I needed a passport, American express and a valid ticket (had return)...

    Many more stories, but out of time.

    June 26, 2008 at 12:43 pm |
  19. Maya

    This reminds me of our flight back from Montreal to Canada a few weeks back. My daughter who will be 3 in July was tired and crabby and refused to part with her water bottle at the start of the security check line. The agent asked us how old she was and said she could keep her bottle as technically kids who are 2 years old are allowed to keep stuff like that.
    But when we actually went to the point where our carry-ons were X-rayed, the agents there asked her to give up the bottle. When we told them that we had been told she could keep it as she was only two – the agents insisted on seeing her passport and upon determining that she was only 2 months away from turning 3 – they insisted she give up her bottle!

    June 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm |
  20. Cindy

    Am I a security risk...UUMM..you don't really want me to answer that do ya!? LOL Maybe not on a plane but out in those flood waters that may be a different story! LOL Seems you'll go anywhere and do anything! LOL

    But seriously it is dumb that the air lines have tipped off the would be terrorists by searching people who only buy one way tickets. I mean like you said...they can now just buy round trip and not be searched. Nothing says you have to use the trip back! They need to really change that and get back to more random searches.

    But really if someone wants to do something stupid on a plane they will find a way. Regardless of how random the searches are.


    June 26, 2008 at 12:06 pm |