Airport Turbulence Appears to Be All the Rage

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) opened a door he shouldn't have at Dulles.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) opened a door he shouldn't have at Dulles. (Alex Brandon - AP)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Mary Ann Akers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Last week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) made headlines after he set off an alarm by opening a secure door at Washington Dulles International Airport. This week, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) is in the spotlight after he was overheard complaining to airport security workers in Portland about their "stupid" rules as they pulled him aside for additional screening.

And this from a man who helped create the agency that makes those rules.

DeFazio, who has served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on aviation since 1986 and helped establish the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, admitted yesterday: "I'm a grumpy traveler. But I don't think we have here airport rage."

DeFazio balked when he was singled out for additional security screening by rubber-glove-wearing TSA workers at his connecting gate at Portland International Airport after he had already gone through regular X-ray screening in Eugene, Ore., where his United Airlines flight originated.

"I said, 'This is really stupid. What are you going to find here with rubber gloves that you didn't find in primary security with the X-ray machine?' " DeFazio recalled of his Monday-morning schlep from his district back to Washington.

And he said he offered up that he was "kind of an expert on airport security," telling the TSA screeners: "I helped create the TSA. I'm in Congress."

That was construed by an anonymous passenger -- a Republican operative, DeFazio presumes -- as a "Do you know who I am?" rant against the TSA workers. The anonymous tipster told Roll Call newspaper that DeFazio was visibly angry and used a curse word, which the congressman says he doesn't recall.

Indeed, DeFazio's incident doesn't appear to approach Vitter's, which sparked a formal review by the TSA. But his rebuke of the four TSA workers in Portland is a case of bad timing and underscores the deep-seated frustration felt by frequent fliers, including members of Congress, over the hassles of seemingly inane airport security measures.

Unlike regular travelers, DeFazio was able to get a meeting with TSA officials on Tuesday to get an explanation of the agency's newly implemented random security checks at gates on certain flights. (The practice was ended in 2003 but has recently been reinstituted as a pilot program for classified security reasons, according to DeFazio.)

DeFazio says the TSA gate screening measures "make a little more sense" after his meeting, but he argues if additional random screening truly is necessary, "they need to do it with sophisticated, state-of-the-art bomb-detection equipment" rather than with rubber gloves.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland, was standing about five people behind DeFazio in line to board the same plane to Washington. He deemed the randomized rubber-gloved security search "weird" and "nuts."

Asked whether DeFazio had lost his cool with the TSA workers, Blumenauer said, "There was no road rage -- he didn't raise his voice, no abuse, nothing inappropriate. He was more frustrated and embarrassed."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company