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Here's the text of a complaint that I am sending to the TSA for misleading treatment at Logan Airport.
At the security screening in the American Eagle gates at Logan airport, at around 1130am on July 1, 2005, the agent standing by the metal detector said to me, "I recommend you take off your shoes."
I've encountered that before. For a period of time, a year or two ago, TSA agents used to suggest that some people remove their shoes, and said it was because the shoes might set off the metal detector. Since my shoes had never set one off before, I gave it a test, and found out that they still did not. So I learned to say, "Don't worry, mine won't," and go through.
He then said something quietly I could not entirely hear. This was because of his foreign accent (he was of Asian appearance), my partial hearing loss, and because he spoke more quietly and faster than before. It sounded like he was telling me that if my shoes set off the detector, I would have to be searched. I'd encountered that policy before, that they did a full search on anyone who set off the detector. But I knew that would not happen.
So I said, "Don't worry, they won't set it off", and walked through. Then another agent said, "Now you have been profiled for a special search." It seems that they were springing a pre-planned trap.
I was very angry for being punished for an action that was entirely reasonable in the circumstances. I said, "Well, then, go ahead and search me, but you misled me by saying 'recommend'."
If you punish someone for not following the 'recommendation', then the word 'recommend' is deceptive. That word implies that it's ok not to follow the recommendation and that it won't be held me. If you are insisting on something, you should at least say so. The agent should have said, "You must take off your shoes and put them on the scanner."
When I said this, the agents had many excuses to evade the issue and deny the obvious truth.
They said that the agent was "reading from a required script". Maybe that is true. If it is true, that doesn't excuse misleading people, it just means that the responsibility for doing so is shared by those who wrote the script, and the script should be changed.
They said that they could not "make people take their shoes off", but at the same time they said this, they were doing exactly that. They also claimed that telling me "I recommend you take off your shoes" was indeed telling me to take them off. (This claim contradicts the previous one.) It isn't--unless you imagine that Americans should be so servile that they treat a suggestion as a command.
I pointed out that TSA agents in the past had practice of saying something very similar, and that we frequent flyers had learned that this meant "Your shoes might set off the metal detector". To use the _same words_ now, with a different and unnatural meaning, is doubly misleading.
They responded, "We're checking for other things, not just metal." I believe it, but it misses the point.
Although I repeatedly said, "If you want to search, go ahead and search," they claimed that I was "refusing to cooperate", which appears to be a way of falsely putting the passenger in the wrong.
I did not say it then, but I will say now, that TSA agents must speak clearly and loudly. I am not deaf, but I have partial hearing loss. I have several times had trouble understanding the speech of TSA agents who had strong foreign accents--I literally could not tell what they wanted me to do. I am sure I am not the only one.
I won't criticize anyone personally for speaking with a strong foreign accent, but putting such a person in the position of (effectively) giving orders to the public and punishing them for perceived noncompliance is asking for unnecessary trouble. And it is always the passenger who bears the brunt. Those personnel should be searching baggage, which can't hear them anyway.