I have to admit that TSA agents make me nervous.

It’s a lot like when I see a police car on the road.  It’s not that I’m carrying contraband or breaking any major laws (as opposed to the minor ones?), but when I’m cruising along at 8 mph over the limit and spot a cruiser pulling up alongside me, well…it gives me pause.  My heart skips a beat, my eyes flick down to check the dashboard, and then my foot eases off the gas.  Just slightly, though, because an abrupt change in speed might look suspicious and we can’t have that.

This makes me sound like I’m up to no good, right?  The kids don’t understand why I get antsy like this. We’ve spent years telling them police officers are our friends, so why do I pull a nutty whenever there’s a cop nearby?

TSA agents have the same effect on me.  And considering the repercussions of acting squirrelly in front of one of them…well, there’s a lot of ways national security can screw up a travel plan.

What with my anxiety level, I lean toward being inordinately polite and accommodating with basically every TSA agent we meet.  This may be setting off other alarms now that I think about it, but it’s been my best defense against completely freaking out when confronted by multiple screeners in the airport.

So BrightSide and I were leaving for this trip a few years ago – I can’t recall where we were going, but I remember we were flying internationally.  We’d checked our bag, picked up our boarding passes, and moved toward the security screening for the terminal.  It was when we hit the first TSA agent that things came to a screeching halt.

We greeted the agent with a pleasant Good morning and presented our boarding passes and passports for his review.  BrightSide’s were checked without a hitch, but when the agent checked my passport picture against me there was a very…long…pause.

This was an early morning flight and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t “dress” to fly, especially when we leave at the crack of dawn.  At first I thought my lack of makeup (AKA Dawn of the Dead look) and messy hair were jamming me up, but then the agent started questioning me.

He looked at the passport, then looked at me.  Then he looked back at my passport before scrutinizing me again.  He even held the passport up, presumably to put the faces (mine and the passport’s) side by side. Finally the agent announced the picture didn’t look anything like me, and asked if I had any other ID.

So here’s the thing.  A few years before that trip I’d been ill.  I gained about 40 pounds and had cut my hair into a short bob in an attempt to grow it out healthy again.  Coincidentally, this was also when my passport was expiring (of course) so the agent wasn’t being a hard ass…my picture really didn’t look very much like the person standing in front of him.

I was feeling more than a little anxious by then – no one had ever questioned my ID before so that TSA agent was freaking me out – but I managed to pull out my driver’s license and hand it over with what I hoped was an extremely trustworthy smile.

I was counting on my license to save me since other than the crappy hair and washed out face I was sporting that particular picture was relatively current.  Only it turned out my passport picture had troubled the agent beyond what was typically acceptable at that airport – now he had two forms of identification in front of him, one of which didn’t really look like me and one of which that did (you know, if I had done my hair and makeup), but he couldn’t seem to find enough similarities between the two IDs to authorize my boarding.

Now I was really beginning to sweat it.  I mean, what the hell?  How was I supposed to prove it was actually my passport?  The line for security grew steadily behind us while BrightSide stared in disbelief.  The only argument running through my head was DUDE, I was 40 pounds heavier.  My face was rounder, my hair was shorter, so YES the picture looks bad.  Aren’t you trained to detect physical variations?!  Except I didn’t really think that would help the situation.

It was when he asked for a third picture ID that the blood drained from my face.  Who even owns a third picture ID?!  At this point I was offering to show him the entire contents of my wallet: credit cards, my library card, health insurance, AAA.  A social security card might have been more compelling but they say you shouldn’t carry those with you anymore so that was at home in the safe.

Eventually the TSA agent let me go through the rest of the screening process and board the flight…I guess he must have decided I didn’t look like a security threat in the end, but that was a pretty intense wait while he weighed the pros and cons of letting me fly.

My take-aways from that morning:

  • My level of politeness, while important for decent human interaction, doesn’t have a thing to do with TSA and their job.  It just makes their day a little less crappy (or so I like to think).
  • Significant physical transformations are crucial when it comes to ID.  So if I ever go through a major swing again, for whatever reason, I’ll seriously consider updating my passport.
  • My license is expiring in the next year or so.  Normally I don’t sweat this…it’s not like I roll up in there wearing yoga pants and a ponytail, but I don’t give an inordinate amount of thought to how I’ll look in the picture, either.  Guess I’d better try to make this next ID a realistic one.  I’m not anxious to repeat the TSA scrutiny experience anytime soon.