My Wonderful Trip To South Africa That Didn’t Happen Thanks To The TSA And Delta Airlines

I don’t normally post personal items, but I think that everyone should know about some of the horrible things happening at San Diego International Airport and with Delta Airlines. I wrote this immediately after the events that transpired so that I would have an accurate log.

Summers are the busiest travel time of the year. Each year more than 750 million passengers move through our country’s airports raking up more than 800 billion miles of travel. (Source) Along with the increase in demand, air travel complaints are up as well. (Source PDF)

Now, we all know this year has been a special one for the airlines and air travel as a whole. From the JetBlue hostage crisis, the terrorist “dry runs” on airport security around the country, and the most recent debacle on Southwest Airlines where they asked a woman to cover up because of her lewd attire.

Also, after learning about Xeni’s experiences, reading Bruce’s article, I decided to post this. Here we go!

Recently, I had to travel to Johannesburg, South Africa for business. I had an important meeting for a big bid that was scheduled for Monday. I was scheduled to arrive on Sunday. The thing that was going to make the 25+ hour trip worth while was the opportunity to spend some time with my relatives that I have not seen in many years, so I had planned to have an extended stay.

Any way you slice it, it’s pretty crappy flight, mine was supposed to be the best of the worst according to friends that had made the same flight previously. It was certainly the least painful of all the previous routes that I have taken to Johannesburg in the past. My flight was from San Diego (SAN) to Atlanta (ATL) and then on to Johannesburg (JNB) via Dakar for some fuel. All flights on Delta. Flying coach.

I was scheduled to depart Saturday morning at 6:30 AM. I arrived at the airport on time, checked in at the Delta desk in Terminal 2 (PDF). I checked in at the First Class counter, they let me because no one else was waiting in that line.

That is when the fun began.

At the time that I place my bag on the scale I look over my left shoulder to scope out the security screening line.

Side note: Delta only lets you take 50 lbs. per bag, but they let you take two bags. I got charged $25 in overage. So much for the 70 lbs. of other international carriers.

“Jesus”, I thought to my self.

The security line was the longest I had ever seen it, dozens of switch-backs, and even extending onto the sky-bridge! Memories of the lines I endured at London Heathrow during the ‘liquid bomb’ scare flash through my mind.

I ask the Delta agent if I had a fighting chance, she said that I should have “no problem, it moves fast”.

As I get in line, I look out over the sky-bridge just in time to see the sun beginning to rise.

The line shows no sign of life for minutes. Suddenly, some action – three steps forward…

The mother in front of me with her two little girls lets out a sigh. I tell her “just when you think there is no hope.. it moves”. She laughs and asks where I’m from, I tell her that I’m a San Diego native and ask her the same question. We chat about San Diego, and where we are traveling and things of that sort. I then ask her “What time is your flight?”, “7:30″ she replies. “What about yours?”, “6:30″. She tells me that she will gladly hold my spot in line while I go to the front. I told her that I’ve got 45 minutes and there is no point getting nervous.

After fifteen minutes finally I make it inside the terminal, clock on the Blackberry reads 6:00 AM at this point. I see another nervous guy jump out of line and go up to the TSA staff and “First Class” security line. A minute passes and he returns discouraged and starts speculating about his flight leaving at 6:30, I asked him what they said. He was told to get back in line and that he would be fine. I was unimpressed with this, but figured it was just to early to start escorting passengers. I decide to wait.

The entire security line is snapped to attention when a rather large TSA employee decides that 6:05 AM is the perfect time to make an announcement at the top of his lungs. He requested that everyone make sure that all water bottles were out of the bags and that if you had anything larger than 3 oz. to come and get a zip lock bag from him. He also said that “If you have any questions, I am at the TSA desk and will be happy to help.”

It is now 6:12 AM on the Blackberry, the sign on the turnstile reads 25 minutes to go (the previous one read 15 minutes), I tell the woman and her husband, who had just arrived, that hopefully I won’t see them later (because I’ll be on my plane), but I would appreciate it if they could hold my spot. “No problem, good luck!”.

So I quickly walk up to the area where the loud TSA employee is standing and approach a woman wearing a maroon “Supervisor” polo-shirt. I tell her that I have a 6:30 flight. “Get back in line”, she tell me. With no eye contact.

I then hold out my ticket and say “Ma’am I’ve a 6:30 flight to Atlanta, I think I am going to miss my flight.”

“Get back in line”, louder this time, still no eye contact. (Think nightclub door man/bouncer.)

“Ma’am, please, I have an international connection in Atlanta I cannot afford to miss my flight.”

“I told you, GET BACK IN LINE” (Even louder, still no eye contact)

I then realize that this is going no where with this woman, and say to the TSA employee who made the announcement; “Sir, I beg you, please may I go through, I am going to miss my flight to South Africa.” He was standing right behind this “supervisor.”

This entire time, first class passengers are being allowed through their VIP entrance to their own x-ray and metal detector. No lines for VIPs. Just like a night club.

This lovely “supervisor” then snaps to him “Don’t get involved! Don’t make me call Frankie.”

Thinking that maybe this “Frankie” might have more intelligence and compassion I say, “Who’s Frankie? Lets call Frankie!”

“You don’t tell me who to call, sir!”, snaps the “supervisor” (Very loud and aggressive).

At this point, there were no more first class passengers going through this entrance.

I decide to hang around and wait, perhaps this “supervisor”, Jackie, would have a change of heart and let me through to make my flight. Given that there were no first class customers waiting, no sweat off her back. There is also no point in going back to the line, if I do that I am guaranteed to miss my flight.

At this point, I turn around and am confronted by two Harbor Police Officers. Officer Columbus Offord (Badge #3306) and Officer Walter Tucker (No badge number on his card?)

“This guy refuses to move!” Jackie pipes in from over my shoulder.

“Whats the problem?” the officers ask me.

At this point, we are in the middle of the terminal. Before I respond, the officers and I walk off to the side near the check-in counters.

“There is no problem officers. I am going to miss my flight, I have an international connection to make and she will not let me go through. I have been here with plenty of time to make it through security, but the line is not moving.”

“Well, we cannot just put you to the front of the line, you have to speak to Delta”

“Ok, I’ll go speak to Delta”

The Delta check-in desk is the closest to where I am now.

I walk over there, the officers stay put. I ask the First Class Delta employee – “Will they be holding the 6:30 flight for people that are waiting to get through security?”

“No, and if your not at the front already you wont make it”, she responds.

“Thanks” (Read: SHIT!)

So I walk back towards toward the line.

The officers then ask me, “What did they tell you?”

“That I’m not going to make it” I say.

“Let me have your passport”, demands one officer.

“What do you need it for?” (I’ve seen this movie before, I’ve done nothing wrong, but you know… abuse of power, police state, post 9/11 age, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc)

“So that I can know who I am talking to”, he says.

“Ok, here you go”, as I hand him my passport.

The officer then proceeds to radio my details in, and his partner just stands with me.

He then must have gotten word back from dispatch that I am NOT a terrorist, or he just wanted to log it in for their records.

He then gives me back my passport, waves his hand, and says “Go through.”

I then hand my tickets and passport to another first class “document checker”, and then Jackie says “What do you think your doing?”

“The officers said that I could come through!”, I plead.

“Oh no they didn’t, you get back in line where you were!”

Now, remember back now to the family holding my place in line? They had been watching this entire thing and were now at the front of the line, literally next in line. They waved to get my attention and say “We are here! We’re up here!”.

“I’m with those people, thats where I was”, I tell Jackie.

“Oh hell no, he’s not up there with those people, he’s got to get at the back of the line where he was.”, Jackie says.

“No, I was standing with them”, I plead again.

“They’re on Continental, they don’t know him!” (How could she know this?)

“I do know them, they are here from Florida on holiday, they were here for a week. Their flight connects in Houston!”, I say.

At this point the husband of the family, my hero – got love New Yorkers (living in Florida). Screams at the top of his lungs “He’s with us, you let him up here right now!” directly into the face of the TSA bouncer that made the announcement earlier.

The TSA officer says to the husband, “Sir, lower your voice.”

“Fine go through”, Jackie says knowing she could no longer deny me and had lost.

At the same moment I walk through the First class line behind the TSA officer. I hear the husband ask, “Why are you guys doing this to this guy, he just wanted to get on his flight?”

As I walk by, I hear the TSA officer respond – “Sir, that gentleman made a death threat on my life”. AN OBVIOUS LIE! I ignore it, as at this point I am shaking from the stress of the situation and I am nervous that I am not going to make my flight.

“Oh, I didn’t know anything about that”, the husband says.

The family and I are now parallel in the lines. I say thank you to both the husband and wife for their help and they try to calm me down, I was visibly shaking. I give the husband my business card and say please get in touch so that I can thank you. I hope he reads this and does.

I did not think a thing about the TSA officer’s “death threat” statement and went to the x-ray machine.

I take out my Powerbook and put it in a bin with the case, and toss my sandals and backpack in another.

No x-ray or metal detector alarms, and I get re-dressed.

I then run to Gate 40, basically the farthest gate in the terminal (check map linked above). I though the adrenaline would have got me there faster, but by Gate 38 my legs were running at half speed. Note: It must have been the sandals :)

I get to the gate counter nearly dying and say to a Delta clerk, named Ana, “Did I make it for the 6:30?”

“Nope, its already gone.”, she says.

“How long did I miss it by?”, catching my breath.

“Technically you missed it by 5 minutes, but actually you missed it by 2″, she says. (Read: SHIT!)

“Let me see you ticket”, she says.

So I hand her my ticket, tell her I’m catching a connection to Johannesburg.

She then puts me on the 8:00 AM flight to Atlanta, and tells me that I will need to run, “No Starbucks”, and puts me as far forward on the plane as she could. Seat 12C.
I ask her about my bag.

She says that it left on the plane without me, but assures me that it will be on the plane to Johannesburg.

I thank her and then go to the bathroom for a little moment. “This sucks, is it still worth going?” I think to my self.

I gather my composure and start walking back to the security screening area to find out the names of the people I had just dealt with so pleasantly at the security screening.

I spot a “security guard” on break and ask him if he knows who the woman (Jackie) at the front was and who the guy (TSA) was. He explains that TSA wear all white, and that some are private employees but still employed by the government.

He then says that he wants to see who these people were also and starts walking back with me.

On the way I see the two officers, Walter Tucker and Columbus Offord, sitting on coffee break and I approach them.

I say “Hi officers, I just wanted to let you know that I did not make my flight.” I continue, “I know you were just doing your job, but I would like to get your names and badge numbers.”

“What do you need that for?”, one says.

“You don’t need that!”, the other proclaims.

“What do you need it for?”, they both say obviously feeling defensive and threatened.

I respond, “I need it for the same reason that you needed to see my passport, so I know who I talked to. I want to be able to remember everything accurately.”

They then begin to pull out their business cards.

As the first officer, sitting on the right, hands me his business card, he says “You know you don’t come to the airport and make death threats.”

I respond by saying, “That is a ridiculous lie! You and I both know, you better than me, that if I had made a death threat to a federal officer that I wouldn’t be here right now, I would be arrested. You probably would have been the ones to do it. Its very easy for that TSA employee to make false accusations, I am just a regular citizen and I have no recourse, and he has no repercussions for making these false accusations.”

“Ok”, they say as they stare at me blankly.

After that, I walk towards the TSA kiosk, on the “secured” part of passenger screening.

I walk up to, a senior looking officer. Scott Stanfield.

I tell him, that I had a problem with some employees and I would like to know who they are so that I can file a complaint.

He says OK, but wants to make sure that he knows who I am talking about. So I tell him the woman in the front, with a maroon polo shirt, and the larger gentleman with a white TSA shirt at the desk in front. He walks me over to a more direct line of site, and points at them. I confirm that those are the people, even though I could not see the woman at the time.

He begins to tell me that the woman, Jackie, is not a federal employee, but is employed by a private firm GAT Security. I tell him thats fine, give me GAT Security’s number and the manager’s contact information and I will file a complaint with them.

Then I say I want to know who the TSA employee is, he says that he cannot give me his name because he is a federal employee. At this point I look at his badge and say “Scott Stanfield, are you kidding me? I can just go walk up and read his name off his badge, but you can’t tell me?”

“No, Sir I can’t. If you tell me what your complaint is, I will file the complaint for you”, he responds in a serious manner.

“Ok then”, I say.

At this point, several other TSA employees start to crowd around like school children trying to eavesdrop on a secret.

I tell him, that I don’t feel comfortable where we are standing and move over to the side a few feet.

I then explain to him, that as I walked behind the TSA officer he told another passenger that I had made a “death threat on his life.”

I tell Scott that this is a blatantly false accusation, and that his employees should not joke about these types of things. I also tell him, what everyone knows, that if it were true. I would be in custody.

I can see that this is not going anywhere, as he hardly agrees that this was a problem.

“This type of behavior must be encouraged”, I think to my self.

Before I go, they give me a piece of paper with – “G.A.T Security – Kyle 619-491-2864″, written on it. They say that Kyle is the Jackie’s manager. I thank them and go on my way.

When I return to Gate 40 I speak with Ana, the Delta clerk again. She says that I should go over and speak with the Delta manager, she points him out for me.

I walk up and ask the Delta Gate Manager about GAT Security and tell him my story.

He then says he will call a GAT manager to come speak with me.

I wait about 10 minutes and a guy shows up with a reflective safety vest, the GAT “manager”. He has been out on the runway, with his vest and ear plugs. This guy looks like a baggage handler, not the manager of airport security.

I explain to him what happened, and he tells me this in not the first time they have had problem with Jackie.

He then gives me the office number 619-491-2864 and Kyle’s name. I decide to give the number a call, it goes straight to voicemail on a cell phone, its Kyle’s cell phone. I start to wonder why is this number for the office going to Kyle’s cell phone?

I then go back up to Ana, she asks for my tickets again, and says if the plane doesn’t board in the next twenty minutes that I won’t make it. She wants to put on me on the same flights for tomorrow. I tell her “Ok, thank you”, and wait like the rest of the passengers.

At about 7:45 AM the plane has not boarded yet, and I get approached by another Delta manager who asks if the GAT supervisor was helpful. I tell him no. He then says, “come over here I want to lookup your flights.” He confirms that Ana had put me on for next day and says, “see you tomorrow.” It turns out that the bolt that they use to attach the plane to the vehicle for towing into the gate had broken and the plane was stuck on the runway.

I go up to Ana and thank her for being “the nicest person that I had dealt with today.” She said she was actually in a bad mood, but liked me. She asks for my tickets again, and at this point I figured I would ask about bulk-head seats for tomorrow. She said that they are only assigned the day of the flight. She then said, but don’t worry I have upgraded you to Business class. Don’t tell anybody.

I thanked her graciously and left the airport.

On my way out I see the TSA’s Scott Stanfield coming up the escalators near where this morning’s events began. I tell him that the second flight had mechanical problems and thanked him.

I spent several hours after I got home trying to find GAT Security in the White Pages and online, I could find nothing. I then decide to call the San Diego International Airport and ask for a manager… there is none. The only person to speak with is the directory assistance person.

I then try call the Harbor Police, I finally manage to get hold of a Sergeant Micksel. I explain to him what had happened with his two officers, that they initially refused to provide their badge numbers and names. I then spend nearly an hour and twenty minutes explaining to him why it was NOT appropriate behavior for them to tell me “You know you don’t come to the airport and make death threats.” He could not see why this was a problem. I tell try to walk him through the logic that it was a lie and a false accusation, and they knew it was false because if it were true they would have had to act.

Finally I tell him, “If you are not going to take my complaint seriously I will find someone who will.”

That gets his attention and he says he wants to get the dispatch logs and call me back. I wait for his call, and twenty minutes later he does call back.

He says that I dealt with “one African American officer and one Asian American officer.” I tell him, “No, actually they were both African American.” I don’t know why this was relevant?

He then tells me that all the dispatch logs said was that someone, called in “a disturbance”. I tell him that I had not created a disturbance, and the tells me that all the Harbor Police do is respond when they are called.

I then ask him how I can go about filing my complaint. He tells me to contact Internal Affairs and speak with John Reilly at 619-686-6590.

I thank him and hang up the phone.

The next morning I then decided that a trip of that length, when I have already missed my meeting is not worth taking.

My next mission is to get my ticket refunded.

I call Delta and ask for a refund, they tell me that I can’t get one even though it was a mechanical failure that prevented me from making my flight and even though I no longer need to make the trip.

I then ask how I can go about getting my bag back to San Diego… Remember? It flew WITHOUT me!

They tell me that they cannot get it, I have to go to the baggage desk at the airport.

So I go back to sleep and when I wake up I go to the airport to request my bag.

The baggage desk requests for the bag to be sent back to San Diego and delivered to my home.

My girlfriend, then says “Lets go to the Delta desk and ask for a refund.”

I oblige.

I tell the Delta clerk what happened, and that I no longer need to make the trip and would like a refund.

Interestingly, she does not offer me another ticket for another travel date. At the time I did not know that was the typical response. To be honest, I have never missed a flight before. Let’s hope this is not a new trend for me.

She then proceeds to do a TRR (Ticket Refund Request).

The manager comes over and explains that because I didn’t buy my ticket directly from Delta the amount that I purchased the ticket for does not show up in the system. Therefor, he cannot refund me today.

I tell him that I understand. The clerk then gives me a print out and tells me to call 1-800-847-0578 on the 23rd of August. They will take about two weeks to find out how much I paid and then be able to process the refund.

I thank her, and ask her about the $25.00 in over-baggage that I had to pay.

She says that they will be able to refund me when I call.

I thank her again, and go home.

Two weeks later, on Monday the 27th I call the refund center and give them my TRR number.

I am told that they can see my name in the system, but they have not yet received the actual request from the airport for a refund.

“What? I don’t understand, you have my name and the TRR number? What else do you need?”, I ask.

“We need the actual paper receipt from the airport, it can take up to 40 days”, the customer service representative replies as if this was normal.

“I have a paper copy”, I tell him.

“Ok, you can fax it to us at this number: 404-715-9256″, he explains.

So I fax it through immediately.

I wait until Wednesday and call back. I give the representative my TRR number and they tell me again that they have not received anything from the airport.

I tell them that I faxed it through already.

“When did you do that?”, she asks.

“On Monday”, I reply.

“What time?”, she says.

“Around 11:30 AM”, I tell her.

“Ohhhh I see that here, it will take at least seven business days to before anyone can get to that”, she explains.

“Ok, thanks”, I say and hang up.

Several days later I call back and ask for an update.

They tell me that they have refunded me $1943.71

I ask why the amount is $1943.71 and not $2143.71, which is what I was billed.

She tells me that there was a $200 penalty.

I tell her that I missed the flight because of Delta, and should not have to pay ANY penalty.

She says that its the policy.

I ask her about the $25.00 over baggage fee.

She says that it was not included with the refund request and cannot do anything.

I tell her that the Delta desk told me that the refund department would be able to process that at the time that my ticket will be refunded.

She tells me to go back to the airport and ask them.

And that is where we are today… So my friends, I pose the following questions:

What recourse do passengers that encounter things like this with the TSA have? This is obviously a case where the TSA officer felt that it would be easier to lie to justify his actions, rather than do the right thing and help someone.

How can Delta let my bag fly without me? I thought that airlines are supposed to remove passengers that do not board? Isn’t this a HUGE security risk? I mean, you could read my story and find a massive loop-hole in the security system at airports. Especially given that in recent “dry-runs” bags with simulated bombs made it onto planes. I know I don’t feel safe now, knowing that the baggage belonging to the guy being detained at security is on the plane even if he is not. Does keeping him off the plane make us safer?

Why should coach passengers be discriminated against? Why do first class passengers receive special security treatment? Are they paying more taxes to support the TSA? No! They should be in line with every other tax payer in coach.

Seriously, what if I end up on a “no-fly” list? What recourse does one have in a situation like this? Like this guy?

Who is GAT Security? How did a company with two employees, Jackie and Kyle, with only a cell phone get into a position where they can over rule the TSA and dictate what passengers get on to their flights and which get delayed?

Why did the TSA’s Scott Stanfield refuse to provide me the name of the other TSA employee? His excuse was bogus, if the employee wears a badge… his name is not a government secret!

Why does it take Delta? Two weeks/40 Days/Seven days to process a refund? The kicker here is that my credit card was billed by “DELTA AIR LINES ALEXANDRIA VA” and not by the website that I purchased the tickets from – Is this just an excuse to keep our money and make it difficult to get refunds for things that they did not provide?

Thanks for reading!

So much for the friendly skies.

If you are looking for some other interesting reading check out these articles:

Editor’s Note: This post was not proof read and was written on my blackberry. Please excuse any grammatical errors.

240 Responses to My Wonderful Trip To South Africa That Didn’t Happen Thanks To The TSA And Delta Airlines

  1. Bert says:

    As much as i really dislike flying through the States its not only a US problem, London is just as bad; I swear its like they have a mandate to treat coach passengers as bad as possible to make sure they cough up the extra cash for business or first class next time.

  2. Craig says:

    Delta is wonderful – I had perhaps 120,000 SkyMiles points with them which they just deleted without even letting me know. A far cry from the misery you experienced, but pretty awful service.

    I was also on a flight to Barcelona with them in early 2002, waiting to use the washroom near the service area, when the attendent came back and commented to her friend about the “little terrorist in row 23″ – what an idiot. And the sad part is that the attendents on those long haul flights are the most experienced of the lot, due to the assignment process.


    Sorry to hear about your misery.

  3. Joel says:

    Delta’s terrible… the plane was stuck on takeoff on the tarmac, and I asked the flight attendent about connecting flights; she told me the pilots said we would be two hours delayed and that would cause me to miss my connection. She said I could deboard, so I did. *But* the gate agent said he didn’t believe the flight attendent.

    30 minutes later, the pilots deboard to get some lunch, and we chat– the pilots were very nice and we chatted about the problem with the plane. All the while, the gate agent insists the plane will take off in 5 minutes “because that’s what the central computer says.” I point out that I am sitting in the gate, with the pilots, eating lunch. The gate agent says “It doesn’t matter what the pilots say, the computer says the plane is taking off in 5 minutes.” Ha!

  4. aj says:

    The Socialism of the Democrats and the Nationalism of the Republicans gets combined, and they call it the TSA.

  5. Allen says:

    You should email this to

  6. Jake says:

    I can’t begin to imagine what a horrible day that must have been. I fly out of San Diego all the time, but usually on Southwest. Your story just makes me think what an amazing ‘illusion of security’ we have created for ourselves. I’m begining to accept the fact that we have more of a chance of getting stuck by a tazer in the security line that actually facing a crisis mid-air.

  7. Wayne, you have my sympathy. Flying isn’t much fun these days, and when it goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong in a New York minute. Anyway, I was right with you until you wrote:

    “Why should coach passengers be discriminated against? Why do first class passengers receive special security treatment? Are they paying more taxes to support the TSA? No! They should be in line with every other tax payer in coach.”

    Express lanes at airport security areas are typically for both first class (and international business class) passengers and for elite travelers. Let’s take these one at a time.

    First and business class passengers are either there because they’re elite (see below) or because they’ve paid more for their ticket. How much more? It’s impossible to generalize, but I just ran a search on Orbitz for a round-trip ticket from SAN to JNB, and got low fares of $1,334 in coach, $7,039 in business, and $11,511 in first. So if a hypothetical traveler was on the same itinerary as you, but traveling in business, and paid for his or her ticket, he or she paid at least $5,705 more than you (using the dates I ran). I don’t begrudge such a person receiving faster treatment.

    As for people who are using the express lines because they’re elite-level travelers, in my experience, that privilege is typically reserved for people at the mid-elite level and above — i.e., at least 50,000 actual flight miles per year. That’s a tremendous amount of time in seats. My guess is that the typical elite-level traveler is doing most of their travel within the US, which means maximum round-trip distances of about 5,000 miles, and typically less than that. So these are people who spend a good deal of their lives on airplanes, and going through those dreaded security lines. Again, I don’t begrudge such a person receiving faster treatment.

    So, please, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, the traveler screening system is flawed in all sorts of ways. But allowing first and business class travelers and elite frequent flyers to use express lines is one of the few decent aspects of the process. (I write as someone who doesn’t purchase first class tickets, but who flies enough to be a mid-level elite flyer.)

  8. Ed T. says:

    Wayne – Sorry to hear about your problems and hope you get some kind of satisfaction from Delta. Flying has never been a pleasant experience, but the TSA seems to be committed to making it a downright painful one. :-( Give little people a little power and they become a huge PITA.

    Joel – The gate agent says “It doesn’t matter what the pilots say, the computer says the plane is taking off in 5 minutes.” Oh dear, you made me shoot soda through my nose with that one! :-)

  9. Michael says:

    I rarely, if ever, leave comments on blogs or sites, but…

    I’m so sorry.

    Your ordeal made my hair stand up on end. I’ve dealt with Delta and there is no recourse. Who do you go to once they’ve ripped you off or ruined your planned vacation? Often the time and money required for this effort just can’t be justified.

  10. John says:

    You missed the first flight because you did not arrive early enough to the airport. The airlines can not be held responsible for the speed of the security line. That was the root cause of all of your trouble. That said, you really don’t have much recourse from Delta. They have penalties and you accept that at time of booking. It also sounds like they really did try to help you out. The trouble with the TSA seems to stem from your refusal to accept standard operating procedures. Why should you get to go to the front of the line? If you want to use the special line, pay the special fare. The TSA employees sounded rude but I would be too if I spent most of my day explaining to self-centered travelers that a failure to plan on your behalf does not constitute a crisis on mine. The only thing that alarmed me at all was the refusal of the police (initially) to give you names and badge numbers. If it is that important a trip allow time to get through security.

  11. Peter Browne says:

    TSA does not support “class” lines for screening. This has to come from Delta. I think you should make your complaint to the Federal Security Director (FSD) at San Diego Airport who is responsible for TSA screening at the airport. The FSD is Mike Aguilar and he can be reached at 619 321-1325 or [email protected]. His mailing address is: San Diego International, P.O. Box 82776,San Diego,CA 92138-2776. Peter

  12. Jesse says:

    You should share this story with The Consumerist.


  13. Andrew Schultz says:

    Being a San Diego native, I know the terminal 2 twisty long line well. Something must have been holding up the process because I often start out on the skybridge thinking this will take forever and yet 15 minutes later am at the x-ray machines.

    Good luck on getting what you want – I know they don’t make it easy.

  14. Alexander says:

    I realize that it’s all post now, but the next time when you go wear as little clothing as possible and ship all your items via UPS to your destination ahead of time.

    If that dosen’t sit well with you, you can pack a flare gun (legal to own without a permit in the USA, but classified as a firearm by the FAA) at which point you will have to fill out a little peice of paper and have your luggage signed and checked. Then they lock it with a strap and hand YOU the key. Not the TSA, not anybody else. YOU. That way, you KNOW your luggage will get there for sure. The FAA and TSA don’t like it when firearms are lost on airplanes.

    Pack a flare gun in each bag, and you will never have any of your luggage lost. They also wont let the plane leave without you on it as you have the only key for the lock.

    Honestly, you did the best you could. The USA is unfortunately thrust into this ‘secure’ flying, and they haven’t adjusted well. Taking as little as possible on flights, and securing your luggage with a flare gun is about the only thing you can do.

    I am still waiting for the day you will have to strip down naked, and shove all your personal belongings into duffle bags before boarding a flight. Then you get a numbered jumpsuit, and you are allowed on the planes.

    It’s going to happen. And watch. the people will let it.

  15. Mark says:

    Hahahahahah! “Don’t make me call Frankie” I cannot believe how messed up this system is. The security screeners have no incentive to treat passengers with respect or move the line at a speedy rate and unfortunately these grumpy, poorly paid screeners will be the first ones to be blamed if a bomb does get onto a plane.

  16. anwaya says:

    Did you try the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP)program, at It purports to be the customer service gateway where travelers can address “situations where travelers believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly delayed”.

    That sounds like you.

  17. AG says:

    You need to submit this to the regulator. If this is happening regularly, they need to hear about it. Your individual response may not make a difference, but many will.

    Also contact your federal representatives. This is an election year and they need to haul the CEO of Delta into Congress to explain why they load luggage on their planes while the owner is being held by TSA as a security risk.

  18. Alan Justice says:

    GAT Security is a general airline ground servicing company, and their website is They started life as an FBO. From their website, they do: Ground Handling, Cargo Management, Janitorial,Cabin Grooming, GSE Maintenance, Facilities Maintenance, Skycap / Porter Services, Customer Care, Document Verification, Wheelchair and Special Services. Sounds like they do whatever is asked. The “document verification” bit sounds like what you ran into. And the “supervisor” from GAT that you talked to was probably a cargo handler or some such thing.

    It seems that security would be better handled by sworn officers who are accountable to the public, rather than private employees who don’t answer to anybody. Then again, our gov’t seems to like that sort of thing in Iraq (e.g., Blackwater), so it’s not surprising that they do it here, too.

  19. Robert B. says:

    I am to the point where I would do anything to avoid flying. It’s like you have to go to a third world country where your rights no longer exist. Something really needs to be done.

  20. Michelle says:

    Back in July, due to mechanical issues and weather, my husband, 1 year old and I were stuck at the airport in Atlanta for 28 hours. What a nightmare! Delta’s absolute lack of empathy is very remarkable to me. I feel your pain.

  21. Renee Anderson says:

    Wayne: Your ordeal is the result of the (lack of) customer service in each sector you encountered: TSA, police, Delta, etc. These days I am used to this in most areas of CS and unfortunately it surprises me when I get GOOD service as opposed to being mad at getting poor service. Sigh.

    I do agree a bit with John who stated it was your fault initially for not getting there early enough. 2 hours is minimum now, you make it sound like you only got there 1 hour ahead of time. Sorry, but its true, and it sucks, but its part of the loveliness of flying.

    HOWEVER, it is also true (in my experience) that some airport security areas will make announcements for flights that are leaving and will allow these passengers to move to the front of the security check line.

    Neither scenario defends the treatment you got from anyone during this ordeal.

  22. Drew says:

    Delta is the worst airline that I have ever flown and I will never fly them again. The combination of unhelpful Delta staff and belligerent TSA agents has pretty much guaranteed that the trip I was forced to take with them (due to business constraints) will be my last. I’ll walk to my destination before I’ll get on a Delta plane again.

    In response to your question about why First Class and Business Class people get special treatment, I think you know the answer – the price of the ticket. People pay two or even sometimes three times the cost of a coach seat for the amenities that it provides, not the least of which is speedy check-in and security checkpoint passes. It’s why the first class passengers get meals on domestic flights and coach passengers just get a bag of pretzels. I’ve flown both business and coach class both domestically and internationally, and I have to say that with the inflated cost of the biz tickets, I’d better get more than a wider seat. It’s just the way of the world and the economy, here…if I pay (considerably) more, I expect to get more. The same thing goes for cars, stereos, televisions, etc., etc., etc. “Quality” (in this case, quality of service) increases as cost increases.

    This doesn’t make it right, as even coach prices are incredibly and outrageously expensive (especially considering the treatment at the hands of the airlines and TSA), but you are basically faced with two choices: either pony up the dough and buy some privilege or pay as little as possible and become one of the herd for the duration. It totally blows, but that’s pretty much the size of it.

  23. nick says:

    A very similar thing happened to me at San Diego International. The Delta clerk told my wife and I that they will give us permission to skip the security line because of a 90 minute back up at the Delta counter but a security officer who sounds exACTly like Jackie hollered at us and sent us to the back even though there were empty machines and bored looking agents waiting for 1st class customers in the 1st class security lines (which I have never seen before – ever). Another security officer told us (almost under his breath as if he’d get in trouble for helping people) that we could go to another security area with no line about 200 yards away – we did, there was no one there, and we made our flight with a few minutes to spare.

  24. Brian says:

    “TSA does not support “class” lines for screening.”

    Oh yeah? Well, the TSA may well not, but every bloody airport I’ve been in recently has the stupid things. The hoi-polloi get treated like cattle, but the upper crust (and those with good corporate expense accounts) breeze right through. Even when the line for the cheap seats is a mile long.

    It’s stupid, and should be done away with. I have no doubt that each airline does it of their own accord, but they shouldn’t be allowed.

  25. MB says:

    There’s always a John on threads like this, isn’t there? I’m not sure where his apparent sad little need to be on the side of authority comes from. He certainly doesn’t travel much (and I’m willing to bet that Wayne’s got pretty decent experience traveling and estimating what a reasonable amount of cushion time needs to be built into air travel).

  26. Aaron says:

    That’s messed up man….

    I do kind of agree with the previous commenter about arriving early; That really is your responsibility as a passenger.

    But even so, the TSA is pretty damn ridiculous, and the extra “security” is a joke. What’s even more ridiculous is their inability to fix the mistake. At least the customer service person did — but then again, they’re trained to do that.

  27. Ryan P says:

    Dang, it sounds like some bad employees put you through some hell, for sure. You’re totally justified to feel righteous about being falsely accused of threatening anyone’s life.

    That said, I’ve got to agree with John…it seems you missed your flight because you didn’t arrive early enough to catch it. One obvious sign was that the woman in front of you in the security line was waiting for a flight that departed an hour later than yours. It’s not Delta’s fault for not expediting latecomers through security.

    I live in San Diego and have flown out via Delta several times, and at least once they have helped get me and other passengers checked in quicker, though they didn’t let us skip the security line. Once, due to unique circumstances beyond my control, I actually arrived at the airport only 20 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart, with the all-too-common 30 minute wait security line. This happened to be the only time I’ve ever been let through the first-class security line, but I also got (randomly?) flagged for a security screening, which took another 10 minutes. I didn’t get to the gate until 5 minutes after my flight was supposed to have left, but I still somehow made it.

    /shrug, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Really sucks to hear about all the 9/11-esque paranoia and citizen-bashing, though.

  28. This is why I drive instead of flying — I can smoke, drink whatever I want, stop, pee on the side of the road, hoard potato chips, and crank up the tunes. Of course, you can’t drive to South Africa. Yet.

  29. toni says:

    Delta overbooked our flight from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro this August. I was with a tour group of 8 people, but they decided it would be best to kick four of us off the plane and let the other four fly on to Rio. On top of that, they had been kicking people off this specific flight (only leaves Atlanta once a day) for the last few days. So, the first flight we could get out would have been 3 or 4 days later! That would have made me miss half my vacation, not to mention the hotels and tours and other arrangements we had already made in Brazil.
    The gate agents were totally rude, but thankfully we got a ticketing agent that got 2 of us on a connection via Sao Paulo the next day, with the other 2 going via Buenos Aires. Not only did our group get split up again, but we had some crazy connection through other countries even. My compensation – $400 and some breakfast vouchers. I love how they treat us so well.
    BTW my luggage stayed in Atlanta until I got on my next flight. I don’t know why your luggage would have gone on without you.

  30. bad people says:

    The tyranny of idiots and petty bunglers. The security people are drunk with their power.

  31. SethR says:

    Couldn’t find an email to send you this privately, but…
    have you read
    Schneier interviews the TSA chief who basically says most of it is pointless, but if they didn’t do it, we would blame them if something DID happen. ANYWAY, my point was, maybe Schneier can get you in touch, or at least point this guy at your story. Who knows, maybe you will get a response.

    Good luck. Made me wanna throttle someone just reading it.

  32. Amy says:

    I think you were treated horribly, but the reason first class passengers have VIP is because they PAY for it. Why should kids get to attend private schools while others go to public schools? MONEY. So get off the discrimination. The airport and TSA are at fault. Has nothing to do with discrimination.

  33. charles says:

    Have you contacted Kate at Stranded Passengers? She started out with another horrible experience, more with airline schedules, but has begun the drive to change air travel in general

    Accusal, etc

    her website is a collection of links, that is a bit off-putting, but email to her. she is actually putting together congressional testimony now.

    Good luck.

    (btw, taking a trip from CA to TX to visit my friends and family in October. I am driving, just to avoid TSA. I only fly on business when forced)

  34. All the agencies and standing lines are more Soviet like than anything. Actually I don’t know any cases where this heightened security actually have made any difference. Have a terrorist been caught with the bomb in his hand luggage? The terrorist that has been caught have all been found through good old intelligence and police work. I could only say that this only creates false security and angry passengers.

  35. Stack says:

    Between John and Peter Browne’s comments you’ve got the info you need. Delta and other airlines pay for the additional security and passes the management of those services to TSA approved vendors. So if you fly a different airline that leaves from a different terminal then you would have had a different experience. Presumably.

    This brings me to rule #1 of international flying. Never ever ever fly an American owned airline internationally. I’m in the air at least once a month, most often internationally. The headaches stopped when I flew anything but an American airline. The international airlines have newer fleets, better service, better food (read: they have food) and tend to be more accommodating. Look up the airline you curious about on (notice, no American owned airlines have 5 stars).

    Lastly, John’s right, be on time. San Diego’s not a big airport but you should still be there 2hr early, smaller airports are often slower than major hubs anyway.

    good luck … and next time, fly South African Airlines.

  36. Dennis says:

    Why are you all complaining about first class passengers being treated differently? What’s up with this commy approach? Why don’t you ask that economy passengers get more security checkpoints, not that first class will get less. If someone paid $2000 vs your $200 he damn well deserves a special treatment and not waiting in line.

  37. Wayne Slavin says:

    @John and others, first of all I am a very diligent traveller. Before every flight I check the TSA Wait Times website ( ) for 6:30 AM it showed 21 minutes as a maximum, not just the average wait time at San Diego. In addition, the Delta desk in San Diego only opens at 5:00 AM, so arriving the recommended 3 hours in advance would have done me no good at all.

    I don’t know if you have visited many international airports in your time, but I have. In almost all, I have seen people from the airlines combing the security lines for passengers on flights about to leave. Even in the larger airports around the world they will request for passengers on such and such flight to come forward if there are abnormally long security lines.

    Given the situation, yes I could have done things differently and arrived earlier, but based on all of the data I had and my past experiences with travel it was not necessary and might not have helped anyways – from what I understand the people in the line ahead of me were there much earlier. On the other hand Delta/TSA/GAT could have done many more things differently and it would have made no difference to their day/life other than gaining the satisfaction from having helped a passenger make their flight that was obviously so important for them to make.

  38. Javier says:

    As an foreigner that has to travel to the US with certain frequency, one of the things that really amaze me if how being the US such a “customer centric culture” (my experience regarding customer service in the US is very good, specially compared with countries such as mine), you can tolerate the kind of service you receive when you travel by air. It is of no surprise then, why the big US airlines are in such financial problems. My bet is that this mess is not because of market conditions but because of the crappy service they give. Just my two cents.

  39. keith hutchison says:

    I find the actions of the GAT TSA and airport security to be appalling, hopefully they will be held accountable for that.
    I have to agree with John if you had arrived the standard two hours before your flight this would have never happened.

  40. greg says:

    Hey, that sounded like a whip!

    Go search the consumerist blog on how to deal with airlines. They usually have a list of email addresses/phone numbers you can use to try and get satisfaction.

    There is also supposedly some trick where you refuse to show your ID at the beginning of the line. Its legal to do so but they throw you into the full security check, which is faster than waiting in the original line. Will need balls of steel to pull it off though im sure.

  41. Paul says:



  42. Jason says:

    As someone who has traveled constantly for the last eight years, I can definitely feel your pain. As far as refunds go, the best recourse you have is most likely your credit card company. Most CC companies have policies in place for charges and refunds on items paid with their CC.

    Most of my road warrior friends refer to Delta as “Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport”. I can’t say that most of the other major carriers are doing all that well as far as customer service goes either these days. When selecting an airline for travel always look for their on time departure percentages. If it’s below 70% and there is a connection involved then you have a chance that you will not make that connection. I know that price plays a part in airline choice, but your time is valuable too. is also a great resource for choosing airlines that don’t jam your knees into the seat in front of you.

  43. Doug says:

    I know you don’t need more bad news, but there’s a good chance that you paid at least $35 more than you needed to by purchasing your ticket from They charge a hefty “service” fee that’s more than most other online agencies, and bury it by lumping it in with the other legit taxes.

  44. brian says:

    Actually, First/Business class passengers pay substantially more in taxes on their tickets. The TSA fee is the same, but the federal taxes levied on regularly priced First/Business tickets cost about as much as a discount coach ticket.

    I’ve never flown Delta, but I do know from my time flying with United that it is the airline’s responsibility to manage the lines, and if there is an empty first/business line and a full coach line, then it’s Delta’s responsibility to determine who is allowed into the premium line. United’s security firm at SFO and JFK often takes people from the coach line and sends them into the premium line in times like yours where the premium line is dead and the coach line is full.

    Also, if your Delta check-in agent had the authority to upgrade you, she could have printed you a pass to use the first class line. I would think that the GAT security people are paid by Delta, and your initial complaint about that wretched woman Jackie could/should have been handled by Delta’s station manager.

  45. Duane says:

    This is the kind of thing that has convinced me not to fly… ever. I too live in San Diego and recently made the decision to DRIVE to Dallas (a 24 hour drive each direction) for business because I simply refused to submit myself to the likes of ‘jackie’.

    It is high time that our servants rediscover who they are working for.

  46. Tatanka says:

    Don’t fly.


  47. steve says:

    The title of this piece should be “Learning to account for my own actions instead of blaming others for my failings.”

    Plan ahead and show up earlier. I don’t get it — they even tell people to show up 2 hours prior to departure at EVERY airport I go to.

    Those of us who fly every week are given a quicker line as a courtesy for our patronage. I see people in the position of this author nearly every time I use the express lines and I am not moved at all. You failed to heed the suggestions.

  48. Steve says:

    I’m sorry your trip was ruined – but as a Platinum Elite Continental Frequent Flyer for many years, all I can think of when I read your story was:

    “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part…”

    You should have arrived at the airport earlier than what you did. That would have prevented this whole incident.

    Two hours early for domestic, three hours for international. Follow those rules and a lot of trouble goes away. Not all of it, but a lot of it.



  49. Bucky says:

    Since 9/11 I’ve always arrived three hours early for international flights and have still nearly missed two flights out of San Diego. I now always arrive two hours early for domestic flights and have actually missed a flight because of check-in/security stupidity. If making your flight is important to you then you need to get your ass out of bed earlier. It is faster to take the Coaster to LA than to fly there from San Diego.

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