2009-03-25

Huge Props to the TSA

You read that right. A few weeks ago I had an awesome experience with SFO's TSA (specifically, Covenant Aviation Security), and I'd like to share it with you.

In addition to my own distractibility (which is clearly at fault here), I blame Daylight Savings Time. For some reason we were flying out at 7am (just a few short, sleepy hours after DST kicked in), so I was already off-kilter. Going through the security screening, I unconsciously took off my shoes and belt, tossed my bags in the queue, and put my Air in a plastic bin. Showed my boarding pass and ID to the screening guy, waited for my gear to appear, re-robed, and headed off to the gate.

You can see where this is going, right? Still half-asleep and not really knowing what time it was (or was supposed to be), looking forward to going back to sleep on the plane, I didn't realize until somewhere over Minnesota that my Air was no longer with me. I'd left it sitting in that plastic bin back at SFO. Absentmindedly, I'd channeled Steven Levy. Apple's partially to blame here too—the Air is so damned light I didn't even realize it wasn't in my bag.

Virgin America's sympathetic flight attendants advised me to check in with their ground staff as soon we landed, who could get in touch with their SFO counterparts, who could contact the TSA. (Alas, they wouldn't check for me mid-flight). I wrote down all the details I could remember—what time we went through security, the color and texture of my Air's sleeve, that it had an iPhone sync cable in its pocket, etc.—and tried to put the whole thing out of my mind for the remainder of the flight.

But I couldn't stop thinking through worst-case scenarios. I reckoned it was already loose in the black market, what with this terrible economy and all. I didn't have FileVault enabled, nor an open firmware password set up—just OS X's "require password when waking from sleep or screen saver," and disabled auto-login. My 1Password pass was different than my login and system passes, so theoretically those should be safe. But given physical access to a machine, anything's possible, data access-wise. Oy! But it's an Air, which has no cd drive, so admin access to the machine would be a bit challenging.

Finally we landed at JFK, and I eventually found a kind and persistent Virgin America baggage services employee named Zarmina who helped me out. After a few telephone back-and-forths with some too-busy-to-help-us SFO/Virgin people, it became clear that I'd need to sort it out myself. Zarmina told me on the phone that evening that their SFO supervisor checked with the TSA, and they didn't have it.

Sigh.

Off to the Apple Store to plunk down for a new laptop. Ouch.

(An aside: my tale broke several Apple employees' hearts, and they very kindly tossed in a free case. A red one this time. Like, less easy to leave sitting in a plastic bin at airports.)

My last hope (to which a very small part of me still clung) was TSA/Covenant's official Lost and Found process, which I initiated via a voicemail on their SFO phone #. They said they'd call back during their normal business hours, which (sadly) never happened. I called several times a day until I got ahold of a real live person.

Her name was Asia, and she is my hero.

I described my laptop to her, and how and when I'd so carelessly left it back at SFO, and she said, "It's sitting right here."

Elation!

I nearly fell over. And she could FedEx it to me by 10am the next morning. Apparently this happens all the time, so they've got well-worn process for tracking and returning things to people. I faxed her the details, and had my laptop back the next morning.

And the Apple Store crew gladly accepted my returning the one I'd just purchased, and were relieved by the tale's conclusion.

--

The TSA takes a lot of heat while doing a difficult job, and much of it is justified. But here's one example of a great experience with them, where their organization and process worked exactly as it was supposed to.

What have I learned?
  • label my gear with my contact info, just. in. case.
  • customize it to distinguish it: when I got home I decorated it with stickers from Blogger, Fire Eagle and DollarApp
  • research Mac OS X security more deeply (which I've done, and will write more about soon)
  • and double-check bins when leaving a TSA booth. Duh.

8 comments:

  1. You also need a Notifixious sticker! And I am looking forward to the security post ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. You can totally get root access on an OS X machine if you're sitting in front of it. Just hold down Cmd-s (for single-user mode) during boot-up.

    http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1492

    The reason I know this is I have to change passwords on forgotten intel Macs once in a while.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Are you sure that wasn't the one I lost?

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a story, the time on the plane must've been horrid. Happy to hear you got your gear back.

    And Asia is a superstar!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Ann

    http://externallaptop.net

    ReplyDelete
  6. How exactly is Asia a superstar? Isn't she just doing her job, which by this account, seems to be a rarity at TSA? No calls returned, dodging "several calls a day," etc. And sure, once he got ahold of her, she sent the thing. What else is she supposed to do if she works in the lost & found? Are we that used to incompetence that we heap praise on a lost&found employee that simply does his/her job?

    ReplyDelete
  7. My mom was not so fortunate. She left her Air with RED leather sleeve in the seatback, left the plane, onto the next gate, realized it was missing, ran back to the plane, gone. Youre lucky!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Telo: I believe it's heroic for people to do their jobs well. She could have made any number of poor choices to do her job less efficiently, less proactively, or even less morally. Any person anywhere can make poor choices. And poor choices are small moral compromises that inevitably lead to much worse things.

    Your comment reminds me that my praise should be more broad—everyone involved with getting my laptop from that plastic bin to the Lost & Found dept (and beyond) deserves the props.

    Thanks for commenting,
    -E

    ReplyDelete