Cool, Calm And In Control At The Airport Security Line

by admin on May 24, 2012

I wanted to write this anecdote as a thank-you to Etiquette Hell, for helping me to deal with a situation I encountered last week while traveling home to visit family. Through reading the forums and suggestions, I have learned that sometimes silence is the best response to an awkward situation, particularly when that situation has made one angry enough to say or do something stupid. On to the story!

This happened in the security screening line in a small airport in the United States, in the not too early morning. It had not been a particularly long wait, and there had been no issues up to this point. I had reached the table where one starts to fill bins with one’s laptop, belt and shoes, etc., and had two bins for all my items. The woman in front of me had one bin and a carry-on. As we advanced, everyone slid his or her bins/bags along. When the woman behind me in line pushed her things, it moved mine ahead and bumped them into the bin in front of mine. The lady in front of me turned and hissed, “Don’t push!” and gave me a terrible look. She seemed incredibly agitated, furious almost, so I quelled my natural instinct to respond, even if just to say, “It wasn’t me.” I stayed silent and ignored her, thinking also that if an argument or altercation ensued, we’d probably get kicked out of line or worse.

I made sure to stay very clear of her things as we moved up to the screening equipment, and continued normally through the scanner and to where our things were coming out at the other end. I took my things and moved away from the security area, repacking my computer bag, and putting my belt and shoes back on. As I passed the woman who had given me grief, I caught her eye and quietly said, “Just for the record, it was the woman behind me.” She gave me a bit of a look and then replied, “I didn’t know that. It’s been a really bad day.” I responded that I was sorry to hear that and walked off toward my gate. She didn’t apologize, exactly, but seemed sorry. I saw her later at the same gate.

Keeping silent until we were through security seemed to be the best way for me to deal with the situation, since I avoided what could have been an ugly scene but still said my piece, politely I hope. At the time, I didn’t know she was going to be on the same flight, but in any case keeping it civil would have to be better than starting a fight about it. Imagine if we had turned out to be seatmates! I don’t know what had made her so agitated, and she obviously thought I was being rude by pushing her things with mine. Since I wasn’t, that made me angry, and I could easily have answered her back rudely either then or afterwards, especially after she excused her behavior by saying she was having a bad day. For all I know she was traveling for a funeral or something equally tragic. I hope the next time I make a snap judgment and say something to a stranger, he or she can give me a break as well.

Thanks for giving this a read–I know it’s not as exciting as some stories, but I’m curious to see what comments people may have, or if they have ever experienced any problems in the security line. 0523-12

Kudos to you!  Isn’t it amazing how etiquette empowers you to have control over a situation?

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan May 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

I always get stressed out whenever I go through airport security because I cannot stand the knuckleheads (nicest word I could probably get away with in the comments here) that work at the TSA. It’s admittedly rare – I don’t fly that often, but going through that process causes me to be on edge. You handled it properly, I think. The woman was not mad at you, but was looking for a way to express her anger. Instigating her would have caused problems.

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Carol May 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

Well done! You have set a very good example, and handled a stressful situation in a very good way. I remember reading something the Dali Lama wrote where he said something quite like you did, regarding compassion. He said that someone might be reacting badly to something because they are having a terrible time, or are sad, etc, and if we take a moment to consider this, and keep a compassionate heart, one can avoid nasty situations. You did that, AND you also managed to let the woman know you weren’t being rude (which I think is great because getting accused of things unfairly can really linger in one’s mind!) and you kept someone’s bad day from getting worse.

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Coralreef May 24, 2012 at 8:20 am

OP, you behaved with both self-restraint and empathy. I’m not in the US, so our airport security is not the same, but we still have to remove everything but our clothes. A lot of people get stressed out (traveling, fear of flying, tiredness, anxiety over time constraint, etc…) in those lines. The woman who hissed at you may have been close to her breaking point. It doesn’t give her an excuse for hissing, however you handled the situation very well.

I found the best way to prevent any problems when it comes to airport security is to simply smile, nod, obey and shut up unless asked a direct question.

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josie May 24, 2012 at 8:46 am

We have no way of knowing what other people are going thru, so your answer was perfectly fine.

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MoniCAN May 24, 2012 at 9:35 am

Good for you, OP, for not snapping anything back when blamed for pushing the woman’s things. I must admit my biggest weakness is failing to act with grace when I or someone I love are wrongly accused. Often I throw such a fit I make myself look even worse than if I had just taken the blame and not said anything.

Airports are a place everyone should take to heart the quote Carol mentioned in post 2. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been bumped from flights or force to miss them through no fault of my own and missed out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of time thanks to greedy airlines. It makes one’s fuse a just a little bit short. Having that happen when other stresses are occurring (traveling to a funeral!) can make anyone go a little mad.

I remember a couple once cut at the front of line I was in twice (at check in and security) and then practically ran over me, all the time shouting back and forth to each other something about not wanting to miss their flight due to delays in connecting flights. The funny thing is, I was on the same connecting flight they were, and was also on the same next flight they were trying to get to. They just weren’t handling it as well as I was that day. Imagine if we all let the stress win all the time and there was no one behaving calmly like the OP did to balance us out. We’d all get kicked out of the airport!

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Stacey Frith-Smith May 24, 2012 at 10:10 am

I do think the woman took a risk in hissing her frustration to you. I can see that having one’s personal space invaded makes it difficult to show restraint but her excessive frustration might have marked her out as someone worthy of being pulled aside for a more thorough chat and examination. It’s not necessary to be loud in order to be unpleasant enough for others to notice. As for bins bumping along the line, she could simply have turned the profile of her bin to its shorter side if she wished to retain physical custody of it until it get to the mouth of the scanner. . In reality most of these bins go through a bit ahead of (or a bit behind) their owner- the sad repercussions of having to scan people and property for all travelers (and the reality that people and machines aren’t perfectly synchronized). Good for you, OP, for ignoring her provocation. Too bad she didn’t have the grace to be truly contrite and offer an apology with heart.

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Just Laura May 24, 2012 at 10:12 am

We never know what is going on for others (sad diagnosis, recent divorce, death of loved one), and if everyone behaved as you did, OP, the world would be a little better off.

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Lisa May 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

In defense of the TSA, on the day I found out my Dad had taken his own life, I found myself in front of a TSA agent who was telling me that me that in my haste to pack my bag, I did not pack my carry on liquids correctly and attempts from both of us to get them to fit in that quart size bag were failing miserably. At this point I lost it and just stood there crying in front of everyone, managed to let her know briefly why I had not taken more care to pack my bag properly, and told her to just do what she needed to do. She understood, and let me pass through. I was so thankful for her compassion on that day.

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Cat May 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

You did very well. Having a bad day is no excuse to be rude to anyone. We all have rough patches from the alarm not going off and making us late to having lost a loved one and the world seems to have ended for us. Perhaps those are the times when we have to make the most effort to be kind and thoughtful.

It works both ways. I recall hearing of a lady who had lost her only son at an early age. She was in the grocery store and happened upon his favorite cereal. She was thinking of him as a little boy and his joy in having that cereal for his breakfast when someone decided to tell her, “Cheer up. Nothing is that bad!” She burst into tears and had to leave the store. None of us know when something may be just that bad. Silence would have helped her a lot more than Pollyanna deciding to put her two cents in.

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Helen May 24, 2012 at 11:25 am

OP, definitely good for you.

Traveling under the best of situations can be stressful.

I’ve had to travel home for funerals (where there has been a sudden loss), when I’ve been sick, when I’ve headed somewhere to take care of a loved one who was sick, and there are countless other reasons why traveling can be awful.

The people who have been patient and understanding with me when I’m at my worst, like the OP, have helped me to be patient and understanding with others when they’re at their worst.

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Michelle P May 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

Kudos to the OP. I once restrained myself from being rude to a woman in a fast food restaurant who cut in line. Less than an hour later, I met her as my potential boss who was interviewing me for a job. She recognized me and was very embarassed; she apologized and said she had to get back to work and was flustered when she got in line. She ended up being a good boss and I loved the job!

Being polite pays off!

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Shalamar May 24, 2012 at 11:34 am

This seems as good a time as any to apologize to anyone travelling through Toronto Pearson airport a few months ago. I was a horrible person and snapped at everybody. Why? Because my daughter had terrible food poisoning and was vomiting in every receptacle she could find, and I was (a) very worried about her and (b) frantic that we were going to miss our flight. I’m usually a much nicer person than that. I know that this doesn’t excuse my behaviour, of course. From now on, though, if someone acts like a jackass to me in the airport, I’ll tell myself “Maybe their kid has food poisoning”!

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kelly May 24, 2012 at 11:47 am

I actually disagree with the OP. Ignoring the woman and then going up to her afterwards and accusing the woman behind her of doing it was not the right attitude. The correct way to behave would have been to say “sorry, someone in the queue behind me pushed my stuff forward”.

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Calli Arcale May 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

You handled it beautifully, OP. I’ve been that gal, stressed out to the point of being easily provoked, though thankfully not in airport security. (I make a conscious effort to be as calm and relaxed as possible going through, because it’s the best way to not get delayed. Stay calm, cooperate, and you can get your things back together and have a bit of a rest at the gate without any craziness.) Everybody has a limit, and none of us knows what other people are dealing with, or how close they happen to be to their own limits. I had mine severely tested by interacting with someone whom I thought was friendly but turned out to be a bully. I didn’t handle it well; I used to know how to deal with bullies (don’t give them the satisfaction of your anger), but had blessedly not dealt with one in a long time and was out of practice. The next person I encountered that evening was so kind, so gracious; it took the anger right out of me. So bless you, OP. That woman was obviously having a very bad day, and you just made it better, while at the same time restoring your own dignity by defending yourself against a false accusation. ;-) That you were both later on the same flight . . . if you had not corrected her in that gentle way, there could have been glares and bad vibes throughout the flight, but as it was, your actions allowed everyone to get on with their days. We could all learn from your actions.

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The Elf May 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Ugh. Flying. It always makes me into one big stressball. OP, you showed a lot of restraint and it was the right thing to do. I hope she takes the lesson to heart as well.

Last time we flew (from Mexico to US), we made the mistake of wearing shirts that showed our tattoos. My husband – who had more visible ink and is a particularly muscular man – was pulled out of the regular line to be searched specially. I might be tattooed, but being an average sized woman with glasses probably doesn’t trip the “drug runner” profile quite as effectively. They ran some chemicals that picks up traces of drugs all around his luggage, then unpacked the whole carry-on. Then we were followed to the gate, into the bathroom, and he was searched again prior to boarding. At first it was just him, then I was followed as well when I guess they figured out that we were together. When we got to the US and picked up our checked luggage, I thought it looked different. I think they must have searched that with extra effort too. I think I’ll take the “knuckleheads” at TSA. No matter what I shirt I’ve worn, I’ve never been subjected to extra searching at all, much less repeatedly. Oh, except that sometimes the US customs people open up the bag containing scuba gear. I guess the hoses look suspicious. Still, I got the impression that it was because of what they saw on the X-ray, not because of how we look.

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Addy May 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

@Kelly, I don’t see how what the OP did shows a bad attitude. It wasn’t an accusation of the person who pushed her bag, it was the truth. However, if she’d done it the way you suggested, and the person who actually had pushed her bag heard, it might have come across to HER as an accusation, possibly causing more problems. I think the way the OP handled it kept the situation from becoming worse.

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sweetonsno May 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I’m with Kelly. I think that if you’re going to let something go, you should let it go completely. If you want to say something, you should do so immediately. I don’t think there would have been anything wrong with the OP saying, “It wasn’t me. Someone behind pushed their bin forward and it caused a chain reaction.”

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Clair Seulement May 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Reading this, my first thought was that you’re kind of expected to push those security boxes along, so her complaint wasn’t even all that valid. I don’t think I’d have thought twice about the people behind me pushing the boxes.

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SJ May 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Handled beautifully.
I sympathize with the woman -I would have been annoyed if someone seemed to be pushing me, too!
However, your reaction didn’t villify her (even if she might have deserved it,) and redeemed yourself so she wouldn’t continue thinking you were the rude one.

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Kat May 24, 2012 at 6:25 pm

@Lisa – I’m so sorry.

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babs May 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Can’t agree with kelly or sweetonsno. I think the OP just allowed a few minutes to pass to collect her thoughts. Had she reacted immediately, she may have reacted badly. The lady may think twice about snapping at someone in the future. Until you get through that security line, almost everyone is on edge, whether they show it or not. Flying is not what it used to be. It seems that every time I get on a plane, about 3-4 times a year, the rules change. People fly for a lot of reasons, and many times they are getting on a plane to deal with some type of crisis or hardship. I think the OP did fine. She got her point across, but she was polite at the same time.

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Dominic May 25, 2012 at 6:52 am

Hi, OP here. I was wondering when I submitted this whether anyone would comment with a better way of handling the situation, but it sounds like most think what I did was okay. Kelly’s suggestion that I should have said, “sorry, someone in the queue behind me pushed my stuff forward,” misses two points, in my mind. First, I had nothing to be sorry for—I was wrongly accused. Second, the lady appeared so agitated that I thought any response right then would be a provocation. In retrospect, I thought it similar to “road rage,” where the acts of one driver, sometimes even an innocent mistake, set off another and occasionally tragedy ensues. I don’t mean to overdramatize, but I had mental images of this woman snapping and getting us both kicked out of the airport.

And for my next eHell submission, how do I politely inform people who have mistaken me online for a woman that I am a man? In any case, thank you all for your comments.

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admin May 25, 2012 at 9:39 am

I pegged you for a guy right off. But I do see how people cannot tell what sex the writer is and maybe that doesn’t really matter since the main issue is the behavior.

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Frequent Flyer May 25, 2012 at 9:02 am

The LAST place where you want to blow your cool is in the TSA security line at the airport. People who have the legal power to make your life miserable are watching every move you make. You don’t want to end up in secondary screening.

Just ignore the idiots and get yourself through the checkpoint.

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Michelle P May 25, 2012 at 10:56 am

Dominic, you sound awesome. Sorry I assumed you were a woman too. I just naturally do that since, let’s face it, the majority of people (not all) who read etiquette sites are women.

Admin, how did you peg him for a guy right off?

No criticism on the comment that most people on etiquette sites are women, please please please. Every man I have ever told about this terrific site doesn’t have a clue. Not saying that men are rude.

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Kovitlac May 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I probably would have said, “someone behind me pushed our stuff forward”, rather then saying “the *woman* behind me…”, just in case the woman in question was nearby and heard, or the rude lady was still angry and decided to verbally assault whichever woman might be standing behind you at the time. But that’s just nitpicking – I think you handled the situation very well.

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Another Laura May 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

@Michelle P, maybe what tipped Admin off to Dominic being a guy was when he mentioned putting his belt back on. I haven’t seen many women wearing belts these days (not saying there aren’t any, just that it’s more rare for women than men to be “belted” in my experience), especially if they were going to a place where they know they would likely have to take it off.

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babs May 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Oops. Sorry Dominic! The spelling of your name should have been a bit tip-off!

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Enna May 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

I think the OP handled it very well – @ Cat I do think when people are having a bad day emotions can be raw – at least she didn’t kick off and swear at the OP. The OP is right, that by not having an altercation he avoided being kicked of the plane and any embrassesing situations like meeting the lady afterwards on the plane.

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Mabel May 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Good job! It’s annoying when people snap at you but doing it back rarely makes it better. When I fly I’m always very polite and smiley to the TSA since I figure 1) their job sucks, and 2) I don’t want to get searched LOL.

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Ann May 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Yes — well done! Sir. ;)

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Paul May 30, 2012 at 1:06 am

I agree with Clair. In the airports I’ve been in, we’ve sometimes been told to push the bins to keep moving forward so people behind aren’t waiting to unload their stuff. I would have said nothing during or after unless my fingers had been pinched, because there’s pushing, and then there’s ramming. Unfortunately that happened when a TSA agent was getting frustrated with someone further back. I just said “That was unnecessary.” I got a glare, but they do not have the right to hurt anyone.

I will admit that I am not a patient person. While I would not have spoken unless hurt, I do get frustrated with North American English-speaking people who pass by all the signs telling you what to do and what you can take and not, and yet have to have their luggage ripped apart, huge water bottles taken away, reminded to empty their pockets and put their phones in the bins, and take off jewelry. It’s not new measures. They haven’t changed that much in the last ten years.

My only real problem with attitude toward a TSA was when one told me to take off my suspenders and walk through the scanner with my arms held out to either side. When I held onto my pants, I was ordered to move my hands where he could see them. I told him that it was not possible for me to walk without losing my suspenders, and that my arms held out make me six feet across and the scanner was at most three. He told me to lose weight so I could wear a belt. I told him that my medical history is why I wear suspenders. Another agent told him to take a hike and brought me through with dignity, although the original guy got snippy when I didn’t get my stuff on fast enough.

Sometimes people are having a bad day, and sometimes they are just jerks. You have to pick your battles.

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TootsNYC June 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I find that having made a conscious decision, many years ago, that I am cheerfully willing to apologize even if I have done nothing wrong, helps me heaps in these situations.

I just say, “I’m sorry!” in a friendly voice, and I smile at people. It really helps.

I don’t care if I’m wrongly accused in those sorts of crowd situations. It’s not important to me to be “right” in front of someone I don’t even know. If it is, then I can wait until things have simmered down and then I can say, “Someone behind was pushing the bins.”

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WinkAndSmile June 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Paul – 2 points.

1) Fat people can wear belts, and some thin people prefer suspenders, because if they’re thin enough, a belt doesn’t really work, anyway.

2) An average sized person, capable of wearing a belt, would have had to remove the belt, anyway.

In other words, KUDOS to the other TSA officer for telling the first one to take a hike, and the first one was less than logical. I’m not going to say an idiot, but he was probably too stressed to think clearly. He was, however, certainly rude. Fat-shaming is never proper etiquette.

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Fung June 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

happened to me too once. All I did was calm faced and silently pointing my thumb behind me without really pointing out the culprit and the berater went silent and made sure she’s out of my way asap. :)

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justme June 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm

You are an inspiration for us all! I have a short temper, and a terrible tendency to make a situation worse just by opening my mouth. Even in cases where I’m entitled to be angry, I often reflect on the situation later and realize I that my reaction only exacerbated the problem. More power to you–that takes a lot of inner strength!

@Cat: I loathe it when nosy strangers give “cheer up” advice to people they don’t know, in situations they don’t understand. To me, that says “I don’t care about you, but I don’t like being around sad people, so I want you to put on a happy face, for my benefit.”

Re: Michelle P’s post & admin’s reply: Not sure why, but I pegged you for a guy right off, too. I think it’s your writing style (although I’m a girl, and people often refer to me as “him” in forums, so maybe I write like a guy, too. Or maybe “he” is the default). But I digress.

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