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Anchorage airport evacuation proof that TSA wants robotic travelers?

Craig Medred
Members of the media watch a TSA security demonstration at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Media on Friday, December 9. The airport recently received new security scanners.
Stephen Nowers photo
TSA employees, both in uniform and plain clothed, demonstrate the agency's new security machines at the Anchorage airport on Friday, December 9.
Stephen Nowers photo
The Transportation Safety Administration conducted a demonstration for their newly installed body scanning machines at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Friday, December 9.
Stephen Nowers photo
When the machine detects something on a passenger, an anomaly, it shows the location as a yellow box.
Stephen Nowers photo
A TSA body scanner displays an anomaly detected during a demonstration for the Alaska media at the Anchorage airport on Friday, December 9.
Stephen Nowers photo
Alaskans' Freedom to Travel USA served anti-TSA cookies at the Ted Stevens International Airport on Friday, December 9.
Stephen Nowers photo
Anchorage airport manager John Parrott speaks to members of the media during a press conference introducing the airport's new security scanners.
Stephen Nowers photo

OPINION: Something is badly wrong here. A Colorado hockey ref on his way home goes through the Anchorage airport, does what the Transportation Security Administration is advocating we should all do all the time, and the next thing you know, he's in cuffs and the airport is evacuated and locked down for hours.

And what exactly is it that Peter Friesema of Highlands Ranch did?

He alerted airport security that he could not account for what was in the luggage identified as his. Isn't that exactly what TSA wants us all to do? What are those questions everyone is expected to answer first thing at the airport?

  • Has your luggage been in your possession at all times?
  • Has anyone given you anything or asked you to carry on or check any items for them?

Those questions become a problem when the luggage with your name on it is not yours, which is what happened to Friesema. Everyone appears in agreement that on his way south from Anchorage Saturday night after reffing a game in Anchorage, Friesema checked in at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport with a friend and watched an Alaska Airlines ticket agent put a sticker for his baggage on his friend's luggage.

There the stories diverge only slightly. Frisema told authorities he joked, "What if my friend's bag has a bomb in it?" The ticket agent contends he said "but my friend's bag has a bomb in it."

Either way, all Friesema really did was alert the ticket agent to the fact he couldn't account for what was in the bag identified as his.

Of course, Friesema should have known better than to use the B-word in an American airport. Even if you're sitting the bar, and Peyton Manning throws a long touchdown pass for the Denver Broncos, you shouldn't use the B-word. Saying "bomb" in an airport, everyone should know, is worse than dropping the F-word in church. Much, much, much worse.

Friesema should have known better. And the same for making a joke.

Nobody even remotely involved with airport security has a sense of humor. The whole security system is a bit of sham, but the folks employed by it are deadly serious about their jobs. They are going to catch a terrorist, and we all know terrorists -- especially Middle East terrorists -- are famous for their comedy. Making a joke is a dead giveaway for them for sure.

So Friesema, who some have speculated was trying to flirt with the ticket agent, should not have tried to make a joke. Neither should he have tried to flirt. That is another thing one should not do in the airport. One should go through an American airport like a robot constantly aware that anything even slightly out of the robotic ordinary could set off someone's alarm.

This Friesema did not do, but still he did do the most important thing everyone is expected to do at the airport:

He alerted the ticket agent the bag identified as his was, in fact, not his, and thus he could not account for what was in it. At that point, how hard is it to pull that bag and the bag of Friesema's traveling companion off the conveyor belt and sort out what's what?

No doubt, there's some bureaucrat out there willing to tell us all the answer to that question is “It's damn hard." This is, after all, by definition a "federal case."

All of which is why the airport was evacuated for hours, people were sent out into the cold, and Friesema ended up in court in a yellow jumpsuit with his hands cuffed, listening to a federal magistrate call him a flight risk (Hey, buddy you were planning to get on an airplane, weren't you?) and ordering him to stay in Anchorage until all of this mess gets sorted out.

"I know that the airport was shut down for this," said Magistrate Catherine Rogers. "It was a huge expense to the state of Alaska and the people that were here."

And it was all your fault, Peter Friesema, because you had to go and make some dumb-ass joke about how Alaska Airlines should follow the rules on baggage security that are designed to make air travel safe for all of us.

The airport manager later chastised the ref for using humor in his effort to do this.

"He did something that in this day and age a teenager would know better than to do," airport manager John Parrott told The Associated Press.

OK, so Friesema shouldn't have made a joke about the fact the luggage identified as his wasn't his. What was he supposed to do, simply accept the ticket agent's assurances that all the bags end up at the same place anyway, or scream, "Stop the conveyor belt! Stop the conveyor belt! We have a security breach! The bag identified as my bag is not my bag!"

If, as TSA tells us, airport security is everyone's responsibility -- and it should be -- what is one supposed to do in this situation? The whole point of those questions about baggage are intended to make people account for what is in their luggage, aren't they?

Or are those questions just kind of a sham, too, to make us all feel safer, which is what a lot of what the security system is about. We go to the airport everyday, and we punch the buttons to answer the questions on a computer screen because the government asks us to do so, and we never think twice about it or ponder why we're spending time answering questions any terrorist would have the sense to answer correctly to get past.

But lo and behold if someone actually informs a ticket agent that there is some luggage going down the conveyor belt for which he cannot account. Oh well, don't worry, all the luggage goes to the same place, and if you don't know what's in it, so what?

Just do not joke about this. Do not! Because if you do, you will go to jail; you will end up in handcuffs and a yellow jumpsuit; you will be charged with disorderly conduct; you will be stuck in Anchorage, Alaska; you will be facing a fine or worse; and you will be on the verge of being branded a criminal.

The author's views are his own and not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com