L. Neil Smith's
Number 261, February 29, 2004

Leaping Lizards!

Banned From Flying
by Frank Ney

Special to TLE

Folks who are so inclined may wish to see if they can still get airline tickets. In checking my options this weekend for a convention next month, I've discovered some fed has put me on the CAAPS bad-boy list. Since they won't tell me when I was added I have no idea exactly which event precipitated this retaliation.

I was expecting something like this to happen sooner or later, but I wish it had been later rather than sooner. Not to mention that it is now only a matter of time before such things are required for rail or bus travel.

FYI, assume all internet travel sites are plugged into CAAPS. This one certainly was.

Q: Are you banned from flying, or are you "just" subject to increased frisking, scrutiny, and so on?

A: Flat-out banned. I found this out by actually buying a ticket, or at least trying to. Called customer service after getting a "please call us at this number" window. Apparently the internet sites (or at least this one) can verify status before completing the transaction. It makes sense from a certain twisted POV, why sell a ticket to someone who's not allowed aboard?

Q: What is the procedure for you to appeal?

A: There is none that I'm aware of. Tomorrow morning you bet I'll be calling my congresscritter, but all the news articles concerning this type of crap indicate that there is no mechanism for removal or appeal. That's why there are lawsuits in progress.

Q: How do you KNOW it was CAPPS-II that got you? Evidence?

A: CAPPS-II has yet to be implemented. It's the old CAPPS "No-Fly" list that has snagged other political dissidents before. Not that -II will be any better...

I'm still in a bit of shock over the rude awakening I got this past weekend. I had just taken a new computer consulting contract up in Albany, NY. It's long-term, measured in years, which in the current job climate is nothing short of miraculous. The catch being that I'm that much further away from fiance, farm, friends and fandom. President's day weekend I had to drive back to DC to help run emergency services at an anime convention, and next month I was looking at a ten hour one-way drive to western "By God" Virginia to do likewise at a small SF/Gaming/Anime get-together run by the clubs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute that I had been helping out since before Neil and Cathy [Smith] turned me to the dark side B-)=.

Now folks here have heard me swear that it would be a cold day in hell before I ever set foot on a commercial aircraft again, and under normal circumstances that would not change. Unfortunately, I was looking at the time off and lost money. This contract doesn't have much in the way of benefits, meaning no vacation time or sick leave or personal days and my bank account was a bit low. If I don't work, I don't get paid for that time. And this web site had a wonderful $204 fare that would let me work Friday and Monday. I was weak. I bought it.

Or so I thought. I was asked to contact customer service as there was a problem with my ticket purchase. Not an unusual call, as sometimes my Visa Check Card causes conniption fits with certain merchants. Less often than it used to, but still happens. So I call. And promptly fall down the rabbit hole. I spent a good half hour on the phone with a very apologetic young lady who has the patience of a saint, because when I found out what was happening I was ready to chew nails through the phone wire. I still don't know (yet) what the deal is — but my formerly good name is enough to flag me as a threat to air safety and I can no longer purchase tickets to fly in the United States.

The reason why I am not happy about taking this job is the simple fact that this job should not exist. We should not be having to worry about finding ourselves on some government list that denies us the freedom to travel as we please. TSA and Homeland Security should not exist — not as they are now, not in some more efficient, "kinder and gentler" form either. We should not have to live in fear of official "under the table" retaliation for exercising our constitutional rights, if this is in fact what happened and I'm reasonably sure it is. This is the United States of America, not 1970's Eastern Europe thank-you-very-much.

But if wishes were horses we'd all be hip-deep in horse crap. The real thing, not the stuff coming from Capitol Hill. Which is basically what I got when I talked to my congresscritter's staffer on Monday. So yeah, it's a job that needs doing. One that, quite frankly, I look upon as I look upon a horse stall that needs mucking out. But one that, like that stall, deserves my very best effort. —

Frank is now our new Editor Reporting on the Travel Gestapo. He will be giving us regular updates.


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