As I write this, I am sitting in O'Hare airport, at my gate. I almost didn't make it through security, because the TSA ID checker insisted that the driver's license I presented belonged to a woman. I am a male. The picture was taken a few years ago - longer hair, no facial hair, and the best part: I have a "girl's name". I always expect some confusion whenever I present my ID, but usually a quick "this picture is a few years old, I got a haircut since" clears up any confusion. But not with this hard-working TSA agent.
The transaction went something like this:
TSA: "Hello young man! How are you?"
Me: "Hi, I'm doing well. How are you today?"
I have my ID and boarding pass ready, and hand them over.
TSA: "I'm.... good. Looks at photo, then back at me. Who is this? This isn't you."
Me: "Yeah, it's me. I got a haircut."
TSA: "Named Loren... that hair.. this is a woman's ID."
Me: "Haha, no. I get that often. It's me. I just got a haircut, and I'm a bit scruffy today."
I'm smiling at this point. It's humorous. The lady behind me giggles as well.
TSA: "No, I'm pretty sure this is not you."
Me: "Would it help to see other ID?"
I promptly take out every card in my wallet: college photo ID (also longer hair), credit card, debit card, insurance card.
TSA: "None of these have your photo. I need a photo ID."
Me: "What? This one has my photo. And my name."
I point to college ID on her counter.
TSA: "Hmmmmmm... looks a lot like a woman in the photo."
The lady behind me is cracking up at this point. Loudly.
Me: "Well, my driver's license even says 'Male' on it."
TSA looks at my license for a few moments. She looks confused, and is unable to find this info. I lean over to help her out.
Me: "See, it's right there. Male."
Me: "Loren David Burton. Male, brown hair, brown eyes, 6'3.. that's me."
Agent pauses. Much hesitation.
TSA: "Well, I guess so."
This scares me. These people are supposed to be protecting US airspace, and somewhat indirectly, the whole country. Don't get me wrong - I'm not upset that the TSA agent was confused intially. Like I said, it happens often. In fact, I would be concerned if they didn't at least question my ID for a second.
This must happen all the time: photo doesn't look like the person. So, certainly there must be some sort of protocol in place for handling this? Ask for a second form of ID? Confirm with the listed physical features? Ask identifying information - birthday, address, middle name. The agent did none of this. She took no initiative. I took the initiative and politely offered whatever information would help, and she still made it difficult (and insulted me in the process).
I'm typically assertive and handle encounters like this pretty well, keeping a level head. But what would happen if it were my sister instead, who does't do so well in situations like this? Or my 82-year-old grandmother? Would they be able to make it through security?
The incompetency, not to mention complete lack of professionalism, is what scares me.
Do better, TSA.