Now will you stop trying to convince me and the rest of the world that all those color-coded airport levels and arbitrary screener checks do one iota of good? While your employees and other airport staff were busy ensuring that evil-minded passengers weren’t trying to sneak aboard sunscreen tubes above the allowable size and sketchy toddlers aren’t hiding life-threatening contraband in their stuffed animals, serial airplane stowaway Marilyn Hartman ended up at a Phoenix airport.
Eagle-eyed workers spotted the inadvertent celebrity milling about the baggage claim area and took her into custody. What is this arrest now? The sixth time? The seventh?
Since the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security and all those all-important agencies responsible for turning flight into a near-miserable chore all seem to think their rules and regulations are infallible, the fact Hartman is once again in custody must be unthinkable.
After all, she knows better. She was warned to stay away from San Francisco International Airport three or four times after each arrest for breaching security and once in fact boarding a plane. Then she snuck onto a Southwest Airlines flight in San Jose and popped up at Los Angeles International Airport where she was arrested. Another conviction. Another warning to stay away. She even gave a tear-inducing interview about being an American and having no plans to misbehave again — at least she left the original “I have cancer and just wanted to hit up Hawaii” excuse alone. Less than 24 hours later, back to LAX. Arrest, conviction, stay-away order from a judge. Notice a pattern? This woman is nothing if not consistent.
Now she’s in Arizona — first cited for trespassing and days later arrested after coming back — although it’s a little sketchy on just how she got there. Common sense says she flew but I’m sure you and the airport brass are busy investigating and taking these repeated performances very seriously. At least that’s what you always say.
The thing is, I’m not peeved at Hartman. Jealous? Sure. My pocketbook would love to fly free and my inner secret spy fantasies would like to think I’m sly enough to outwit the guardians at the gate. I don’t buy Hartman’s claims of serious mental illness any more than I believe the cancer story. I think she’s a lady who obviously has some issues but has enjoyed her taste of notoriety and wants some more.
She does not deserve sympathy, pity, a crowdsourcing campaign or a pass on responsibility just because she appears in her series of eerily similar mug shots to both be a harmless little old lady and the owner of a single blue top. Perhaps a stint in the infamous Maricopa County correctional system will knock more sense into her than her brief stay in San Mateo County’s Pathways mental health court from which she hightailed it nearly immediately.
No, TSA, instead of Hartman, I’m annoyed with you. If you can’t keep one person developing a personal Where’s Waldo? game from mocking your security plan, how can any of us trust that you’ll catch the real dangers that we’re repeatedly warned await passengers on any given flight?
The Hartman situation raises questions that still haven’t been answered. If instead of a pleasant-looking white lady, she were a man of a particularly darker complexion and perhaps wearing culturally different attire, would Hartman so easily piggyback through screening next to families? And, while passengers past security no longer need to flash identification to board a plane, they do need to hand over a pass which an airline employee scans. How is Hartman getting a valid boarding pass? Or, is the truth that the scanning of passes is a farce meant to look like some sort of official process but in fact doing nothing? If that’s the case, just stop the charade altogether and save the paper.
The sad truth is due to the low-level nature of Hartman’s crimes and her lack of desire to get any help, she will likely continue her cycle again and again. She’s not going to change. But TSA, you must. Either figure out a way to keep Hartman from exploiting system weaknesses and human folly or stop expecting the rest of us to politely obey.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.