A few years ago, I got global entry clearance and along with it the TSA Pre designation. Since then, security at airports has been a breeze. Returning from an international trip involves walking to a kiosk, scanning my passport and fingerprints, and handing over a receipt to a border security officer. Easy as can be. On the way back from a recent trip to India, I got the "quad" and life as I know came to a grinding halt. Quad is four “S”s on a boarding pass. Short for "Secondary Security Screening Selection".
The quad was on the bottom right of my boarding pass from Frankfurt to Dulles. I completely missed it until going through security at FRA. You are thinking lots of people get it so what's the big deal? Well, the lady at security took away my passport and boarding pass, separated me from Tarun, and instructed me to follow a mass of people being directed by another officer. I went left and Tarun went right. If you've been through Frankfurt airport, you know that the possibility that I might never ever see him again was real. This was a very big deal.
My passport was in someone else’s hands. I was in the back of the group. In another country. Walking through a labyrinth to destination unknown. Ugh! I speed-walked around the group and got within grabbing distance of Man-with-Passports. He was going nowhere without me. After going through a very elaborate x-ray machine raised on a platform, a thorough bomb check of my carry-on content, taking off shoes, belt, and jacket, a complete pat-down, and a slew of questions, I was asked to proceed to my gate.
In an attempt to find humor, I thought that they should park a doctor at this checkpoint and give me a report from the scan and save me the annual trip to the doc.
Before boarding our flight, Tarun read about the quad flag and it seems it could happen again as noted by other selectees. I am hoping this was a one-time random occurrence because I would make the most lame security threat but I would be a super annoying detainee. I am all bark and no bite. A true-blue Bengali. I eat mishti (sweets) and love loochi (carbs). How much harm could I possibly inflict on that diet? I will definitely not be separated from Tarun this easily again. But I will always wonder, between him and me...how the hell did I get quaded?! I can barely reach the overhead bin! Which brings me to how passengers are selected for random screening. Where you are from and your destination contribute heavily. If you pay by cash, might as well check in to Gitmo. Apparently everyone in my cohort had a non-western last name, so check on that. Only two of us were women. And most of us had bottled water. Go figure. Of course, the algorithm is secretive and we will never know how effective it is. If this is stopping perpetrators, then great. But if all they are doing is separating jet-lagged passengers in need of a shower, then boo. In the end, the flight felt safe. There was at least one short, middle-aged woman with old-people eye glasses who watched movies and then took a long nap, thoroughly checked by the quad-squad.
If the world now feels like a safer place to you, know that it is because of me. You are most welcome!