I have been told in no uncertain terms that I was jumping to conclusions regarding L'affaire Poofy Hair. Not surprisingly, I still disagree.
Reason one -
The traveler cleared the Almighty Imaging System, which is supposedly the be-all and end-all for traveler screenings. Refuse to be x-rayed and you will be subject to an invasive pat down, and we all remember the energy around the issue. Those of you unfamiliar with what the system displays to an anonymous screener at an undisclosed location should check the images here. Not much, if anything, left to the imagination. Clearing this device is supposed to be all you need to do. Anomalous readings, on the other hand, will trigger the aforementioned pat down.
Our traveler was not held up because of some anomaly in the screening, she was pulled over because the TSA employee said the hair had to be checked.
Reason two -
The TSA's current, posted guidelines for travelers speaks to head coverings, but not hair. Head coverings may be patted down, and in some cases removed if the pat down is inconclusive. There is no standard procedure to pat down poofy hair.
Reason three -
If there is a procedure being invoked, even a possible misapplication of the guidance about head coverings, it should be applied uniformly. It wasn't per our traveler, and her claims have yet to be contradicted by the TSA.
Reason four -
There are security cameras at many of the airports, and airports that have been renovated to address the new security environment certainly have them. The incident involving the radio host many moons ago was caught on camera, which the TSA released almost immediately. They are not so forthcoming in this instance because either there are no relevant tapes to share, or the sensitivity of the complaint as it involves an allegation that she was singled out because she is black.
Reason five -
TSA implementation of its procedures is inconsistent, a fact noted at their official blog by an employee. That issue came up in this blogpost of May 1, 2009. There are 178 comments (last one posted November 16, 2010), but the ones by GSOLTSO are enlightening. He acknowledges the inconsistencies in the system, the issues with unprofessional TSA employees, and states his belief that some things do need changing. Pretty gutsy for a bureaucrat posting on an official blog.
The TSA did address the incident, and does mention hair in passing, in a post on this very subject. At the moment there is no comment on the substance of the complaint.
I refer back to the Almighty Imaging System, which leaves nothing to the imagination. Our traveler was not wearing a head covering but somehow her poofy hair caused concern. And regarding whether or not she would know if anyone else was being screened; anyone who has been sidetracked (I have for no reason that I know of other than I won the random screening lottery) certainly knows if other folks are being pulled over because you all stand in the same waiting area and are processed consecutively at a screening station. If big hair, poofy hair, upswept hair, or any variation thereof is considered a hiding place for 'stuff', then everyone exhibiting that style ought to be pulled over and their hair searched. That did not happen here.
Just for grins, I clicked on TSA's Civil Rights for Travelers link. None are described, although there is a link for filing a complaint. Lest you think the Civil Rights Policy link leads you to your rights as traveler, allow me to set you straight. That link is all about the agency's non-discrimination policy as it applies to employees. Standard government boilerplate.
The TSA has assumed the IRS' former position as the agency everyone loves to hate. The IRS has made a concerted effort to clean up its act on all fronts. The TSA has a similar job ahead of it. Otherwise it will remain in the spotlight of scrutiny every time its employees do something goofy , act inconsistently, or commit crimes. In the meantime, the traveling public will endure the TSA's reactionary approach when it is nailed for a basic mistake.