Theater of the absurdOne frequent flyer finds himself on TSA's selectee list

Published 24 March 2010

Ray Davis from Mansfield, Michigan — he describes himself as “just a Mansfield nobody” — was placed on TSA’s selectee list for no reason he can fathom; the list contains some 18,000 people deemed suspect by TSA, but not suspect enough to stay permanently grounded; the selectees are subjected to third and fourth once-overs of passports, hand inspection of luggage, and the like

Ray Davis Jr., 56, admits to a few speeding tickets in the past, but this hardly merits the extra attention of law enforcement, much less the federal government. Yet Davis, who flies about five times a year for work, has never had it easy at the airport.

Mansfield News Journal’s Erik Shilling writes that computerized check-in kiosks inevitably instruct him to see an airline attendant. He has become accustomed to above-and-beyond security pat-downs. A few weeks ago, though, in Las Vegas on a business trip, an even more bizarre scenario unfolded.

A return ticket Davis had purchased weeks in advance had been inexplicably canceled, an airline attendant told him. The reason? He was apparently on a no-fly list, another agent said.

It was scary, I will say that,” said Davis, of Washington Township, Michigan, adding that his hassles at airports have become a running gag within his family. “All of the sudden I’m trying to fly out of Vegas and someone’s saying I’m on a no-fly list, like I’m a terrorist.”

Shilling notes that Davis is not alone. Some 18,000 people are subjected to similar types of screening. They receive third and fourth once-overs of passports, hand inspection of luggage, and the like. That group, known as the selectee list, is composed of people deemed suspect by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but not suspect enough to stay permanently grounded. Another 6,000 people, a fraction of whom are Americans, are in that more serious registry, officially known as the no-fly list.

Both groups were expanded after a passenger on a Detroit-bound flight was found with bombs in his underwear late last year. Though the numbers seem proportionately small, federal officials have said because of updated intelligence and the shifting judgments of analysts, both lists are in flux.

Shilling writes that potentially, tens of thousands more could have also been listed at one time or another. In fact, more than 80,000 people have appealed their status on either list, according to the TSA’s own records.

Even so, most who appeal never get confirmation they were on a list, much less learn why. This is because the TSA refuses to say much of anything. “We don’t confirm the identity of specific individuals,” said Jon Allen, a TSA spokesman. “If (Davis) was on the no-fly list, he wouldn’t be flying.”

For his part, Davis thinks the hubbub among friends and family over the Las Vegas incident is overblown. A manager at Wilcox Sales in Mansfield, he would prefer to stay under the radar, as he has done for most of his thirty-five years in the city.

His last run-in with the law, according to court records, was a 2006 speeding ticket, for which he paid a $96 fine, the high point of his criminal career. Previous milestones include four other speeding tickets in the prior fourteen years — no arrests yet though.

I made some mistakes on the road when I was young,” Davis explained. “We used to say, ‘Fast women and fast cars.’ ”

After 9/11, Davis, who flies often, even went so far as to purchase TSA-issued padlocks for his luggage in order to comply with the agency’s recommendations, locks which he still uses today. “There’s nothing serious about me. I’m just a Mansfield nobody,” Davis said. “It’s bizarre to think that you could be put on a no-fly list for no reason.”