UPDATED: A TSA screener's bad joke, flight diversions

UPDATE: This post, about shameful behavior by a security screener at Philadelphia airport, should be read in conjunction with this morning's report of a US Airways Express regional jet diverted to PHL in another apparent "abundance of caution" tale. Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin today wrote about the TSA screener who played a joke on a 22-year-old college student as she went through security on Jan. 5, scaring the wits out of her. Find Dan's account at this link.

LATER UPDATE: TSA now reports that the man we thought was a security officer is no longer employed by the agency. A spokeswoman also says TSA can't say what the man's job was, but he was not a screener or supervisor.  

According to initial reports, the diversion to PHL of a flight from New York LaGuardia to Louisville, Ky., was caused by a 17-year-old who was wearing a Jewish ritutal prayer box on his head during the flight. It made someone suspicious, although the TSA at LaGaurdia had obviously had allowed the box and the young man on the plane. A full report on the incident can be found here.

There is a report or two almost daily about flights being delayed or diverted by passenger or flight-crew concern over behavior of another passenger. Even more disruptive have been security breaches at Newark and JFK airports that appear to have been innocent mistakes but forced the shutdown of terminals for hours. In each of these cases, what were the TSA employee and the "suspicious" people on planes and in airports thinking?

Initially, I thought they weren't thinking at all, and all airline passengers these days need to exercise extreme caution in everything they do. But in this case, the young man says he's traveled before with his prayer apparatus, without incident, so is he to blame? Still, my first observation here stands: The occasional passenger, and reaction by flight crews and security personel, are making it harder all the time to sort out real threats from those caused by any odd behavior or offhand comment.