Commentary: Airport Screening Reveals Discomfort

Posted: July 17, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.

I loaded all my stuff in bins, emptied my pockets, took off my shoes, put my feet on the yellow marks on the floor, raised my arms above my head and stood for a screening by the Advanced Imaging Technology Machine.

It seems a stressful way to start a vacation -- going through a Transportation Security Administration area in an airport before boarding an airline flight.

I am known for strong opinions, and I will state right now that the security measures put in place after the 2001 terrorist acts are invasive and insulting. I was not one of the terrorists, nor do I plan to be one. They make it seem I'm guilty until proven innocent.

I absolutely know the reason the entire thing happened is simply because someone wasn't doing his job.

But I do want to fly safely.

Sari Koshetz, spokesperson for the TSA, explained the processes agents use at individual checkpoints are based on intelligence reports of risks. "As threats evolve, so do we," she said. "We use people, processes and technology to keep you safe."

On this day, the screenings seemed to be random. My husband was chosen for priority check: He did not to take off his shoes or hat, and his bag was not checked. Very competitive, I cried "Foul!"

Every day, passengers are chosen electronically for the priority check, Koshetz said. That status was noted on the boarding pass my husband received on check-in with the airline.

Or, sometimes bomb dogs and behavioral detection officers with the dogs do the prescreen, she said. And those who are on passenger "no-fly" or "watch" lists aren't eligible for prescreen, she added.

As I walked out of the imaging machine, the TSA agent asked to "pat down" my hair, which was in a ponytail. Koshetz explained the imaging device probably showed something in my hair -- in this case, probably the ponytail holder, she said.

"It's a very sensitive machine," she said. "They probably did a targeted pat down to make sure there was nothing threatening in your hair."

But would they "pat down" the guy with the long "Duck Dynasty"-style beard? Yes, if the imaging showed something. Was the woman with the head covering allowed a pass for cultural respect? Koshetz said, if the machine had detected a hazard, the woman would have been taken for further screening to someplace private in respect for her customs and beliefs.

Another of my screening pet peeves is sock feet -- mine or anyone else's. Sock feet creep me out; I am very uncomfortable at the checkpoints. Another option is to wear sandals, but what am I introducing to my bare feet?

Koshetz said airport personnel are responsible for cleaning security areas, and most are cleaned multiple times each day. Websites of the Homeland Security Agency and WebMD recommend wearing socks under your shoes when you fly, listing athlete's foot, ringworm and other fungi as dangers.

My most recent trips found me behind the wheel of my car, where I can take anything and everything packed in my suitcase -- filled water bottles, my favorite shampoo, the kitchen sink. On this day of air travel, I remembered the 3-ounce rule for the liquids in my purse, but not in my suitcase.

I lost about $30 of sunscreen and mouthwash my dentist asks me to use. It isn't sold in small bottles. My fault totally, and the TSA agent did make the concession that I could check my suitcase.

My prechecked husband, on the other hand, slipped through with sunscreen and a butane lighter. Hmmm. Koshetz offered that some lighters -- simple lighters -- now are allowed.

Koshetz also recommended the TSA Precheck program. Started originally with frequent fliers invited by airlines, the program is now open for all passengers. Interested passengers would be required to visit an enrollment center (in Little Rock for Arkansas, Kohsetz said), where they would be fingerprinted and profiled.

Once accepted into the program, the TSA assigns a passenger a number, which he would use each time he books a flight to access his profile. The privilege costs $85 for five years.

Airlines also offer Precheck, boarding priority, seat assignments in packages with each ticket sold. For American Airlines, these privilege fees range from $29 to $80 added to the price of the ticket, said spokesman Matt Miller.

Everybody has a horror story about a "friend's" treatment at the TSA security checkpoints, and I have been known to moan and complain. Koshetz said, the TSA evolves as threats evolve, and, I add, their processes also continue to evolve to make the process better for passengers.

Shut my mouth!

NW News on 07/17/2014


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