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"From a Screener's Perspective"

By Shane Lester
(Shane is the author of Airport Security: Tips for Travelers)

The whole spectrum of humanity seems to surge slowly though an airport security checkpoint. As security screeners our perspectives are somewhat different than that of the passenger. Standing on the inside looking out, screeners see the best and worst of the flying public. We see it all, from clam acceptance to airport rage.

The Screeners:

To some passenger who may approach the security checkpoint they think that TSA stands for "Thousands Standing Around." Indeed the Transportation Security Administration recently admitted that they have overstaffed. Of course the quick and easy assessment is to blame a bloated federal system for the overstaffing our nations airports. However, if you have approached the checkpoint during a rush, when large lines form outside of the checkpoint area you will see a well orchestrated team processing passengers in a safe and secure manner. Without a well-staffed checkpoint the ebb and flow of passengers could not be managed safely and effectively.

The people who have chosen to work for the TSA are not what you may think. It has been my experience that you can't easily stereotype them or classify them. A microcosm of this new workforce resides in my home airport in Jackson Wyoming. JAC or Jackson Hole Airport is a small airport by any standard. The age range in our group is from nineteen to sixty years old. Some of the more colorful characters in our group are x-policemen, a film director, a former human resource manager, a degreed forensics scientist, and an x-rodeo cowboy. For some this new occupation was a deliberate choice.

There are others like me who have fallen from the grace of a well-paid job within the feeble dot-com market and sought after "job security" even at a fraction of their former salaries. After the events of September Eleventh I felt like many, wanting to help fight terrorism but not knowing what he could do. Having served in the US Air Force for six years I felt I could make a contribution to the security of air travel. Indeed the decision to work for the TSA was a purposeful and fulfilling.

The Security Checkpoint: Help me help you

These new rules and procedures have obviously caused some confusion, concern and even delays for the traveling public. I would like to offer and few critiques and some personal pet peeves.

As you approach the checkpoint a screener will usually ask you if you have a laptop in your bag. Although we appreciate your enthusiasm, we only want to know about your laptop computer. Even though it may be interesting to know the precise make and model of each electronic item in you bag it's really not necessary. Please just remove your laptop from your bag and place it on the belt attached to the X ray machine.

Your next task may seem simple, but I would guess that over fifty percent of the passengers get it wrong. You need to approach, look and walk through the Walk Through Metal Detector (WTMD), which looks like a tall, thick, large, doorframe. Please just walk: don't skip, shuffle, lurch, gape, saunter, stride, or pirouette through the WTMD. And pleases don't walk through the WTMD until directed by the screener stand opposite you on the other side.

In the days before the TSA you could make several attempts to successfully go through the WTMD if it alarmed. Now the rules have changed. If you fail to walk through properly or if you cause the WTMD to alarm, you only get one chance. So don't reverse you course if you hear an alarm.

If metal on your body caused the WTMD to alarm or you are selected for "Continuous Screening", this is lingo for random selection of passengers, then welcome to the wonderful world of hand wanding. It's a good idea to not wear a body piercing. Let me just say that if hand wand or hand held metal detector alarms over your nipple ring then you will either have to show it to the screener or go the restroom and take it out.

Also something else you could do to help screeners and yourself. During the hand wanding process you may be asked to undo your belt, and then roll down the top of your pants over the zipper. Under no circumstances should you unbutton your pants and pull them down. I wouldn't bring this up it hadn't happen numerous times.

Also another plea: All luggage, either carry-on or checked could be searched. Don't pack your secrets. I'm talking about those personal items that shall we say are very intimate. Like all other items in your bag these "Personal Items" could be pulled from your bag and displayed in pubic view. The rule of thumb is to not pack anything that you don't want to be seen in public.

And finally choose your words carefully. On one occasion I informed a female passenger that I needed to look in her carry-on bag. She said flippantly. "Be careful it might explode." I gave her a serious look. I could then see the recognition on her face. She knew that she had misspoken. She then clarified. "I mean the bag is so full, I'm sorry." I then informed the passenger that she couldn't make statements like that.

Things have certainly changed and change causes fear. Through the contradictions and the exasperations that can occur when you go through airport security, remember that screeners are there to help you and keep your air travel safe. It is my hope that confidence can be rebuilt and more people will again take to the skies assured that they are safe to travel.

Shane Lester is a certified TSA Security Screener and the author of Airport Security: Tips for Travelers

Copyright © 2003 Shane Lester 307-799-6980 - Home