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What's Wrong with Airport Security (and What to Do About It)

tsa full body scanner airport securityTSA: Bring on the Scanners
The TSA bought 150 full-body scanners in September (for around $166,000 each), but has deployed none. In total, the TSA is sitting on over 300 scanners, and it's time these are installed in airports, particularly the most congested and vulnerable ones.

Way back in 2008, a TripAdvisor survey found that two-thirds of travelers were in favor of full-body scanners. Privacy advocates resist the machines, and you can understand the reluctance of folks with physical conditions that might cause brief embarrassment, as well as concerns about scanning children. However, a few simple logistical and legislative steps should make these mostly moot. Already the person viewing the scanning is in another room, so he or she can't associate someone by face with the body scan on the screen. Logistical solutions like this work well. Then make it a federal criminal offense to release or comment on a scanned image, and the disincentive to do something stupid like sending an image to a Web site is in place.

The fact is that you can see more flesh on cable television, in magazines, at the beach and certainly on the Internet than you will ever see on a full-body scanner. Let's get over our fear of brief electronic nudity so we can reduce our fears of terrorism.

TSA: Focus on the Real Threat -- Bombs
Particularly now that cockpits are locked and secure, the terminal-front posturing over sharp objects and metal stuff in your pockets is all too pre-9/11, and ignores the real threat, which is bombs. As I understand it, behind closed doors the TSA is quite good at detecting possible bombs in checked bags. Why not bring the same technology to the terminal entrance? Check out Ask the Pilot's Patrick Smith on the topic.

Airlines: Eliminate Fees on the First Checked Bag (At Least)
Travelers will put more stuff in checked bags, and so have less stuff going through airport security, if the fees on all checked bags are eliminated. As I wrote last summer, travelers responded to the flood of fees for checking bags simply by not checking bags.

airport suitcase little girl childAfter the Christmas event, several airlines rolled back checked bag fees, but only for inbound international flights, and in many cases only from specific airports. For example, United temporarily waived fees from Amsterdam, Canada, London and Brussels. American waived fees for inbound flights from Canada, but only for bags "originally intended for carry-on." (Incidentally, targeting flights by country seems both counterproductive and historically ineffective; remember that shoe bomber Richard Reid was a British citizen on a flight from Paris.)

All these maneuvers and exceptions just make it clear that baggage fee policies are part of the problem. The airways belong to the people, and we're paying for all the security as well -- so if the airlines won't do this themselves, government should simply mandate the elimination of the first checked bag fee.

Travelers: Change Our Packing Habits
If the airlines will relent with the baggage fees, we travelers should commit to changing our packing habits. Admittedly baggage handling isn't really improving, so checking anything of real value still isn't exactly an attractive option, but as above, anyone who travels on even a semi-regular basis knows that many travelers are carrying an awful lot of stuff onboard planes.

When packing for the airport, let's skip the multiple carry-on dodge, and the massive carry-on dodge, and all those tactics that just make it more miserable and less safe for other travelers (see again Baggage Fees: The Unintended Consequences).

Finally, let's get it together in the security lines. Anyone who is capable of booking their own flights, getting to the airport, checking in at a self-serve kiosk, obtaining a passport, etc., is certainly capable of understanding the simple instructions at How to Get Through the Line Faster on the TSA site. Why not even make it a requirement at the time of booking to say we have read these? I'd rather have the hassle of a click online than a pileup in the airport.

Everyone: Take a Bad Situation and Make It Better
Follow the spirit of these travelers who were stuck in Newark.

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler

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