Long Lines At Airports Have Got To Go, Says Travel Association

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been working on addressing long lines at airport security screening areas for quite some time. TSA Precheck lanes are being expanded to more airports every year and Global Entry lets frequent, pre-authorized travelers to zip into the United States. Just last week, we reported faster airport screening via a new TSA program. But that’s not enough, says a travel trade organization, urging Congress to take action.

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) is battling what they believe to be the cause of problems at our airports; budget restrictions and poor planning. They believe the current system leaves airports unable to handle millions of visitor a year. They have some specific recommendations too.

Calling for a 50-percent reduction in peak the wait times, the USTA believes it should take just 30 minutes to process travelers. They want Customs and Border Protection staffing and participation in the Global Entry Program increased. Congress should be involved in an ongoing way, and should require periodic progress reports, says the association in a list of 20 recommended policy changes.
Back at the TSA, the new system is indeed a step in the right direction, classifying travelers into three tiers — expedited, standard or enhanced — with each level requiring different procedures and qualifiers. The current system treats all travelers the same and is exactly what the Travel Association wants changed.

In an Open Letter to the U.S. Congress, over 70 travel leaders even suggested ways to fund the additional programing necessary to address the problem and increase transparency in the entire process. It’s a lofty goal but one worthy of pursuit: the U.S. economy could lose $95 billion and 518,000 jobs over the next five years due to long security and customs lines at the nation’s airports.

Airport Screening To Be Faster Thanks To New TSA Program

It’s taken a long time but a quicker, more efficient screening process at the nation’s airports looks to be coming into focus. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is planning a new three-tier system for passenger and baggage screening that taps features of ongoing programs to streamline the process.

Based on elements of the best parts of the existing Secure Flight and TSA PreCheck programs, the new system is “designed to increase the number of airline passengers who may be eligible for expedited screening,” says a report in Travel Weekly.

Using that information, air travelers will be classified into three tiers — expedited, standard or enhanced — with each level requiring different procedures and qualifiers. The current system treats all travelers the same.

Under the new system, low risk travelers would be directed to the lanes now used for TSA’s PreCheck program. Shoes and belts stay on. Laptops remain in cases.

Passengers would be screened at the time of booking, and the level of required screening would be embedded in the barcode of the traveler’s boarding pass.
PreCheck expands this year to 100 U.S. airports. This Fall, anyone can join by going through a background check. Participants allow their fingerprints to be file. The anticipated fee is $85.

German body scanner protesters remove clothes at airport

In Germany, a “fleshmob” of semi-naked activists from the Pirate Party staged a body scanner protest at the Berlin-Tegel Airport, reports Discover magazine. German authorities plan to begin using “Nacktscanners,” or AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology), which uses high frequency radio waves to produce images of a passenger’s naked body, across the country within the next two years.

Here and elsewhere abroad, the TSA and its international partners are increasingly employing body scanners as an airport security measure, so items like explosives, weapons, or drugs can be detected beneath a passenger’s clothing. The use of the scanners has become a subject of much public controversy, ever since the would-be “underwear bomber” was thwarted at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Dec. 25 of last year. Many passengers feel that the use of full-body scanners is a violation of their privacy.

Wired states that the German protesters scrawled comments such as, “Be a good citizen–drop your pants,” and “prosthetic [with arrow pointing to the wearer’s leg],” on their bodies. One flesh-toned-clothed woman bore a sign reading, “pixelated,” referring to the option modest passengers have to request a scanner be programmed to produce a blurred image of their body.

For more information on your rights as an air traveler, Reddit has created Fly with Dignity, a “site-based initiative to inform the public.” Want to personally protest body scanners? National Opt-Out Day is November 24th.

Feds cop to airport scanner porn

The feds are keeping an archive of under-the-flesh security shots. Though the TSA has said in the past that airport body scans can’t be stored or recorded, some agencies are now revealing archives of the revealing. Well, that isn’t true after all, according to CNET:

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

The TSA, it seems, requires all airport body scanners to be able to store images and transmit them – strange for a device that is supposed to do neither for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” Don’t worry, though. The TSA says these capabilities aren’t “normally activated when the devices are installed at airports,” reports CNET.

Translation: “Trust us. We could do something bad … but we won’t.”

So, next time you fly and fear that images of your privates may end up being stored somewhere, consider sticking some “Flying Pasties” to your unmentionables.So, how much security porn has been accumulated? According to William Bordley, associate general counsel with the U.S. Marshals Service says: 35,314 images in an Orlando, Florida courthouse. The device can store up to 40,000 images.

Relax, says the TSA. It’ Constitutional:

“The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events.”

What are “individual sensibilities”? I think I’ll go with Justice Potter Stewart on this one: I know it when I see it.

[Photo credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images]

Airport security — what works, and what does not?

With so much talk about new explosive detection equipment and the upcoming full body scanners, we decided to look into some of the current technology in place at airports around the world. What works, and what does not?

Will the future of airport security involve everyone stripping down to their underpants? Or will technology evolve to the point where computers can detect terrorists from a distance?

Metal detector

The airport metal detector is a piece of equipment that works absolutely perfectly – for finding metal. It won’t detect explosives, ceramic knives or anything else that is not metallic. And it isn’t designed for that – its sole purpose is to detect metal objects.

Anyone who has left their belt on, or had some loose change will know how sensitive these things are.

Why they don’t always work: Can only detect metal. Can’t sense explosives, ceramic blades or liquids.

The x-ray machine

At the airport, baggage is checked at two places – at the security checkpoint, and at the checked bag drop-off. These machines are pretty good. But they have a fatal flaw – they can’t detect anything without the presence of a human operator. And lets be honest – someone that has to sit in front of a monitor looking at bags move past them will never reach a 100% accuracy. Things will slip through the cracks.

Why they don’t always work: The human element is the weak spot. Unable to “sniff” for explosives.

Passenger puffer machine

The “puffer machine” was supposed to be the ultimate in airport security. You step into the machine, it blows puffs of air on you, and “smells” for explosives. It all sounds like the perfect solution. These machines were in place at several airports on a trial basis before they were all removed due to “unforeseen technical problems”.

Millions were invested in the devices, which are now probably collecting dust in a storage facility. High profile research labs are still working on better solutions, and there are several very promising technologies in the very early stages of development. Sadly, without some really serious government money, those machines won’t be at your local airport any time soon.

Why they don’t always work:
Citing “technical difficulties”, they are no longer in use at US airports.

Swab explosives detector

Anyone who has been pulled aside for a secondary search (the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass” will have seen the screening expert “swab” their bag and place the sample inside an expensive looking machine. The machine sniffs for explosives, and can detect the smallest trace of stuff that can blow up a plane.

Why they don’t always work: only passengers selected for secondary screening are pulled aside for a swab detection. Easy to get a false positive.

Full body imager

The full body imager (or whole body imager / millimeter wave scanner) is supposed to be the holy grail of airport security. After the Nigerian underpants bomber was pulled off his plane, these new machines popped up in the news and within days, the first ones were being ordered for European airports.

Tests have been conducted on the machines, and there is a very big chance that the underpants bomber would not have been caught had he passed through one. Then there is of course the issue of privacy. We all want to fly on a plane without any terrorists wearing bombs wrapped around their groin, but apparently we draw the line at letting security staff stare at our naked bodies on a TV screen. To make matters worse, we were promised that none of the US based machines could store or send our images, but CNN already discovered that was was a lie.

Why they don’t always work: Only at select airports, only passengers pulled aside for secondary screening are asked to voluntarily go through the machine, possibly not 100% reliable.

Passenger no-fly lists

The super secret passenger no-fly lists collect data from several sources. It isn’t necessarily filled with the names of the worst terror suspects in the world, and the list has been proven to be terribly inaccurate. Worst of all, those people that have a name that matches something on the list have had a hell of a time getting through airport security.

The Nigerian underpants bomber was on one list of terror suspects, but apparently was not considered dangerous enough to warrant adding to the no-fly list. At the same time, 8 year old kids are stopped because their name matches someone dangerous.

Why they don’t always work:
Too much data, but not enough ways to find the bad guys.


Pat-downs have been proven to be ineffective – and for one simple reason; fear of embarrassing travelers. The underpants bomber would have successfully passed a pat-down because screening staff don’t do a comprehensive search. The only kind of search that will work, is the kind used in prisons.

You can’t find explosives attached to someones private parts if you don’t physically search that area. Is a full effective pat-down embarrassing? You bet it is. But it is a heck of a lot more effective than just waving a wand up and down your legs.

Why they don’t work: You can’t perform a full search, without performing an actual FULL search,

(Images courtesy of Flickr users Daquella Manera and jcortell – click images for direct source)

What strange things have been found on planes?