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Both United and American Airlines opened automated security lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport recently and they’re pretty cool.

O'Hare TSA Screening
From United’s press release:

The new lanes enable up to five customers to fill their individual bins simultaneously and move through the screening process quicker, even if TSA agents need to perform additional screening on a customer further up the queue. The lanes also utilize a parallel conveyor system that automatically returns empty bins to the front of the queue.

Both airlines claim that the new automated lanes will speed up the security process while still allowing a thorough search of bags.

The lanes themselves remind me a lot of the security lanes you see in Europe, where bins are provided and then moved through the line automatically, keeping people moving and filling the next available bin. Will be interesting to see how this goes at O’Hare and maybe we’ll see expansion to other airports soon.

According to U.S. Representative Walden’s website, the House has unanimously approved the Treating Small Airports with Fairness Act. The act name is kind of cheesy but essentially it would bring back TSA screening to small airports that lost service at the beginning of 2013 and has a commitment from an airline for service.

The TSA Fairness Act would require the TSA to restore screening services to any airport that lost service after January 1, 2013 and that has a guarantee from a commercial airline to resume service within one year. There are currently at least six airports nationwide that have commercial airlines seeking to resume flights after undergoing a temporary gap in service, but are being denied TSA security screening and personnel. Instead, the agency directed the airports to allow passengers to fly unscreened to their next destination, and undergo screening there.

Klamath Falls is one of the closest airports to Crater Lake so this change will make it easier for tourists to make it to that lovely attraction, not to mention the rest of southern Oregon. If the act passes in the Senate the airline that has already been tapped to operate the Portland-Klamath Falls service would be PenAir, who has already started a number of routes out of Portland and is partners with Alaska Airlines.

There is no date for when the Senate would vote on the legislation, but I will definitely be on the look out for its passing.

I Flew on a Plane Without Going Through Security and No One Died (Washington Post)

Imagine if catching an 11 a.m. flight out of D.C. was a matter of hopping on the Metro at Petworth at 10:20, getting off at Reagan/National Airport at 10:43, and boarding the plane at 10:50.

That world is possible. I’ve lived it, and it is amazing. All we have to do is abolish the TSA. Entirely. Just let people walk off the street and onto a plane.

Would this increase hijacking? Probably. But there’s no reason to believe it would increase casualties from terrorist attacks overall. That’s because increasing airport security just leads terrorists to direct their assaults elsewhere.

It is an interesting idea and fun to think about, but it isn’t going to happen. We will see the expansion of PreCheck availability, but as a whole, airport security in its current form is staying where it is. The TSA has firmly embedded itself as part of the traveling way of life.

The TSA is a little closer to raising the security fee on airline tickets →

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday moved forward with legislation to increase airline passenger security fees, beating back a GOP attempt to keep them at current levels.

The 2013 Homeland Security appropriations bill would increase one-way fees for passengers from $2.50 to $5 in order to close a budget shortfall at the Transportation Security Administration.

Yet the TSA has security items going unused and sitting in storage. This is the perfect opportunity to reduce the reach of the TSA by forcing them to come up with a smaller budget and operate within that budget.

A TSA checkpoint was left unattended in Sacramento

Officials told KCRA 3 that four of the individuals were ticketed passengers and one was an airport employee. According to TSA officials, “a walk-through metal detector was left unattended for less than one minute.”

And if that story was not enough, here’s a great write-up on why the TSA should go away, written by a former FBI agent.

I ran across this article the other day and I can’t help but feel sorry for the woman involved. Lori Dorn is a breast cancer patient who had a bilateral mastectomy in April and, as a result, had tissue expanders inserted to make way for a later breast implant. During a TSA body scanner inspection at JFK these tissue expanders caused Lori Dorn to be pulled aside for “secondary” screening. She explained her situation and asked to retrieve the cards with the expander information. She was refused this courtesy and was told that unless she underwent the secondary screening of her breast area she would not be flying that day.

The TSA agents have a job to do, I understand that, but they should treat their jobs with the same dignity and respect that they would want to receive. It is ridiculous that this woman was not able to retrieve the card explaining the expanders, even though not being able to see your bags is a violation of the TSA’s own suggestions. There has to come a point where we say “enough” and rectify this situation.

My last few trips have shown me that more and more people are becoming comfortable with these TSA procedures, making it harder to ever change them.

 

[disclaimer] The article website contains language that is not suitable for young people and is fairly strong. [/disclaimer]

There is no soft spot in my heart for the TSA, in fact, I have posted a lot about my disdain for their methods. After reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest piece on The Atlantic, I can’t say I’m holding out hope that things are going to get better any time soon.

Here’s a small excerpt from the article, though the whole thing deserves a read.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

The take-away from this single paragraph and really the whole article, is that the new pat-downs have little to do with security and a lot to do with intimidating people into using the backscatter machines. When a traveler opts-out of going through the x-ray machines, they will be subjected to a verbal demoralization as well as a pat-down that can be best described as borderline fondling.

Does any of this really increase security? After last week’s events in which explosive materials were found in ink cartridges being shipped to the United States, I would say it is all show and little substance. From what has been reported, the bomb plot was foiled thanks to information from a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner. That’s right, it wasn’t some TSA agent taking away your bottle of water while you got the frisking of a lifetime, it was information. Imagine that.

It may feel like there is not much we can do but I plan on making the TSA agents as uncomfortable as they make me in these situations. Maybe if their own employees complain enough, we’ll see some changes in these new pat-down procedures. Me, I’ll be opting-out of the backscatter every time I am at an airport that uses one. When they ask me why I opted out (had this happen the last couple of times) I am thinking about replying with an overtly sexual remark. Is that wrong? Probably. What’s worse is being groped so much that you finally submit to the backscatter machine.

In all seriousness, the TSA has the upper hand. You and I have destinations to get to and they are the gatekeepers. I have no problem taking out my laptop or taking off my shoes, but this is bordering on the ridiculous. Wait, it is ridiculous. I am sure we could do a much better job of making air travel safe by actually asking questions when people go through security and analyzing facial expressions, demeanor, etc. rather than taking naked pictures of everyone or worse, shaming them in front of others.

Let’s start sending notes to the men and women who work for us in government and ask that a serious look be taken at the procedures used at airports and oversight of the TSA. If someone in either House wants to make this their pet project, I’ll back them 100%.

For those of you who fly out of IAH, you can technically clear security at any checkpoint so long as your airline does not require you to go through a certain one (some international flights do). A number of the checkpoints do not have the backscatter machines, feel free to use those.

I have never been a BlackBerry user and if I have my way, I will never be one. The recent pandering to the Saudi government over data monitoring is just one more arrow in my quiver of reasons not to support Research in Motion by buying their products.

Now, I am not naive, I know the U.S. government has policies in place to monitor phone and internet traffic, but I do not see them bullying companies to turn over the data. Instead, they’re sly and probably employ a large number of hackers to help them monitor the airwaves. What bothers me about Saudi Arabia is their need to push the issue of monitoring under the guise of “safety” rather than what they really want, which is to know what their citizens are doing when they are not being watched in public. Sharia is the law of the land and as such, personal freedom takes a back seat to governmental moral “clarity” and cleansing. In plain terms, this ability to monitor BlackBerry traffic is going to be used not just to watch for terrorist activity but to enforce Sharia

This news from Gothamist is bothersome. The TSA has partnered with NYPD to provide the New York transit system with “random and unpredictable security measures, like mobile screening in rail environments and at mass transit stations across the country”. The last few words are the most interesting, “across the country” implies that the TSA will be rolling this out across the U.S.

Yes, this is the same TSA who had an agent leave their post unattended, resulting in Newark-Liberty Airport being shut down for six hours. Can we imagine for a minute, what would happen to any of the transit systems across the country if the TSA had such a breach at one of them? It would be pandemonium, people looking for ways to get home and finding no options.

The big question I have is whether or not the TSA actually has the authority to conduct such searches. If they don’t, then hopefully someone stands up against this on a legal base. If they do, then I’d like to know who granted them such authority.