Airline Security: A Return to Sanity?


I can think of only one word to describe an airline passenger who goes through the TSAs new streamlined security and feels vaguely grateful for having his rights somewhat restored. The word is pathetic, yet that was me last week when, entirely by random, I got shunted into the TSAs new TSA Pre security procedure.

Basically, what TSA Pre is is a return to pre-9/11 airline security, at least at the gate. That means your bags go through the scanner, but your computer stays inside and your shoes stay on. You get a trip through the metal detector, but no backscatter scanner. In other words, its a return to sanity in the world of airline security. And it took 12 years to get here. Astonishing, really, but still welcome.

I got put into the TSA Pre line entirely by random chance, since it was undergoing testing two weeks ago when I flew to Las Vegas for NBAA. But you can apply for TSA Pre here and if you already have or intend to apply for Global Entry, TSA Pre, Im told, can be granted as well.

I arrived at Tampa and headed for the long security line, which Im used to by now. But a TSA agent looked at my ticket and directed me to a special aisle where there was no line. A second check of the boarding pass, the scanner and bag check and I was airside. If it took 90 seconds, Id be surprised. I almost felt guilty. Almost.

Dont get used to it, a TSA agent told me on the return flight from Las Vegas. As the program is more widely deployed, TSA Pre will be available to more passengers. Thats fine with me because its vastly faster than the bottleneck of removing computers, shoes, belts and other scanner unfriendly items and/or getting behind people who dont understand they have to do this stuff. On a busy travel day, the way weve been doing it is an ordeal at best.

The government says TSA Pre is an attempt to stop poking and prodding millions of passengers who, often demonstrably through frequent trips, represent no threat to aviation security and to apply intelligence-based solutions to the airline security problem. Maybe all that snooping NSA is doing has finally caused them to figure out that your typical domestic airline passenger never represented a threat to security and likely never will. Perhaps theyve learned to actually look where the threats really are. At least thats what they say. Ill take what I can get, thanks.

Thats not to say, by the way, that I think airline security isnt necessary. It obviously is. I do want the carry-on bags scanned and the metal detector deployed. For while its okay if I carry aboard a firearm, no one else should be allowed to, since I know Im one of the good guys. But you? Maybe not. I’m sure you feel the same.

Well see where this goes, but so far, I like what Im seeing. Over the weekend, I spent some time with David Wartofsky at Potomac Airfield. Hit hard by the Washington, D.C. government megastructure, Potomac almost ceased to exist as an operating airfield after 9/11.As a survival reaction, Wartofsky got a better view of the government security rabbit hole than most of us and he thinks TSA Pre is one of a number of initiatives TSA director John Pistole is launching as a genuine means of reducing the intrusion of aviation security. I sure hope so. The country is swimming in security and surveillance and aviation needs all the breaks it can get at every level.

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