A KLM MD-11 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
As you might know, I am not a fan of body scanners. They provide a false sense of security, violate your privacy, cost too much money and are easy to avoid. Even with all my travels, I have been proud being able to avoid a scan or pat down. In the US, the TSA makes it simple to choose a line that is not operating a body scanner. It is satisfying knowing that the TSA were not the ones that finally got me; it was the security at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). Guess what? I am okay with it.
Security at Amsterdam is much better and thorough than anything I have experienced while traveling in the US. First off, there was a security check at the actual gate. Meaning they are dealing with a smaller group of people, where they can spend more time with each passenger. First, everyone has their passport and boarding pass reviewed, then scanned. Next, passengers stand one on one with a security person as they ask you questions about who you are, where you are going, etc. They are checking how you react and if any flags are raised to cause additional scrutiny. I was only asked a few questions and able to go, but many were there for much longer. It seems smart to have trained employees to detect any issues with an individual. I am guessing that they are paid more than your average TSA employee — and for good reason.
After your talk, it is time to have your bags and body scanned. Much like in the US, you place your bags on a belt, but in this case there was no avoiding the body scanner. Every passenger is required to go through the body scanner. That’s right… No picking or choosing which line to go through.
The security officers welcomed me into the body scanner and asked me how I was doing. This wasn’t some trick to see if I was a “bad guy,” this was just customer service.
I lifted my hands, the scanner went on and was nicely asked to exit the machine. Unlike in the US, where a mysterious person is hiding somewhere viewing your image, I could see my image right outside the scanner, but I was not worried. It was not an image of my naked body, but a representation of my body (think stick figure) and it indicated that I had something on my waist. I was told by the security guard that he needed to pat me down and he gently confirmed it was my belt and off I went.
If an airport or nation is going to operate body scanners, this is how it should be done. Yes, money has been spent on them, but they are also spending money on trained people who are actually friendly. Everyone was required to be scanned and I never felt that my privacy was being violated. If the TSA would move towards this model, maybe we could be friends.
Airports can be great places to hang out at after you get through security.
The last few years, the more I fly, the more I see body scanners. To date, even though many airports I travel to and from have body scanners, I have been able to avoid them — and pat-downs as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not about making a huge stand and doing whatever I can to avoid them. I just do what any normal passenger might try to avoid an additional delay at the airport.
Most of the time I fly out of Seattle-Tacoma International airport (SEA), where they have three main check points. At each check point there are multiple security lines and each line has access to a body scanner. Problem is, on many occasions there will be multiple lines open, but only one body scanner active.
A TSA agent will check my ID and boarding pass and then I have the ability to choose which security line I want. Of course, I choose a line that does not have a body scanner active and viola I have avoided the $150,000.00 high-tech scanner.
I have noticed at some airports there will be a second TSA employee telling you which line to go in, but often this person is missing or also easy to ignore if one wanted to. Could the TSA demand you go to line #1 with the body scanners and then escort you over? Sure, but that is a pretty embarrassing situation to put a person in, especially if it ends up being only people of a certain race.
This is not a big deal if someone who means airlines no harm can avoid the body scanners, but it would be just as easy for someone wanting to do harm. Take away all the privacy and health concerns; what is the point of spending all this money for the machines, training, and man-power to “keep us all safe,” if they can be consistently avoided? My father always told me, “if you are going to do something, do it right.” Sure, I didn’t always listen as a kid, but I think it is good advice for the TSA — I only hope they are listening.
How have your experiences with the body scanners gone? Have you noticed the same lack of consistency?
I love how the TSA advertises their blog on the sign to give feedback. I only wish they would talk back.
It has been a long time since someone checked my ID at the gate before boarding my flight. Sure I am used to showing my ID at the ticket counter, then again when going through security. However, it has not been standard practice showing my ID once more before boarding the plane for a while.
Recently I flew from Seattle down to Tuscon and back. For both flights, we were told that TSA personnel would be checking our IDs before boarding and to have them out. Okay, sure, I guess.
On my first flight the TSA agents started to check IDs from the front of the line and worked their way back. Big problem with this. Quite a few people (including myself) entered in the middle of the line and our IDs were never checked. I wasn’t purposefully avoiding the ID check, but it wasn’t hard to avoid it. What’s the point of doing an ID check when not everyone has their ID actually checked?
I thought this might be a fluke, but the same thing happened when coming back home from Tucson. It is odd since I flew on two different airlines and no other flights around mine were checked. I checked in with people that I know travel a lot and the fine folks on my Twitter and Facebook and found that many others are also being ID checked at the door.
Although my return flight had an ID check, it happened very differently. Just like before, there was an announcement that the TSA would be checking IDs at the gate before boarding. Four agents (yes four) showed up. I guess the ones in Seattle are better trained, since it only took two of them. One just stood by the gate door and looked bored, two were at the front of the line and talked about their work hours and were flirting (really professional). The last was just walking around, but not checking IDs. As the pre-boarding people got on, the two talking agents just welcomed people aboard but didn’t check any IDs. The guy by the door still looked bored and the fourth was just standing by the middle of the line that was forming. Hmm… okay.
Now, it was time for standard boarding and I had my ID out and ready to go. I was one of the first people to board, but they did not check mine or the IDs of those in front of me. What the heck? Was this just a random check of IDs? If so, why did they need to have four people to do it? This just didn’t seem like a good use of resources since my ID had already been checked twice since I got there.
I wasn’t sure, but I sure as heck wanted to find out how these gate ID checks was making anyone safer. I tried to contact multiple TSA spokes people via email and the phone, but after two days, no one has gotten back to me — not even with a “no comment.” Very frustrating since the TSA tries to pretend they want to hear your opinion with their “Talk to the TSA” campaign. Maybe you can just talk to them, but don’t get an answer back?
To play devil’s advocate, I understand there might be information out there I do not know. Maybe they got word that someone was going to get through security and then change tickets with someone else. Not really sure how that would do anything. First off, faking an ID to be looked at quickly by a TSA worker at the gate wouldn’t be that hard to do (just ask kids under 21). Secondly, what good does it do if they do not actually check the IDs?
Talking to others it sounds like my experience of the gate ID check is not unique. Many flights are getting these ID checks and most are being done poorly. Maybe the TSA is trying to be like Columbo and the “bad guys” will keep their guard down. If you are going to do something and spend money on doing it, can I at least ask for them to do it right? Or minimally look like they are doing it right so all those passengers can feel a bit safer?
Image: Michael Gray
I normally don’t like to write about super popular things that you can see all over the news, but hating on the TSA didn’t used to be so popular. I have been very critical of the TSA and their “security theater” for quite sometime and it looks like they are finally getting some of the attention they deserve. Passengers, pilots and even TSA employees are standing up and saying no to aggressive body scanners and pat downs. This makes me happy.
Why should you feel like a victim to just visit grandma? ©2010 M.Trombly / M.Prophet Photography
Since I don’t like being angry and writing on the TSA always makes me angry, I am not going to spend a heck of a lot of time talking about what has been going on, but link to other sites that provide much more detail. There has been a lot going on with the TSA since their ban on printer cartridges a while back. Here are some of the highlights:
* Airports can opt-out of TSA: If an airport is fed up with what the TSA is doing, they can kick them to the curb and get private security. But not so fast cowboy, guess what? If you go with a private company, they have to follow all the same rules and are regulated by the TSA. Really, other than politically telling the TSA you are not happy, it won’t help passengers any.
* Pilots don’t need to be scanned or groped: After lots of protest from pilots and their unions, they no longer need to get body scans or enhanced pat downs. This just makes sense. Why should someone who has total access to the cockpit need to be scanned? If a pilot wants to do harm (hopefully that will never happen) they do not need any special devices to do so. I only ask that flight attendants and maybe someday passengers can get that same level of treatment.
* Do not hate on the screeners: Steven Frischling on his blog Flying with Fish takes a look at these enhanced patdowns from the screener’s perspective. He spoke with 17 of them and they had some pretty powerful things to say. Many are not happy about having to violate a person’s personal space nor the hurtful comments they receive daily. One of the quotes that stuck out to me: “I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.”
* Photography of TSA security area IS LEGAL at most airports: Again from Frischling’s blog (he does a lot with the TSA), he talks about how he was recently detained at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (BDL) by the TSA and a state trooper for committing a federal offense. Luckily Frischling had some TSA folks on speed dial and he was released, but what about those that do not have those sort of connections to the TSA? If you take photographs of the TSA security process, make sure you know your local rules and be polite and professional if you are questioned. However, definitely stand up for your rights, I wish I would have during my TSA encounter.
* The TSA is listening, but not caring: I have talked before about the “TalktoTSA” program, where they seem to take feedback, but not really care to reply. Now the TSA Administrator John S. Pistol has posted a video via YouTube to assure all of us that the TSA is ONLY caring about our safety and will continue their privacy invading body scans and “enhanced” pat downs. Mr. Pistol, you need to listen to the people you are supposedly put in charge to protect.
* We do not have the same parts: Many people argue we all have the same parts and why should it matter that we get scanned or groped? We we do not. I recently talked about a transgendered person having issues and more recently a man ended up urinating on himself, being humiliated by the TSA.
Argh. See, now I am angry. Did I miss anything? I just feel lucky I am not planning to travel at all during the holidays, but good luck to the rest of you that will be flying. If you need a little humor to add to this situation, check out this great TSA video from Saturday Night Live.
Photo from FlyWithDignity.com