State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

It's Time to Rethink Airport Screenings

by on March 13, 2018 4:45 AM

It’s Tuesday, March 13, 2018 and the annual weeklong spring break exodus is over --an exodus that sees our local population decrease almost overnight from around 97,000 people to, by my guess, fewer than 40,000 people. The majority of Penn State students leave, the State College schools close down for the week, and many families use it as an opportunity to get away as well.

But now we’re all back and the last eight weeks of undergraduate education have begun for thousands of Penn State seniors. They will finish their studies by April 27, perhaps have a few finals the following week, and take part in commencement exercises on May 4, 5 or 6. Then they’ll move on (after watching the Movin’ On concert, of course) into the “real” world and hopefully have jobs that they find satisfying, worthwhile and interesting.  

Which reminds me… from 2005-2012 there was a television series on the Discovery Channel titled “Dirty Jobs,” in which the host would spend each episode working alongside men and women who did jobs that involved discomfort, hazards or repulsive situations. In other words, dirty jobs the rest of us would rather not think about, have or do.

Jobs I would not do was a topic I found myself thinking about as our family was traveling over spring break. And no, I wasn’t thinking about the President of the United States. But that’s not far off – I was thinking of certain federal employees.

The jobs I was thinking about are those held by TSA employees.

For those non-airline travelers among us – and I envy you – TSA is the Transportation Security Administration. This is a 60,000-person operation in the Department of Transportation that was created by an act of Congress in November 2001, and whose purpose is to protect U.S. transportation systems, guarantee freedom of movement for people and commerce, and make sure another 9/11 never happens.

Which sounds all well and good, but as I’ve stated many times in the past, elected representatives should not be allowed to pass laws without going out and enforcing those laws in real-life situations for at least a few weeks. It would give them a dose of daily American life many of them are sorely lacking. And in the case of the TSA it would show them how good intentions and legislating to the lowest common denominator creates a no-win job.

Early in my career I often traveled by plane, sometimes several flights a week. In addition my wife and I occasionally flew on personal trips. However, over the last 20 years my time spent on airplanes has decreased significantly, and it seems each time I go through a security checkpoint new and more invasive techniques have been created to identify potential issues. And these techniques are being practiced in most airports by TSA employees.

Ever since I was a young man I’ve used a money clip for any cash bills I carry with me. I’ve always purchased money clips that include a small pocket knife, file, and sometimes small scissors on them. In the time after 9/11, I surrendered several of these money clips at security checkpoints because carrying them was second-nature to me and I forgot the new regulations. Finally, a friend had one engraved with my initials specifically so it would be a keepsake and I would remember to leave it at home when flying. It worked – 15 years later I still have it.

In the time since the TSA was established other items began to be searched in response to threats. Shoes had to be removed and X-ray screened. Liquids and gels were no longer allowed, then only in small quantities and packed a certain way. All bags, jackets and metal items were to be removed and X-rayed. Advanced imaging technology machines – full-body scanners – were installed to detect non-metallic items concealed under layers of clothing. Pat-downs became more extensive and random searches became more common. Any personal electronics larger than a cell phone were X-rayed in bins separate from other items.

As noted, the public face of these potential inconveniences are the TSA employees you see and interact with at airport security. They are people who likely believe they are working for the common good and keeping people safe. Yet, it’s hard not to notice that many travelers adopt a hostage attitude when getting through TSA checkpoints – because the checkpoints can be stressful, we are dependent on the TSA agents to let us get on the plane for which we paid good money, and we need to cooperate, or else. Consequently we try to be as complacent as possible and simply endure the experience.  

On our spring break trip last week my wife was on crutches and was wearing two protective wraps due to a torn hamstring. The wraps set off a chain of additional pat-downs and exposures to explain their presence while she hobbled with a TSA cane because the crutches had to go through X-ray. Then there was the swabbing of her hands with the secret liquid which exposes explosive material. I had two rear pat-downs due to the curve of my lower spine which creates a space between my shirt and skin that shows up as a void area on the image scanner and concerns the TSA folks.

All of this is understandable when you consider the orders the TSA agents are operating under. Suspect everyone. Yet anecdotal reports in the press suggest that when TSA agents are unknowingly tested they miss 75 percent or more of the banned items undercover agents attempt to smuggle on planes.

So we have a system that causes great inconvenience for travelers yet may be functionally useless. In addition, some large airports, such as Orlando International, are considering terminating their relationship with the TSA and replacing it with private contractors, a status that already exists at a number of smaller airports.

Eager to combat this aura of inconvenience, the TSA started a program called TSA Pre-Check that allows travelers a faster trip through security without removing shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. Of course, the small catch is it costs $85 for a five-year membership. You submit an application online, then schedule an in-person interview that includes a background check and fingerprinting. The only downside for those of us in Happy Valley is the closest enrollment center that conducts the in-person interviews is 86 miles away in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

All of which is to say, I couldn’t work a job where people react to you as their captor, where your service is ridiculed, and it’s questionable if what you do is even effective. I guess that’s how it goes with dirty jobs – somebody has to do them, and we appreciate the intention.

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
Next Article
‘Paterno’ Director Says Biopic Will Be 'Journalistic'
March 12, 2018 8:32 PM
by Elissa Hill
‘Paterno’ Director Says Biopic Will Be 'Journalistic'
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

order food online