Sunday, January 10, 2010

Airport Insecurity

Two quick airport notes as I begin my trip home from Biloxi.

Delta charges passengers $25 for each checked bag, but on their regional jets, which are too small for most carry-ons to fit in the overhead compartment, they offer “planeside valet,” where you gate-check your bag at the end of the jetway. A baggage handler then takes it, puts it in the cargo hold, and it is returned to you in the jetway at your arrival city.

Delta does not charge for this service. Yet. Perhaps that’s because they haven’t noticed that everyone gate-checks their bags. There were at least five times as many “valet” items as “checked” items on each of my flights this weekend. It may be the only benefit of flying via airports that don’t get bigger jets. It also cuts down on the boarding time because you don’t have to wait for your fellow fliers to stuff their carry-ons into the overhead. On the other hand, it makes things a little longer at security.

Speaking of that checkpoint, at Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport this morning, they had a GE EntryScan -- a puffer machine that blows a quick gust at you, then analyzes the air for explosives or residue. Several studies have found that these machines don’t work effectively, but even if they did, the policy at this airport made no sense.

They did not require everyone to pass through the puffer. If the TSA believed in the puffers enough to equip this small airport with one, why not have everyone pass through it? We’re not talking about a heavy volume of passengers, with only a dozen or so flights per day.

Instead, most people were sent through a regular metal detector and then given an above-the-waist pat-down by a TSA employee. Following the attempted bombing on Northwest 253, what kind of “heightened security” is that? Umar Abdulmutallab had the explosives mixture in his underwear, which today’s pat-down would not have discovered. To my knowledge, not one terrorist has been caught with an explosive in their shirt. Since there no chance Americans will put up with a TSA screener grabbing us (male or female) in the crotch, there is still no protection against the kind of plot that failed on Christmas day.

Sadly, too many people have the attitude that the TSA should do “whatever it takes” to protect us when we fly. So they take off their shoes, put liquids in plastic bags, walk through useless puffers, and get pawed by security guards. Not enough say, “Stop wasting time, energy, and money on policies that won’t work.”