Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Lose the Belt

I was amazed at how much airport security has been beefed up since the last time I flew anywhere on this trip to Maryland.

I know a lot of people complain about it, but I thought it seemed pretty effective. I've heard a lot of complaints about the random searches, and how they're searching the "wrong" people. It seems that the complaints about the random searches are deflecting validity away from the actual pre-screening. While I agree that every Arab-looking male age 10-80 should probably be pulled out of the line to be "randomly" searched along with the 80 year old ladies, I found that the normal screening process was fairly thorough.

The first time I went through the security checkpoint at O'Hare, I had forgotten to take my glasses case (with glasses inside), my cel phone, and my sunglasses out of my suit coat. I was thrown off by the change of routine. Normally I'm used to throwing my keys and pocket change in the dish next to the metal detector, and breezing through. Now you have to put anything you put in the dish through the X-ray machine. So the whole put-the-dish-through-the-X-ray-machine thing threw me off and I forgot to empty all of my pockets. Of course the alarm went off.

From there I was asked to step in a second line, which also exited through a metal detector. From there I was asked to sit in a chair and take off my shoes, which were first inspected (presumably for explosives) and then thoroughly scanned with the metal-detector wand. Then I was asked to stand up and they did the wand number all over my body. They then focused on my belt buckle and asked me to open my belt so they could see underneath it, and then since it kept going off they asked me to fold down the front of my trousers to see if there was anything behind the front of my pants.

What they missed was that when I pulled out my glasses case, and explained that I forgot to put it in a tray, they didn't ask me to open the glasses case. Granted, all I had inside was a pair of eyeglasses, but I could have very well had one of those box-cutters hidden in there.

The second time through the line (this time in Baltimore) was more of the same, right down to the belt-buckle/pants bit. I'm amazed to say that I had everything metal removed from my body except for the belt-buckle, and that was enough to set off the metal detector. I guess a good lesson for anyone travelling on planes in the U.S. is to go wearing something like pants with velcro closing waists.

Liz's purse also got pulled aside at the security checkpoint to be searched because she had a shitload of change in the change purse, and that density of metal had caught the X-ray operator's eye. They wanted to search the change purse because that amount of metal could easily be hiding more, sharper metal. Good catch there.

Then Liz got pulled from the plane boarding line for a random screening, and they went through her purse again. I have to admit, the random search seemed pretty stupid. She had already been searched, and now they were searching the exact same female a second time. I can at least respect profiling. Profiling means that they're taking an educated selective guess at who they think fits the "terrorist" bill. My wife really doesn't fit that bill. I'd be more in favor of throrough carry-on inspections for everyone going through security than the random searches. Honestly, the random searches really just feel useless and seem to be a frustrating waste of time. If you're going to pull women and old women out of the crowd for searches, you might as well just search everybody, really. Then there's no call for racism or discrimination for the random searches.

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