This is a guest post from Clint B.
In recent months, Big Sis has stepped up calls for travelers to “stay alert and report suspicious activity”. Earlier this month I discovered that this is indeed very good advice. Staying alert will help you through airport security checkpoints without having to become part of the security theater’s production.
Flying out of BWI, I noticed that the line up to security was directed in such a way that, of the four baggage check lines available, the natural flow was for everyone to go to the line on the far right. Sure enough, the majority of the people in line followed the herd and queued up on the right most station leaving the other three stations with very short lines. There was only one body scanner installed at this checkpoint, and it was installed at, you guessed it, the right most station. I went and got in line at the one on the far left. As I loaded my things onto the belt, I watched and noticed that only people from the right most line were being directed through the scanner but no one from the other three lines were. Of those in the first line, it looked like about 3 in 5 “random” people were begin sent through the scanner.
On my return trip from SFO, I took the train to the airport and disembarked next to the international terminal. After a quick conversation with the guy at the information booth, I decided that it would be quicker to go through security there rather than up closer to my departure gate. As I stood in line waiting for my ID to be “checked”, I observed the configuration of the stations. This time the stations were arranged in pairs with a metal detector and a body scanner placed between each pair to serve both stations. In each case, the body scanner was on the left and the metal detector on the right. I noticed that almost everyone going through the station on the right went through the metal detector without question and almost everyone on going through the station on the left went through the body scanner.
Notice that I said “went through” rather than “sent through”.
I was directed to the line on the left. It appeared that they were just sending every other person to the left to keep the lines even. The left station had a TSA employee at the front, making sure that the luggage was all lined up properly to go through the scanner. Once someone luggage was in, he would direct them to proceed with the simple gesture of an open hand pointing to the right. He didn’t say whether they should go through the body scanner or the metal detector, he just smiled and directed them to the right. Everyone in front of me followed his direction through the nearest opening which was the body scanner.
When it came my turn, I decided to press my luck. He smiled at me and pointed an open hand to the right. So I followed his direction all the way to the far right and walked through the metal detector. The employee working the metal detector waved me through and I walked back over to the left to collect my things from the belt. While doing so, I looked over at the next guy coming through the line. When he got the go ahead to proceed, he recognized the vagueness of the open hand gesture and asked “which one?”. At this point, the TSA gatekeeper gave him a more specific direction sweeping his arm behind him and and pointing through the body scanner. I’m convinced that had the traveler kept his mouth shut and just walked over to the metal detector, he’d have gone through without a problem the same as I.
Stay alert and perhaps you too can avoid the indignity.
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