Security screening: Long lines awaiting a full-body groping

Don't worry: This post isn't about the election today. But the subject could become a political issue, depending on what happens if a frequent-flying member of Congress happens to experience what some ordinary passengers are at airport checkpoint these days. Continue reading to find some good analysis of that topic, and a personal report on an ordinary day of waiting for 20 mintues to clear security at PHL's Terminals D-E. 

Airport security screening by TSA officers has taken on a whole new meaning recently with the addition of full-body scanners at Philadelphia and other airports. See the Inquirer's story on their PHL debut  posted below. For those concerned about privacy or the X-rays emitted by the new scanners, New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey has a tale to tell about what happens if you decline to be screened by the machines.Here's his column from today about what the alternative, full-body grope is like.  

This week, there may also be stepped-up screening at checkpoints because of the threat of explosives shipped by air cargo jets from Yemen to the US, including one enroute to PHL before it was intercepted. (Here's some late news about that topic, about whether the packages sent were a dry run for the real thing.)

Here's why I'm wondering about this. Last Friday, clearing security at Dallas Love Field after attending Southwest's annual media day, TSA officers were yelling at everyone in my line to take the little plastic bag with 3-ounce liquids and gels out of carryon bags and place them separately in a bin. Last summer, I asked Winging It column readers if they had noticed that the TSA seemed to not be enforcing that particular rule anymore. About 20 readers said that their experience for the last year or so had been like mine: They said that  they had not been stopped if they didn't follow that particular rule. On one day, at one airport at least, trust me, they were enforcing it.

My trip through security at PHL yesterday didn't involve the full-body scanning. The D-E checkpoint may have the equipment but it wasn't used on me. Rather, it involved a tedious 20-minute wait because there was only one out of half a dozen of the old metal dectectors in use. The wait was made more annoying by being forced to listen to a TSA video on which a chipper young officer in uniform tried to make us understand why there "are so many rules," about liquids, shoes and other aspects of the process. We know the rules, folks, and they're not the reason the process wastes so much of our time. It's because we were all being funneled into one lane. That's not the rules, it's lousy management or lack of funds to properly staff the checkpoint.

By the way, I barely missed being randomly chosen to empty my pockets completely and submit to a full frisk. The young man ahead of me was chosen instead. My turn to be randomly chosen came at the gate, after lining up to board, where I had to show ID and boarding pass, again, and have my carryon searched, again. The silly part was that the two young women officers doing the search opened one compartment and looked for a few seconds at some items while cheerfully asking me about who might win the Monday night football game. Made me feel really secure.