Security Changes and the Transportation
Security Administration Takeover

As a result of September 11, there has been a significant increase in the level of security faced by passengers in the U.S., sometimes leading to inconvenience and misunderstanding. Although the newly created Transportation Security Administration has taken over the screening function at over 400 airports, there is still inconsistencies in the way that security is currently applied at U.S. airports. Some of these issues have resulted in a number of complaints and comments to, and occasionally in confrontations between passengers and security personnel. What follows are brief overviews of some of the patterns that have emerged from the experiences of visitors:

Inconsistencies in what is permitted on the aircraft
While some items are clearly not permitted, other items may be banned seemingly on the whim of a screener. In one case, a child returning from a family trip to Disneyland was prevented by a screener at LAX from taking a toy Star Wars type light saber on board the aircraft. According to one of the child's parents, this lightweight plastic and paper toy was excluded based on the opinion of one screener, even though other screeners had no issue with the toy.

In another case, a woman was prevented from taking on board a piece of jewelry because it had a pin on it that was used to attach it to a jacket's lapel. According to this passenger, after she rolled her eyes at the apparent absurdity of this request, the screener refused to let her in the terminal for "not showing the proper respect for the security guard." She was forced to get another boarding pass and nearly missed a flight to a relative's funeral.

In yet another case, a passenger had her AAA sized batteries seized because they were considered dangerous goods. After going through security, she was able to purchase another set of batteries inside the terminal.

Inconsistencies in what kinds of searches are permitted
As a result of the heightened scrutiny that people receive, pat down searches and other searches that require a screener to touch a passenger are more frequent. In some cases, screener have requested that clothes should be loosened in view of the public and have caused unnecessary embarrassment. In other cases, screeners of the same sex may not be available, forcing passengers to either risk missing a flight waiting for a screener of the same sex or submitting to what they consider an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

Inconsistencies in the intensity of screening
While there are no doubt legitimate reasons for varying the level of scrutiny at an airport, but it appears that in several cases, passengers traveling during relatively light traffic times are more likely to face extra scrutiny and personal searches both at the initial screening point and at gate just prior to boarding.

Personal property at greater risk of theft
Now that passengers are more likely to be taken aside for extra screening, personal property that goes through the x-ray machine is more likely to be unattended. Since there is not consistent policy in place for getting this property back to their rightful owners, passengers may be powerless to retrieve their property while they are being searched. One particular theft risk is personal computers. Passengers are asked to take these computers out of their carrying cases and run them through the x-ray machine separately. Passengers should ensure that their computers or other property will either be under the control of someone in their traveling party, or if that is not possible to ensure that they can keep an eye on their property at all times.

Related Resources
U.S. Government Airline Safety Information
11 September 2001 Related Rumors and Hoaxes
Airplane Operator Security Regulations
Airport Security Statistics (CNN)

Security Changes and the Transportation Security Administration Takeover -- Revised 1 June 2008