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TSA Chronicles, Cream Cheese Edition

Alan Pisarski, a transportation scholar featured in our podcast about the disappearance of hitchhiking, writes in to say:

My niece was back home in Milwaukee visiting family and stocked up on bagels, lox, and cream cheese to take home to Kentucky (forget for our purposes the madness of thinking that Milwaukee has a clue about bagels etc. – she is right – at least they have heard of them in contrast to KY).  Anyways, the wonderful folk at TSA said she could take the bagels on board and the lox, but the cream cheese was out! But being proud civil servants – an oxymoron if ever there was one — they agreed that it would be okay, and she could bring it on board, if the cream cheese was spread on the bagels. Please write this down for future reference.

(Photo: Matthew Mendoza)

I flew the other day with my kids and we discovered that children under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes at the security checkpoint. My daughter was disappointed. To her, going through the line barefoot is one of the highlights of flying.

As someone who flies a lot, I don’t find the security process as onerous as many others do — but that’s probably because I fly a lot and have the drill down. Also: I find that most waits are much shorter than the “endless” lines reported in just about every news report about airport security. (Such reports are also grammatically corrupt, as even very long lines are hardly “endless.”)

What is frustrating, I believe, is a lack of consistency and transparency. Different airports do things differently; different crews at the same airport do things differently; procedures change and change again and change back to the original procedure. Check out, for instance, this cupcake story, with a very good quote:

“The TSA at Logan Airport said the cupcakes looked delicious and told us to have a great trip. But in Las Vegas, they were dangerous. They shouldn’t be delicious in one part of the country and a security threat in the other.”

That said, since the goal of security is to thwart attackers (rather than simply frustrate fliers), minimal consistency and transparency is probably a good thing.

Or, if you’re of the opinion that airport security is actually security theater, you can read the latest version of that argument in Vanity Fair, with Charles Mann taking security dude Bruce Schneier to the airport. Here’s part of the article’s subhead: “As you stand in endless lines this holiday season, here’s a comforting thought: all those security measures accomplish nothing, at enormous cost.”