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Toddlers versus the TSA, redux: Well, that was anticlimactic

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Last week I wrote about my jitters around bringing a toddler through the security lines at Sea-Tac airport.  I even called the TSA to try to assuage my concerns.

As often is the case, my worries turned out to be fruitless.  Going through security was easy, and frankly, the least troublesome part of our flight.

We arrived at the airport about two hours ahead of our 7:30 p.m. scheduled departure.  Our carry-on count: two backpacks, one diaper bag, one car seat in carrying bag, and one Kiddo-carting stroller.  I estimated 40 people in line ahead of us at the security checkpoint we initially chose, but a helpful TSA agent pointed us to another checkpoint that had no lines at all.  By the time we got there, there were about 20 people in line ahead of us, including several families with small children.  Excellent, I thought; I can watch what happens with the other families before we have to face it ourselves.

What actually happened with them was a whole lot of nothing.  In fact, no one in our line got pulled for secondary screening.  Even the occasional person who had to step back through the metal detector was passed along eventually.

Metal detectors?  Wait, weren’t they supposed to have been removed and replaced with the body scanners?  Nope.  Once again, I’d led internet hype mislead me.  The body scanners and pat-downs are only brought into play when a person fails to clear the metal detector.  And in the entire time that we were watching the people ahead of us, or going through the line ourselves with all our baggage, or waiting for my backpack to clear a hand search, or packing up afterward, not one person was pulled for secondary screening.

I was almost convinced that the machines weren’t even turned on–that they were set up to let people get used to their presence, but not yet functioning.  We had to walk past two other screening areas on our way to our gate, and at each one I craned my neck, hoping in vain to see the AIT in action.  Finally, at the third security area, we saw a single adult male standing in the body scanner.  That was it. 

And considering what else we had to go through that night to make it to California–snowy roads, slow service in the food court, a mechanical delay, having to unload off the first plane and wait for a second plane to arrive, having to board 150-plus people in less than 20 minutes to avoid the flight being canceled–getting through security was a breeze!  Even with a toddler.

Those people setting up web sites asking whether you “posed for porn” or “got groped” are tweaking public perception by leaving out the option most likely to happen: neither of the above.  But no one gets web hits or ad revenue off stories of systems working correctly. On the other hand, it’s great gossip to pass along links of things that outrage us!  Here’s the problem with doing so (and I’m guilty of this myself): it creates the impression that the outrageous occurrences are more widespread than they actually are.  There’s so much fear and misinformation flying around that it’s a wonder there’s room for the actual planes.

I’m not thrilled that there’s a chance I may have to deal with a full-body scan or pat-down at some point in the future.  But now that I’ve seen firsthand what’s actually happening at the security checkpoints, I’m no longer stressing out about it.

By the way, here are a couple direct-from-the-horse’s-mouth blog posts about how to make your holiday travel go more smoothly (and reduce the chance of getting pulled for secondary screening):

http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/hey-turkey-check-out-our-holiday-travel.html

http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/tsa-myth-or-fact-leaked-images.html

Kiddo watches the airport activity during preboarding

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Author: Jessica Wallace

I'm a wife, mother, and software engineer living near Seattle, Washington. I like doing competitive puzzle events like the MIT Mystery Hunt and The Game. I've recently started learning a bit about candymaking, much to the delight of my husband, friends, and co-workers.

2 thoughts on “Toddlers versus the TSA, redux: Well, that was anticlimactic

  1. Here’s a good summary of what’s going on thus far:

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/11/tsa_backscatter.html

    It’s an invasion of privacy, and accomplishes nothing. Because you weren’t scanned on one trip through one airport shows nothing about the system as a whole.

    This type of behavior from a government agency IS outrageous and unacceptable. The complaints are real, and accusing the Internet hype machine of grasping for hits is missing the point.

    • Hi Chris. Sorry for the delay in pushing your comment through. I don’t have regular internet access this week while we’re visiting relatives.

      I agree that a single incident–positive OR negative–is not representative of the system as a whole. I don’t deny that negative incidents are happening.

      I also agree with you that people should be able to find an accurate representation of what they can expect to happen when they go through security. I was misled by several sources, both informal and official, into believing that all passengers would have to undergo either the AIT or a pat-down.

      The reality is that many passengers are greenlighted after simply going through the same security procedures we’ve been accustomed to for years. Had I known this, I would have been a lot less concerned about what my family would face in our travels.

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