First-Person Flier: An Account of Air Travel in 2010 (Part 1)
I’m traveling for Christmas this year and with all the buzz around searches and groping and whatnot, I thought it might be interesting to document my experience with TSA on both legs of the journey. My point of departure was Fargo, North Dakota, which will never make a top ten list of busiest airports. As such, it lags behind in implementing new technologies (if not new procedures). In other words, there aren’t going to be any full-body scanners. Would this mean full pat downs for all?
Thankfully no. My printer being out of ink, I had to print off boarding passes at the self-service kiosks. These were not working however, which meant I couldn’t bypass the ticket agent and go straight to the security line. The agent was friendly, but I noticed that he didn’t ask for ID before handing me the passes; my name (and the names of those traveling with me) were enough to get them. That seemed odd at first — that certainly has never been my experiece in the past — but it made sense when I realized the TSA agent at the security checkpoint would check the boarding pass against my ID anyway. I made my way to the security checkpoint.
The TSA agent was sullen and not up for any banter, not responding when I said “hello”. He scrutinized my driver’s license with a practiced eye, looking for the slightest evidence I was not who I claimed to be. He grudgingly passed me on with a grunt and a thrust of his head and I moved on to the conveyor belt that would carry all my belongings into the X-Ray machine.
Fargo is still stuck firmly in 2005 when it comes to the X-Ray process. I’ve been to airports that no longer require you to take off your shoes (McCarran in Las Vegas comes to mind). I’ve been to airports that no longer expect you to remove your toiletries for inspection (just about all of them come to mind). Fargo maintains all these requirements, however. They also want toiletries in a clear plastic bag for easy inspection. Nothing says safety like clear plastic. Since I visit family at least once a year, I keep a kit there so I don’t have to pack anything except prescription meds, so I can bypass all this silliness.
Once through the line and re-dressed, we get to our gate with about thirty minutes to spare. Once we lined up to board there was a new wrinkle: random ID checks. A few people were approached by an agent and asked for ID. One of my companions were approached in this way. Since we were through the security checkpoint all our wallets were stored so it took some digging, but whatever. The agent didn’t ask for a boarding pass, just an ID. I’m not exactly sure what this measure was supposed to do. The agent didn’t have a list of names to check the ID against. Unless she had the entire no-fly list memorized, the whole thing seemed like a feel good, “we’re doing something” procedure. After all, no one who was in the gate area could have gotten there without going through the security gate which you couldn’t do without… an ID.
Overall, Fargo’s security process seems a bit over burdensome. It’s saving grace is that it’s a tiny airport which means that it takes little time to get through it. But, no full-body searches or scanners yet, so there’s that. The random checking of IDs inside the gate area just seemed bizarre and unnecessary.
Our return point of origin is Atlana’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, a completely different kettle of fish. We’re going from one of the smaller “international” airports in the country (Fargo’s Hector International flies to Winnepeg, Manitoba) to one that consistently ranks as one of the busiest in the world. It will be interesting to compare the procedures at the two. If you made it this far, you might be interested in reading part two of this piece next week.
Merry Christmas to all.Tags: air travel, airport security, Atlanta, fargo, homeland security, security, tsa