A Return to Airport Screening Sanity?

My TSA experience at the Tampa airport.

March 11, 2014

Could the airport security screening process be returning to sanity?

Are we at the leading edge of finally moving beyond the security theater that has characterized the TSA airport screen process since after 9/11?

I’m not sure if my security experience in the Tampa airport this morning was an aberration, an experiment, or the start of a new TSA screening regime.

I’ve been interested in the sociology behind airport screening since reading Harvey Molotoch’s fine book Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger.

This is how it went this morning in Tampa:

1.  My boarding pass was checked (but not my ID) before boarding the driverless train to the Southwest terminal (terminal C).

2.  My boarding pass (without looking at ID) was checked once again before getting in the security line.

3.  A police dog (handled by a police officer) smelled every single passenger in the security line.   

4.  Boarding pass and ID were checked.

5.  We were allowed to keep our shoes on.

6.  We were allowed to keep our laptops and toiletries in our bags as they went through the screening machines.

7.  We were scanned by the regular TSA AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) machine. 

This morning’s security screening process made lots more sense.   

The screening was multi-layered.  

At four different points a person looked me in the eye, looked at my travel documents, and said to go ahead.

By having the security be multi-layered there was much less of a bottleneck in any one place.

Having an explosive sniffing dog working with an experienced human handler check each passenger gave much more of a sense of security than the purely technical (scanning) approach.

For the first time in long time, going through airport security felt both thorough and not stressful.   I hope that my experience was not a Tampa aberration, and that the TSA is changing how they handle airport screening.

Are there any larger lessons in airport screening for things that we do on our campuses?

Do we have any analogous to “security theater” in higher ed?  

Campus theater?  Classroom theater?  Teaching theater?  Learning technology theater?


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