Is Airport Security Really Secure?
Dear Boston Logan TSA,
It was airport drudgery like any other day: carryon luggage stuffed with a week’s worth of clothing, a backpack brimming with notebooks and magazines, an overpriced taxi to the airport, and the faint whiff of McDonald’s fries from my terminal’s food court.
I arrive at airport security. The line is long, but I don’t mind – a decade of travel writing has instilled a certain amount of patience in me. I arrive at the front of the line and start loading my personal effects onto the conveyor belt for screening: shoes off, belt off, wallet out, and computer separate from my small backpack. I pass through one of those fancy new swooshing human scanners and emerge on the other side to collect my belongings: shoes, belt, wallet and… wait, where’s my computer?
There’s a sinking feeling deep in the pit of my stomach: my computer is gone.
I dash over to a guard on duty and explain that my computer has vanished. “It was on the conveyor belt after the previous person’s white guitar case and bright floral bag”. It was quite fortuitous that the contents screened right before mine were so memorable. But alas, my concerns are met with a quizzical “are you sure you lost your computer?”
Scores of travelers pass by before the guard signals to his supervisor that something’s gone awry.
Regretful thoughts fill my head for not having backed up the contents of my MacBook, but mostly I’m consumed by two things: what would possess someone to steal my computer directly from airport security, and how could TSA let such a thing happen right under their nose?
Ten minutes go by and nothing. No one’s returned to the security station having realized that they accidentally took my computer off the conveyor belt instead of theirs. That’s when it really hits me: I’m never going to see my computer again. Ten years traveling, 80+ countries visited, 40+ Lonely Planet guidebooks written, and this is how all of my photos and articles disappear: at the hands of Boston Logan TSA.
Twenty minute elapse. Thirty. Forty.
Passengers are boarding their international flights, and pretty soon my computer will be on the other side of globe. I politely panic to the TSA guards about why it is taking them over half an hour to review mere seconds of security footage to figure out who grabbed my laptop.
Fifty minutes. One hour.
While patiently waiting for computer intel, I eavesdrop on the lingering conversation amongst TSA agents. Someone’s taken too long in the bathroom, someone showed up two minutes late for their shift. Someone’s decided to leave early out of spite. No one is focused on their job.
Two security officials approach to let me know that the video footage is “inconclusive”, even after providing them with the detailed information about the guitar case and the floral bag.
A full 90 minutes pass and I plead with the TSA officers to examine the stack of items that are currently unaccounted for, which seems to include a small silver computer. It bears little resemblance to mine save the Apple logo, but maybe this holds the key to its disappearance. I instruct them to turn the computer on and track down the passenger whose username appears on the home screen. Finally a sympathetic guard springs into action and finds that the username matches a passenger’s name on the manifest of a flight that is just about to depart.
With mere minutes to spare (and with boarding requests for my own flight echoing over the loudspeaker) armed guards drag the man with the username in question off of his flight. They bring him to the security area and pull my laptop out of his bag.
How he mistook my computer for his I’ll never know, but the truly baffling aspect of the situation was how it took a handful of security professionals over an hour and a half to track down my stolen property with an arsenal of advanced surveillance equipment.
Of course this is only one experience – a drop in the ocean of myriad travel tales – but it raises a lot of questions, namely: is airport security really doing its job when it can’t even protect the basic security of its passers-through?
Airport security should instill a sense of calm and trust in the passengers walking through; that their in-flight experience will indeed be a safe one. And in light of the three airplane calamities that have been splashed across the news this week alone, we need – now more than ever – our flying fears assuaged.
So step up your game Boston Logan TSA; there’s no room for this kind of error.