There is no minimizing the task the Transportation Security Administration faces over the Thanksgiving holiday: With air travel projections rising, keeping security lines short will be a challenge at many airports.
Increased air traffic reflects my belief that the fine job our security screeners do every day has helped restore travelers’ confidence in flying since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But that increase also demands more, not only from the TSA but from passengers if we are to make the travel experience as pleasant as possible while keeping our commitment to security, as we are determined to do.
The TSA is taking aggressive steps to meet the holiday travel challenges. Leave for screeners has been canceled, and they will be working overtime when necessary. Managers are working shoulder-to-shoulder with screeners at airport checkpoints. Those checkpoints may open earlier or close later, depending on traffic at individual airports. Airports and airlines are providing staff to handle nonsecurity functions, like asking passengers to remove metal items from their pockets as they approach checkpoints. Vendor deliveries will be scheduled during slow hours and preventive maintenance will get extra attention so screening equipment doesn’t have to be taken off-line when the checkpoint is open.
TSA will coordinate over the holidays with all air carriers, the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics and AAA to have the best possible airport-specific information on how many passengers each carrier expects. That will enable TSA to staff accordingly.
Now, let’s look at the role of passengers. I can’t overstate their contribution to protecting aviation security from always shifting terrorist threats. Passengers provide additional millions of eyes watching for suspicious activity. And they can be a huge help by being prepared to go through the security checkpoint.
As you may have noticed, TSA is working with airports, airlines and the travel community on a nationwide education campaign to make sure passengers are aware of what they can do to speed the security process — not just at Thanksgiving, but at Christmas and year-round.
The first thing for travelers to realize is a trip should actually start before they leave home. Dress smart, avoiding metal jewelry or accessories that can set off security alarms and require extended screening. Pack smart, don’t overpack bags that can be difficult to close and may miss a flight if screeners have to open them.
And be aware of which items are prohibited and which are permitted in checked or carry-on luggage. Since February 2002, when TSA assumed responsibility for screening at the nation’s 400-plus commercial airports, nearly 9.2 million items had been intercepted at checkpoints through October. Among those were more than 54,000 box cutters — an amazing number, since they were banned following September 11.
At the airport, be aware of what we call “Three for Three” — three tips that can avoid secondary screening, a process that takes an extra 3 minutes per person.
Tip One: Place all metal items in a carry-on bag before going through the checkpoint.
Tip Two: Take laptops out of their cases.
Tip Three: Take coats off.
Think for a minute about the thousands of people who go through some airports in a day — tens of thousands in many cases — and it is obvious the cumulative effect of following those three simple suggestions can be dramatic. Families who avoid secondary screening can save screeners a tremendous amount of time, and allow them to concentrate on their security mission.
All that information and more — like calling the airline to find out when to get to the airport, and not packing film in checked baggage — can be found on the TSA Web site at www.TSATravelTips.us.
Thanksgiving is, of course, the heaviest travel holiday because millions of people are traveling within only a few days. The air security challenge is to make sure all of them get to their destination and back. TSA is fully committed to meeting its responsibility. With everyone pitching in, delivering not only world-class security but a pleasant travel experience will be a realistic goal.
Adm. James M. Loy (U.S. Coast Guard, retired) is administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.