What's the best thing about flying today? And the worst thing? Some people will give you the same answer to both questions: airport security.
We know why it's the worst; the inconvenience and additional time it takes at the airport. Before 9/11, some business fliers made a game out of "how close can I cut it?" -- arriving at the gate with literally just seconds to spare.
Only a fool would do that now.
As for the best part? Some people tell me the answer to that is airport security, too because they feel a little safer.
Not everyone. A quick perusal of some of the scorching epithets left on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) blog clearly indicates that. Talk about flaming comments.
I think it's a tribute to the TSA's efforts at transparency that they allow everyone to see statements slamming the agency's supposed treatment of passengers ("Like moronic garbage"); its honesty ("TSA's policy is to lie to passengers"); and even its mission ("An abysmal failure"). By the way, I don't have to tell you that people who aren't happy are usually the only ones who bother to comment, right?
But no matter what you think of airport security or its methods, the TSA is in there trying. I recently had a long chat with TSA spokesman Nico Melendez at Los Angeles International Airport and he told me, "We're constantly testing things at our laboratory to make sure that we have the cutting edge tools in our airport to thwart any threat that's out there."
He also told me a few things I didn't know or I'd forgotten. Maybe these will surprise you too.
#1: TSA Officers Screw-up When They Go Through Security, Too
Melendez said he's a pretty savvy traveler, but then, you'd expect a TSA bigwig would be; and yet…"I went to a couple checkpoints and I forgot a couple of things," he said. "Sometimes, you just forget." You do indeed. And unless you want that $40 bottle of Pureology shampoo to end up in a TSA dumpster, pour it into a 3.4 ounce bottle.
#2: Blame Slow Lines at Least Partly on Non-Readers and Airlines
We've all seen them: the signs scattered along the security lines, stating "Take off your shoes!" and "Remove laptops from cases!" (if your laptop is in non-TSA approved bag) and the ever-popular "No liquids greater than 3 ounces!" (though strictly speaking, you are actually allowed 3.4 ounces 100ml).
So there are all these signs, and yet when a lot of passengers get to the tubs and conveyor belts, they act as though shoe removal is a bizarre new trick that's being played on them. "People don't read the signs," says Melendez. But then, as shown in #1, he apparently doesn't always read them either. Okay, I admit, I've goofed here too.
What else slows down the line? It began with the perfect storm of 2008: that's when airlines started charging a fee for the first checked bag, just as the TSA introduced the liquid ban. As more and more fliers began using carry-ons to save a buck, they were getting confused over the "legality" of their water bottles. Confusion equals delays.
Why is this still happening? A lot of people don't fly much, and people forget.
#3: Yes, the TSA Does Staff Checkpoints According to Airline Schedules