Within a matter of days following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a major paradigm shift not only in the world but most notably in airline security. The newly formed entities of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration would officially become airline security within the United States. Having been in the industry for over two decades the changes that have taken place are phenomenal and were necessary but how far has the industry actually come in terms of making progress in the area of airline security?
At one point, prior to Sept. 11, 2001, private contractors and even airline employees manned the security checkpoint of certain airports all dependent upon the specific airport and the facility agreements. Those days are over as the TSA mans the security checkpoints of all United States airports. As a customer service manager for American Airlines for over 20 years I can see where the changes were necessary not only for the safety of the traveling public but also for the purpose of having a solid mandated method of doing security in all airport locations as well as on commercial aircraft.
The view of the TSA was not readily accepted by the public and of course there was a bit of territorial conflict with airline employees. Employees were now being told by someone other than airline management what could and could not travel in terms of baggage and checked items for commercial aircraft. Many of the first hires of TSA were ex-military which created a different environment for the airport for travelers and employees. There was a lot of pressure. As with all things new, kinks were worked out, new procedures begin to mesh, and what’s best and most safe for all prevailed creating a government mandated method of providing safer airports and public travel environments.
It still amazes me the things people show up with at the security checkpoint. During the early stages of the implementation of TSA in the airports, if there was a questionable item when a passenger showed up at the airport, the managers on duty for the specific carriers would be called to the security checkpoint. The TSA Agent and the airline manager would review the current list of items, which changed repeatedly, which could or could not travel. One one occasion, as the customer service manager on duty I was called to the security checkpoint with regard to an item that TSA would not allow to go through without having first discussed with a manager. In this case the questionable item was an iron skillet in a small carry-on bag bequeathed to a woman from her recently deceased grandmother. According to the list the items were determined to be “go” or “no go” items. A more formal classification system would later be developed. The passenger was allowed to take her iron skillet even though TSA and others shook their heads in disbelief of such an item being packed in carry-on luggage. It was somewhat understandable as it was a sentimental item. There are other items of course which do get confiscated.
After watching improvements and changes being made with airport security there has definitely been progress. There are notable changes in public response to the fairly new uniforms of TSA from the original issued uniforms. Their look is now more of a uniformed officer, whereas before the public didn’t quite show the respect that was necessary for a professional safety official. New machines have been added in certain locations such as body scanners and puffer machines all designed for higher security screening, which to some passengers is personally invasive. In order to keep travel and airports safe the necessity is definitely there. It is worth removing shoes, placing items in bins, and moving through security at a slower pace in order to get through an airport and to a destination safely.
In terms of measuring today’s airport and airline security on a scale of 1 to 10, it is somewhere between an 8 and 9 and improves daily. TSA takes a lot of heat from the public and where their jobs are certainly not the easiest, though to many it appears they are just standing around, their job is security, one for which they are trained. As travelers and members of the industry we need them and they need us. As an airline professional travel is a part of life and you therefore deal with security on a daily basis as well as when it is time to travel for personal or business reasons. It puts those in the industry in a postion to easily notice improvements, enhancements, and the order of security which has formed since the establishment of TSA. As a manager in the airline industry and being aware of daily security this is an important part of the industry that will always be in transition.