Traveling will become easier, but not very: how airport screening will change in the near future - ForumDaily
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Travel will become easier, but not much: how airport screening will change in the near future

On November 19, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will turn 21 - you can already drink alcohol. The Department of Homeland Security agency was created in response to the September 11 attacks and subsequent threats to the safety of air travelers. Many of the security measures introduced back then are still in place, such as the rule on carrying liquids. What will happen next, the publication said The Washington Post.

Photo: IStock

No more cleaning up electronics and liquids

If you are one of the approximately 25 million TSA PreCheck members, you can skip this section. As you well know, trusted travelers can leave their electronics and a bag of liquids, gels, pastes and creams in their hand luggage at security checkpoints. But there is good news for others, too.

Since 2019, TSA has been acquiring and implementing computed tomography (CT) x-ray systems, the same technology that hospitals use for patients and TSA will apply for bags. The agency initially purchased 300 CT scanners and plans to expand its capacity by another 1230. Airports are adopting the technology at a steady pace.

Such machines provide a more detailed and complete view of the contents of the bag than earlier models. In addition, TSA staff can electronically view the inside of luggage, which will reduce the frequency of manual checks.

"It's like a CT scan," said Scott T. Johnson, TSA's director of federal security services. “You can rotate it and look at different angles or virtually pull something out of a bag.”

If the machine detects suspicious material, it will issue a warning. Officers who are undergoing additional training on 3D scanners have found several items that often trigger a warning despite their seeming innocence.

"The car doesn't like deodorant," TSA officer J.D. Pugh remarked. “Oddly enough, Sweet Baby Ray barbecue sauce is also alarming.

The new machines optimize safety in several ways. For example, passengers put all their bags in boxes that transport items neatly and orderly, like gizmos on a factory assembly line. Trays are tagged with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, which helps officers track the status of items.

“We match the image to the luggage,” explained J. Matt Gilkeson, director of the TSA Innovation Task Force, which tests new security technologies.

As the containers exit the scanner, they are routed one of two routes: to the passenger waiting on the other side, or to an area where an officer will conduct additional screening. In the meantime, the empty containers will return to their starting point.

On the subject: Lost baggage or things at the airport: where to run and what to do

An agency spokesman said the equipment will become as ubiquitous as an X-ray machine unless (or until) it is replaced by newer technology.

Since not every checkpoint will be equipped with a CT scanner, look for signs or listen to instructions from a TSA officer. If an employee tells you to keep electronics and liquids inside, keep your bags zipped.

Liquids over 3,4 oz (100 g)

Unfortunately, we're stuck with mini toiletries for the foreseeable future, or maybe even longer. The technology is not advanced enough to quickly determine whether an explosive material contains a large container of shampoo or a travel mug filled with coffee.

Passengers with exceptions, such as those traveling with infants, breastfeeding parents, or travelers with a medical condition, may carry liquids larger than 3,4 ounces. However, the TSA requires additional testing to ensure the safety of these fluids. Travelers in this group must notify security of their medically necessary fluids.

The officer will place a container of liquid in an oven-like explosive detection device. If the green light comes on, the passenger and his fluid can continue to move. If the red light is flashing, the officer will run the test strip over the bottle. If the vapors do not cause color changes, the item is considered safe. A different shade means that the liquid is not safe and cannot move through the checkpoint.

And although the procedure takes several minutes, the delay, which seems insignificant as for one traveler, is time consuming if everyone in line is checked.

“It’s impossible to test oversized liquid for everyone,” Gilkeson said.

Take off your coat, but maybe not your shoes

It's the season when PreCheck members must abide by one of the rules that applies to all passengers all year round: take off heavy outerwear.

“The machine can't get through your coat to see your skin,” Gilkeson said. “He doesn’t know that a jacket is a jacket.”

As for shoes, a wide range of shoe materials is a boon for fashionistas, but not for scanning machines.

To accommodate the variety of shoes, the agency has launched a pilot testing program of machines that test a piece of clothing from scratch. Essentially, you're stepping on a scanner.

More sensitive searches

Gilkeson admitted that no one likes searches.

The TSA is prioritizing creating a more welcoming environment at checkpoints, especially for transgender travelers. If a search is required, the agency will no longer assign a male or female officer based on the traveler's appearance, which can lead to uncomfortable public conversations about gender identity.

Instead, the officers will press one button (previously they pressed the male or female button), and the traveler will choose the gender of the officer who will search him.

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TSA announced the program in March and will start updating the Leidos Advanced Imaging Technology software by the end of the year.

Among the sensitive issues is a hair search. Gilkeson said the TSA is exploring ways to phase out the controversial procedure, which could upset travelers whose hairstyles are tied to cultural practices or religious beliefs.

Simplified identification

“Security is getting more and more automated,” Gilkeson said.

Passengers departing from airports with tech screening devices do not need to present their boarding passes to an officer. Official proof of identity, such as a driver's license or passport, will suffice. The system is installed at about 1300 travel document checkpoints at airports across the country.

At the next level of security, travelers will scan their own IDs. The identification is synchronized with the airline's booking information and informs the officer that the person presenting the ID is the passenger with the ticket and is eligible to pass through the security system. Future identity verification may include a camera that takes a picture of the passenger and matches the image of their face with their ID.

The agency is testing the technology on PreCheck lanes at Baltimore, Atlanta and Phoenix airports.

“People think it’s hand sanitizer,” he said of the equipment, which actually resembles a dispenser.

The long-term goal is to install electronic gates that allow passengers to pass through security as quickly and painlessly as swiping a card at a subway station.

Of course, not all TSA technologies are successful. The evaporator machine, which blew air onto passengers like a small sneeze, was abandoned, as was a hologram that provided information about security checkpoints and directions at three airports in New York and New Jersey. The holograms didn't work because the passengers were in too much of a hurry or too distracted to stop and listen to the talking light.

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