Real Tie-Ups

This week the Transportation Security Administration helpfully reminded travelers that we are a year away from a fundamental change in our by-now familiar airport security requirements.  Beginning on October 1, 2020, if you are going through airport security for your flight, you will need to have a compliant “Real ID” card or a valid passport.

jwhi43emtai6tlpt64hxrqkw5aThe Real ID requirements are intended to put the issuance of ID cards and drivers’ licenses on a consistent national footing and to prevent the use of fraudulent ID cards — which many of the 9/11 terrorists carried.  To get the compliant card, you need to bring much more documentation than used to be required to, say, get a driver’s license in Ohio.  The documentation includes proof of residency (such as utility bills), proof of identity and legal residence in the U.S. (such as a passport), and your Social Security card (or a W-2 listing your Social Security number).  Those of us, like me, who don’t have the foggiest idea where their Social Security card might be will need to figure out how to get a replacement card before we go through the Real ID card process.

I don’t have an objection to imposing stricter identification requirements as part of the security checkpoint process; it seems like a prudent step.  But I am marking my calendar right now to try to avoid any air travel in October 2020, because it is guaranteed to be a frustrating disaster.  How many times have you seen people holding up the TSA process under the current process, because they need to fish through their backpack or their purse for their ID card and boarding pass, as if the request for those documents comes as a surprise?  I can’t imagine the delays, angst, fury, and arguments that will occur next October, when people get to the TSA officer and learn that they don’t have a compliant driver’s license or other compliant documentation and will end up missing their flights.

If you need to travel next October, plan to drive.

Why TSA Pre-Check Is Worth It

It seems like the standard security line at the Denver airport is always jammed, as it was this morning at 7:30 Mountain time as shown in the photo above. If you regularly fly through certain cities — Denver is one of them, as are Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta — paying for TSA pre-check status so you can skip the lines and dodge the stress and hassle is worth every penny.

Traveler’s Triathlon

Today I am attempting the traveler’s triathlon — a three-leg trip with tight connections, heading into snow country, in winter. Add in a government shutdown and what that potentially means for TSA workers, air traffic controllers, and every other federal employee who works in the nation’s air traffic system, and the degree of difficulty ratchets up to just about Iron Man Triathlon levels.

So far, though, so good. No bad weather, no security delays, no de-icing issues, and no mechanical problems. I had to run through several terminals and concourses at O’Hare, but that just gave me some much-needed exercise.

If my last leg leaves and arrives on time, I may just need to buy a lottery ticket when I read my ultimate destination.

REAL ID

The other day I was in line to pass through security at the Columbus airport when I saw a sign announcing that, effective January 22, 2018, drivers’ licenses from certain states will not be accepted at TSA checkpoints as appropriate identification.  According to the sign, licenses from Maine, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana and Washington are not compliant with something called the REAL ID Act.

REAL ID Act?  Of course, the name brought back memories of high school days, when your more daring classmates would proudly if furtively show you the fake ID they had acquired (featuring, of course, a name other than “McLovin”) in hopes of buying beer at the local carryout.  The TSA sign seemed kind of weird, and I found myself wondering why the federal government has a problem with the licensed issued by the “m” states . . . and Washington. So I followed the instructions on the sign and went to the tsa.gov website to see what it was all about.

It turns out that in 2005 Congress passed something called the REAL ID Act.  The Act establishes certain federally mandated minimum security standards governing issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards by states, and if the states are non-compliant, their licenses won’t be accepted for certain federal purposes — like passing through the federally operated security checkpoint at domestic airports.   (You also will need a REAL ID Act compliant drivers’ license if you want to get into a nuclear power plant, in case you were wondering.)  Ohio and a number of states are already compliant, still other states have received extensions to become compliant, and the four “m” states are noncompliant.

Why are some states resisting?  According to a member of the Maine state legislature, it’s because of concerns about privacy and the possibility that the Department of Homeland Security could interlink the information from the state drivers’ license bureaus to create a national identity database.  She also states that, to get a REAL ID drivers license, individuals must have their photograph taken with facial recognition software and have documents like a certified birth certificate and original social security card scanned into a database, where it will be kept for seven years — and, she notes, potentially would be accessible to hackers who are constantly trying to get to confidential personal information.  Her description of the bill, and the reasons for her opposition, ends on this ominous note: “And how much do you trust the federal government?”

I’m as interested in privacy as the next person, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about the REAL ID law.  Obviously, there is a need for identification cards, and all of the information that is collected as part of the REAL ID process seems to be already in possession of the federal and state governments, anyway.  I’m quite confident that the federal government knows what I look like (or could find out with a few strokes of a keyboard), facial recognition photos or not.  And since I have to fly frequently for my job, I need to have an ID card that gets me through security — so I’m glad Ohio licenses are compliant.

It’s troubling to think that people are so distrustful of the federal government that they would be concerned about a database that included photos and basic identification information, like Social Security numbers, that people routinely disclose on things like tax returns.  It says something about the fraying relationship between the government and the governed that the question of appropriate identification could be so controversial.

Armed Travelers In An Armed Nation

In 2016 the Transportation Security Administration found 3,391 guns being carried by passengers going through airport security checkpoints.  That’s a new record, and represents a 30 percent increase over the number of guns found in 2015.

Oh, yeah . . . and 83 percent of the guns found at checkpoints were loaded.

art-tsa-checkpoint-afp-giOf course, as a percentage of the millions of people taking flights from United States airports — the TSA screened 738 million passengers last year — 3,391 obviously isn’t a big number.  Still, it’s a surprising statistic, and disconcerting to those of us who travel frequently for business and pleasure.

Since airport checkpoints became ubiquitous after 9/11, any cognizant person has got to know that you can’t carry guns and ammunitions onto planes.  Can thousands of people really be unaware of this rule, or are those people just testing to see whether it’s actually enforced?  The story linked above suggests that at least some of the apprehended travelers claim that they did not intend to carry the guns found at checkpoints — that they simply grabbed a piece of carry-on luggage without checking to see whether it included a gun.  That seems wildly implausible to me.  Can people actually not be acutely aware of where they are storing loaded firearms in their homes, would they really not hear or feel a gun rattling around when they retrieved a suitcase from the closet, and wouldn’t they find the gun during the process of packing?

The recent shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim area by a guy who apparently had a gun in his checked-in luggage is scary precisely because airports are, by definition, impersonal public places where you’re surrounded by total strangers whose intentions are completely unknown to you.  It’s bad enough to think that the person next to you at the luggage carousel might pull out a Glock and start blasting, but in some ways it’s even worse to think that thousands of fellow travelers are so stupid or careless that they are trying to bring loaded guns through the TSA checkpoints.

The TSA And The Teddy Bear

Let’s face it:  a lot of people really don’t like the Transportation Security Administration.  They don’t like waiting in lines to go through security, they don’t like the uniformed officers telling them to take their laptops out of bags and to remove their shoes, and belts, and overcoats before they go through screening, and they don’t like having to madly scramble around to reassemble their attire and gather their things after they come rolling out of the x-ray machine.

https3a2f2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com2fuploads2fcard2fimage2f3196242f0a03fd4a-0903-4e30-921d-6a63a0fb3fd8So when people heard about TSA officers taking steps that kept a gigantic teddy bear off a plane, and then posting, on Instagram, a sad photo of the bear, slumped over next to a trash can, people were quick to label the TSA this year’s Grinch.  They assumed the bear was a gift for a kid and thought the TSA was heartless.

The real story, though, is that the TSA was just doing its job — and the bear wasn’t a gift for a kid at all, it was part of an effort by an adult man to make a YouTube video.  After the outcry about the pathetic abandoned bear, the TSA explained that even though the YouTuber had a ticket for the bear, the bear was simply too large and too dense to be effectively screened.  In fact, the TSA has previously found a disassembled gun and ammunition hidden in stuffed animals.  If the TSA can’t effectively screen a carry-on item, then obviously that item shouldn’t go onto a plane.  And the airline also determined that the bear was too big to go into the cabin of the airplane, anyway.

So I’m with the TSA on this one.  Going through security at airports is a pain, but the vast majority of the TSA officers I’ve encountered in my travels are friendly, professional, and just trying to do their job.  If anybody deserves the blame for the pathetic Teddy Bear Tale, it’s the guy who thought it would be a good idea to create a potential problem for the TSA and an airline just to make a YouTube video.  It’s totally inconsiderate — toward the TSA, toward the airline, and toward other travelers who might have found themselves on a plane with a guy who’s trying to carry an oversized teddy bear down the crowded aisle and then seat the bear next to some unsuspecting traveler who’s just trying to get home.

Does everybody have to make YouTube videos about everything these days?  We’ve got enough to worry about without self-absorbed people trying to get a few minutes of internet attention coming up with stunts that inconvenience the rest of the world.

Airport Chic

  
The B concourse at Port Columbus has undergone a bit of a facelift, and the renovation process has addressed two of the new issues raised by modern travel.

First, what should be placed right beyond the TSA checkpoints, to help those sock clad, disassembled travelers who emerge stumbling from the process, holding up their pants, clutching belt and shoes, and trying to navigate their roller boards past the other huddled masses?  Port Columbus has come up with star-shaped benches just after the TSA area that seem to work pretty well as a drop bags, shoe-tying, put yourself back together gathering point.

Second, what about seating areas at the gates?  Before, the airport just had rows of back seats; the new feature is serpentine pods with low tables that look like the interior of the Jetsons’ house.  The black seats are still there, but the serpentine seats at least break up the monotony.  You’re not going to use them if you need to charge your devices, though.