COVID Will Change My Airport Security Checkpoint Routine

Since I have Global Entry and PreCheck I don’t go through regular screening very often. That means I don’t have to take my 100ml Freedom Baggie filled with liquids out of my bag, I don’t have to take my laptop out, and I don’t have to parade through the shoe carnival. It also means I don’t have to go through naked imaging.

Sometimes I depart the U.S. flying an airline that doesn’t participate in PreCheck. And when I do, I still ‘opt out’ of these nude-o-scopes on principle. Maybe I’m the last person that does.

  • I take a pat down instead of going through the machine.

  • The screener will tell me what to expect, saying to me that they’re going to ‘run their hand up my leg until they meet resistance’

  • They’ll ask if I have any sensitive areas.

  • “Only where you meet resistance” I’ve replied, a hundred times.

We’ve come to accept all of the indignities of airport security theater. The TSA is like Elmer Fudd, they’ve still never caught a rabbit terrorist despite asking over and over “are you a terrorist?” They fail to detect most of what goes through checkpoints and they’ve admitted in court filings that there’ve been no active threats against U.S. aviation in years. Yet we accept massive misconduct in the name of feeling safe.

We give up our liberties for a feeling of security, and though nearly everyone has gotten used to it I’ve continued to object.

I’ve been Don Quixote, and coronavirus is my ‘night of the mirrors’ scene where I’m revealed to be just an old man and not a knight.

Coronavirus is what’s finally going to push me to no longer opt out. Because as much as I object to the TSA’s nude-o-scopes, I don’t want to be body-to-body with a TSA screener, having them touch me up and down (even in fresh gloves).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Can the influential voices of the travel community push for TSA to remove the boarding pass & ID check at the podium? This is the most security-theatrical part of the TSA routine. Not to mention the most rude.

    We’re going to have to fight back the criticism that this routine enforces the “no fly” list. It’s a valid criticism so we have to demonstrate the follies of the list, both from an effectiveness perspective as well as from a civil liberties perspective. Then we have to point out the rational view that the benefit from enforcing any such list is heavily outweighed by the public health benefit of removing close contact points.

  2. It is tough to prove a negative though. Maybe we haven’t had an active threat against U.S. aviation in years because of the deterrent factor of screening. Even if one believes screening is mostly theater to make us feel better, it may also be theater that deters terror attempts.

  3. “I don’t have to take my laptop out”

    Anyone else start to notice a rise in xray screeners, even in the Precheck lane, yelling at you about having more than 1 electronic device in your bag? My first three years in Precheck I never heard anything, and starting about six months pre-COVID, I kept getting yelled at for having my laptop and iPad in the same bag. Presumably sitting on top of each other in the xray. Once at Phoenix for sure, and a couple of other middle sized airports (never my home, DEN, or anything large like LAX or ORD).

  4. “We give up our liberties for a feeling of security, and though nearly everyone has gotten used to it I’ve continued to object.”

    I can’t help noting the irony of the fact that he’s accepted everything about this plan-demic from day one. You can’t make this stuff up.

  5. James…uh, maybe because the pandemic has killed 120,000 in three months? Compared to the TSA not catching a single terrorist.

  6. Gary it would be great to see a policy paper/proposal on what airport security should be. Many people (including myself) point out the flaws of TSA. However, I’ve never read a comprehensive “here is what we should do”.

  7. @Jack – you mean “action items”? I thought those were only needed for braindead corporate execs who can’t make their own decisions to save their own lives.

    Pointing out the flaws of TSA means what we should do is get rid of the flaws! To be explicit:

    – Eliminate the podium document check.
    – Screen all passengers with the PreCheck method. Bags on x-ray belt, nothing comes out. Five laptops stacked on top of one another? No problem.
    – All garments worn. Exceptionally heavy outerwear (in the top 0.001% of what travelers wear) may be separately inspected. PreCheck already allows “light jackets” to be kept on, but in practice officers require all jackets off and placed directly on the dirty, dusty x-ray belt with shoes and luggage that was just dragged off filthy city streets into the airport. Yuck!
    – Allow liquids of all sizes. The threat of liquid bombs is impractical. The threat to the environment from excess waste of travel-size and single-use plastic bottles has never been greater.
    – Performance review process for officers, and those who do not meet expectations – either due to misconduct with passengers, or failing TSA’s own inspections – are terminated. If aviation security is serious business, then it needs to be treated like one. The job cannot be for lazy incompetent dickwads.

  8. You are not the only person who requests a pat down and declines the nude-o-scope. Add my wife and I, so that’s 3 of us now. My only gripe is that sometimes we lose sight of our stuff that has gone through the X-ray while we wait for an agent who can perform the pat down. I always look for and strongly prefer a metal detector. I agree that this is one of the major advantages of Pre-check, since the Pre-check lane usually has a metal detector.

  9. I don’t know about you but I find it impossible to be agitated about the loss of liberty at the TAA checkpoints when the government has shut down most businesses and ordered people to stay home for more than 3 months now.

  10. @Boraxo – I have issues with the shut downs that largely aren’t backed by science. We know that most spread happens indoors, that face masks limit spread, and that distancing is useful in limiting spread for short interactions. We know that a small percentage of people with the virus account for the vast majority of spread.

    You couldn’t get me in a casino or a movie theater, but there’s an outbreak now for the first time really in Austin and I went to my barber shop yesterday – their precautions are excellent and there was no reason they should have been shut down.

    We need to be taking really serious precautions in nursing homes, in prisons, and we need to deal with work where people show up sick – like construction sites staffed by undocumented workers (who aren’t employees, don’t get unemployment or have health care).

    All that said, I don’t see how limits on liberty in one context make them any less meaningful in another.

  11. do you have any sensitive areas? i haven’t been asked that but now i will be prepared.

    tsa: do you have any sensitive areas?
    me: yes, my wee wee.

    tsa: do you have any sensitive area?
    me: (alternative answer): yes, i am ticklish. also my wee wee is a sensitive area.

    tsa (patting)
    me: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

  12. @Michael.. I was correct you don’t understand the correlation. Think deeper! Here’s a hint, the number of dead and the terrorists are irrelevant.

  13. Are opt outs still permitted for non-pre check people? I thought that the TSA might use the pandemic as an excuse/reason to do away with opt outs and require the nude o scope.

  14. As long as you wear a mask, you will be fine. I don’t know if I agree with Ben Schlappig that not wearing a mask amounts to “racist genocide”, but he’s right that wearing a mask is what separates Good People from Bad People.

  15. @Subaru – while (just like the vast, vast majority of Americans) Ben supports on-board mask enforcement, he has made no such statement as you claim, nice try

  16. Anyone that has read this blog for any times knows Gary is a germaphobe and a prude.

    This “story” is just further proof

    I have zero problem w the scanners (even though I typically use ore check) or the pat downs (if selected for a random one). Of course I’m proud of my junk. You can tell Gary never played sports where he dressed and showered with dozens or other men.

  17. I feel the same way about masks on airplanes. It’s just kabuki theatre. Wearing a mask is the new jewish star armband.

  18. I’ll opt out no matter how bad the pandemic. As near as I could figure, Obama took a trip to India with the president of the company that makes scanners and suddenly stimulus money went to its subsidiary in Malaysia to produce them. (Can anyone say, “Campaign contribution.”) Personally I’m ashamed that Americans accepted this, but scared people don’t think.

    Same thing with the ID check–since when did we need an internal passport to travel in our own country? If airport security really worked it wouldn’t matter if bin Laden’s entire gang got on board, and a no fly list isn’t going to catch anyone. (Except those black marketing tickets, which is the real reason here.)

    Security theater. The idea that 1 person carrying 1 liter of a liquid is a threat, but 10 people traveling together each carrying 100 ml are not is the kind of rigid logic you get from these folks. From what I read the TSA has rock bottom morale. No surprise. Anyone who can think and feel would be ground to dust there in no time.

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