I used to be a TSA Officer. For four years. I liked my job in that it was well paying, highly interesting and I got to work with the general public. I also didn't like my job because it was a long, hour commute (I rode the bus usually), there was no upward mobility within TSA, and I got fed up with it feeling like we were more about customer service then security. Also? Why does TSA let the airlines pressure them into changing security procedures to make the customers happy? Never mind.
So I wanted to try and answer a few questions I read a lot on message boards as well as talk about some security concerns with out getting myself in trouble :)
Fist off a few links for your edification:
TSA Prohibited List
TSA SimpliFLY Your Carry-ons
I wanted to quote a couple of knitting/crochet relevant notes:
PERMITTED IN CARRY-ON
Scissors - metal with pointed tips and blades shorter than four inches in length. (this is measured from the fulcrum or pivot point)
Knitting and Crochet Needles (no restrictions on length or material, DPNs, Straights, or Circulars)
Safety Razors - including disposable razors. (to me, as a former Officer, this could include those thread cutting pendants. I would suggest wearing as a necklace and not drawing attention to it)
"Remember that all shoes must be removed and placed in bins."
REMEMBER!!! You have the RIGHT to ask for a private screening at any point during the screening process. As soon as you put your items in for x-ray, you have CONSENTED to your property being searched. If you have body piercings and don't want to remove them, but they still need to be cleared, you can request a physical search of your person, which means they will do a 'pat-down'. This should be done with the palm over non-private areas, and with the BACK of the hand over sensitive areas, like the buttocks and breast area. Crotch screening is done solely along the thigh crease of the leg and along the zipper line (NEVER directly down the center for males or females) with the BACK of the hand. I *think* you could also show them your piercings if that is more comfortable for you to do, but it MUST be done in a private, closed off area.
Also, they do still require you to put your non-medically necessary liquids into a quart size zip-loc type bag. No more than 3 ounces per item and the bag needs to be able to close. After you have done this, you still need to REMOVE the quart bag from your carry-on and have it X-rayed separately. Why? This helps the x-ray operator by allowing them to concentrate on the x-ray image of your carry-ons instead of having to look for stray liquid items in the bag. It also helps prevent another officer from having to do a manual search of your bag to find that bottle of whatever you left in there. And it is much easier to do a quick glance at a clear bag to see the liquid instead of having to search your bag to see it. I know it seems over kill, but from an x-ray operator stand point, it is a relief to not have to call bag check after bag check because the general public thinks the rules don't apply to them.
As for jackets, coats and shoes, take them off. Use one of the bins provided to put your jackets and coats in. Don't empty your jacket pockets first, just leave the stuff in there. You should then place your shoes directly on the conveyor belt LAST. Make sure they are flat (like you are standing in them). Save the tall boots and spike heels in your carry-on or checked bags, Slip on shoes are easier and faster for you and everyone else involved. I know it sucks to have to stand around in your stocking feet, but please gather you things while you are waiting for your shoes and don't just stand there waiting for your shoes letting your things pile up and clogging the conveyor belt. This sucks and is a totally asshat move. I have been known to purposely not run the belt in order to prevent things from piling up and possible getting knocked off the belt. Also? be nice and re-stack your used bins! It only takes a second for you, and helps the Officers concentrate on what they need to be doing, not acting like Molly Maid and constantly cleaning up the belt.
If you are traveling with a laptop, gaming system (like a PS2), or some other large type electronic equipment, remove it from your bag. They only ask that you remove laptops, but from years of experience, the other items can often appear to be laptops (and will almost guaranty a re-x-ray of your bag and a secondary check of it as well). It also allows the Officer to actually SEE what is in your bag more clearly, thereby speeding up security in the long run.
Yes, stuff slips past the screening process for a few reasons. One obviously being the officers fault. They are under pressure to not only do a good job, but do it fast, do it politely and at the same time, concentrating on looking for BOMBS, GUNS, and KNIVES. That's stressful! Alot of people wonder how you can miss a gun on x-ray. First off, the x-ray images are 2 dimension, not 3D. It's like taking a photograph of your bag. If a prohibited item is situated on certain angles, it can appear to be nothing more than a small pile of coins (Honest. I have seen, during x-ray training, images of guns placed so that when they are x-rayed, they appear no bigger then a roll of coins at a slight angle. Unfortunately with the stress the Officers are under, and the constant pressure to "keep things moving" -by both the passenger and management- it is easy for a person to just assume the best and let it go with out further checking. Not good, but very plausible.) Same goes for knives and other prohibited items.
As for bombs. Well, I personally stopped a passenger who was attempting to do, what by all accounts seemed to be, a 'dry run' of bringing an IED through (Improvised Explosive Device). In case you were not aware, the x-ray system that is currently in use has a built in program that randomly places mock images of prohibited items transparently over actually images of carry-ons. This makes it look like it its in your bag. There is a 'test' button that when pressed lets you know if you found a test image or not. When this particular guys' practice IED came through, I immediately pressed the button, which also halts the conveyor belt. My heart raced when it told me there was no image. I halted the screening on my line and had all the passengers move away to a different line. I told the walk-thru Officer to close off our metal detector and called a Supervisor over. Everyone who saw the image was stunned. I seriously prayed that if something happened, my family would be able to cope with the outcome. This is very real. The bomb squad came, the item in question was carefully re-x-rayed at different angles, then gently tested and unpackaged. His passport was questioned, and he did not fly that day. He didn't seem surprised we stopped him, which also leads me to believe he was testing our system. Curiously he had a Germany Passport with a very decidedly not German name (I only glanced, but it seemed obviously Muslim or Middle Eastern). As for his 'carry-on', it was made to look innocent from the outward appearance, but as soon as you x-ray it, it look just like an IED. It was oddly packaged, being duck taped together just so, when a simple shopping bag would have been not only easier, but a lot less suspicious.
Do I think we are safer because of the measure taken? Sort of. I do also think that a lot of it is to keep the general public feeling safer (ever heard the word 'sheeple'?). A lot of the regulations stink. But when you know the why's, it makes more sense. For me, I believe all carry-ons should be prohibited, except for those medically necessary, along the same guidelines they use now for liquids. Your life won't end if you don't have your knitting, your Ipod, your laptop, or you 20 pounds of clothing. Perhaps a single, plastic bag (a la the grocery store type) per passenger? Then you could take emergency underwear, a book, your Ipod and perhaps some knitting? It would be easier to screen, lighter to carry, and be the best of both worlds (IMNSHO).
Ahh. I promise, back to knitting in the next post! ;)