The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) invited the networks and some newspapers to Baltimore/Washington International airport to show off their new "Pier C" security checkpoint. Last fall, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta designated BWI as the airport where the TSA would try out new methods of checking people through security.
In a briefing before the show-and-tell, Hans Miller, point man for BWI's Pier C walked reporters through the changes that had been made. He claimed that security was the first priority, followed by efficiency and customer satisfaction. In nearly thirty minutes of remarks, however, almost everything Miller said was related to efficiency and customer satisfaction.
No new technology has been introduced into the "security checkpoint of the future." They have designed a new way of forming lines -- that is, an executive on loan from Walt Disney advised them to make one long serpentine line for five checkpoints, instead of five lines. This expedites what they like to call "through put," that is, the number of people passing through a checkpoint. Other major changes: a central "wanding" area enclosed by glass so that passengers can keep their eyes on their luggage and belongings, customized bins for lap tops, cell phones and other items that need to be emptied from pockets, and a shoe x-ray station added after Richard Reid tried to blow up an American Airline jet last December.
Tests run by TSA before and after the new configuration show that they have cut the average wanding time down to 1 minute from 3 minutes; waiting in line time dropped from 20 minutes to 12 minutes and increased the amount of people clearing security by 40 percent.
That said, they claimed that the increased efficiency helped increase security. And they claimed that security audits (where federal agents try to get a gun or explosives or sharp knife-like weapons through a check point) showed they "are batting 1,000 percent," on the security front.
That may be true, but the changes at the security checkpoint of the future offer no changes in security technology or methodology. Nothing the TSA has done changes anything from the actual security check before September 11th. The lone exception is x-raying shoes.
A case can be made that everything that the TSA has done in the design of Pier C probably should have been long before September 11th to improve customer service that was in deep trouble caused by delays and inefficient lines.
By Ward Sloane