from LAX to Orlando on April 16 they told us to get there 90 minutes earlier,
and they were not kidding.
We got there two hours earlier, intending to have breakfast in the American Airlines
Admiral's Club after clearing security. (Turns out the AA Admiral’s Clubs don’t
provide complimentary food, unlike the Qantas Clubs, but that’s another story).
Anyway, we never got breakfast, as it was time to board once we got through security.
They opened my backpack, pulled out my newspaper and book, checked them
to make sure nothing was hidden inside them and made us all take off our shoes.
Zac and I had to take off our baseball hats.
You then have to stand with arms outstretched and your feet on a mat with foot
shapes indicating where to stand. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration)
staff then run a metal detector over every part of your body. For this part of the
exercise the women and men are separated, with a female TSA officer looking after
the gals while a male one checks the guys. I think this is because the procedure is
somewhat intrusive – for example they might feel around the bra-strap to ensure
nothing is concealed there.
At least it is comforting to know that no-one could possibly have gotten on with
anything dangerous. Apparently the delays are worse when flying out of one of the
really large airports - LAX in this case.
I should add that the TSA staff we encountered were polite and very professional
in their approach. The procedure itself does not take that long; it is the waiting in line
that can take a long while. I don’t think everyone gets selected for the full search.
I have been told that if your boarding pass has ‘SSSS’ on it, then you have been
selected. We got selected on all our flights within the USA. We’re not sure whether
being a foreigner means automatic selection – I wouldn’t think an Australian family
of Anglo-Celtic background with two kids would really fit the profile.
Since we got back, we have been advised that travelling on a one-way ticket is likely
to lead to selection for the more intensive treatment. That would explain our
experience, as all our flights within the USA were one-way.
The same procedure occurred when flying Orlando to Washington, New York to LAX
and again when leaving LAX for Sydney, although we never again had anything like
the two hour wait that we had on the LAX-Orlando flight. The travelling public seems
to accept the delays as a necessary precaution, given what has occurred, and we felt
the same way. They try to make sure nobody misses their flight as a result - sometimes
you’ll see the TSA staff calling for any passengers who are on a flight that is about
to board, and they’ll get these to the front of the line.
P.S. Don’t bother using those little padlocks to lock your suitcase zippers when
flying within the USA. The TSA will cut them off with pliers and you’ll find the
remains of your padlocks inside the bag, along with a sticker telling you it’s been
inspected by the TSA. However, since we got back I am told that you can now get
‘TSA Approved’ padlocks. These apparently have a ‘diamond’ stamp on them, and
presumably can all be opened with a ‘master key’ that only the TSA has. Passengers
are allowed to use these, and I am told that if you do use them, the TSA will lock your
suitcase again after inspection.