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14-October-2007 : The Rules That Change Daily With Airport Security
When you travel in the United States have you noticed many inconsistencies from airport to airport and even agent to agent regarding what you have to unpack from your bag? If you have not noticed this you are either lucky or aren’t traveling enough.
It is becoming an increasing problem. Many photographers now report being required to remove their DSLR bodies from their bags and have them screened in a bucket, just like their laptop. For the record you are not required to remove your DSLR camera. Officially the following items are what need to be removed from your bag for TSA screening
– Video cameras that use video cassettes
– Full-size video game consoles
– Full-size DVD players
– CPAP breathing machines
The last think you want to do is argue with a TSA screener over something as simple as removing your DSLR from your bag. The TSA screener has the ability to detain you and pull apart all your bags, or send you off to secondary screening which can delay you to the point of missing your flight.
A big factor in the inconsistent nature of TSA screenings is the high turn over of screeners in the agency. The people you see on the front lines are not paid well compared to the task they are assigned to, which is keeping our flying public safe.
A second factor in the inconsistent nature of the TSA’s seemingly random changing of the rules daily, is that not all airports use the TSA for screening! That’s right when the TSA was formed, it was created to eliminate private security at U.S. commercial airports. The concept was a unified and consistent level of security from small airports like New Haven (HVN) that are only serviced by one airline flying to one destination to the massive international gateways like San Francisco’s SFO. But wait………………. the screening of passengers and baggage at SFO is not performed by the TSA! All the screeners at the TSA checkpoints at SFO are employed by a private security firm. You will notice at SFO that the patch on the screeners sleeves are not those of the TSA and the backs of the uniform shirts are embroidered with “Team SFO.” This denotes that you are not dealing with the TSA, but a private firm, with the TSA was established to eliminate.
The TSA and some airports outsource the functions of the TSA to save money. Outsourcing is usually a less costly option, unless of course you realize the average TSA screener is earning approximately $26,000 per year, or less than $2,200 per month, or less than $550 per week. Now this salary might be OK for screeners based in small regional airports, but for screeners who work at Los Angeles’ LAX, New York’s JFK, Boston’s Logan or Chicago’s O’Hare this is an almost impossible salary to live in. Also keep in mind that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive place in the United States to live and on average SFO’s screeners are paid less than Federally employed TSA agents.
So next time you are asked to remove you gear be polite. The more polite you are the more polite the screener usually is. Keep in mind these folks are just trying to earn a living and that for the tasks they are assigned to they should certainly be paid more than they are.
If they ask you to pull your DSLR out, do it. It takes 10 seconds before the screening or it can take 5 minutes after the screening when they pull your bag off the belt and yell “Bag Check On Five!”
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