I just spent five hours working alongside Transportation Security Officers at Baltimore Washington International's Southwest Terminal A to help out with the traditional Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving-rush. Thing is, no rush ever occurred. Sure, there was a steady flow of traffic through the checkpoint without much of a break, but the queue never really grew beyond 30 people.
Officers were out in full force manning five separate lanes-including the Family Lane that rolled out November 20. While families and those with special needs certainly appreciated Family Lane availability, the checkpoint was moving so smoothly, that all lanes were readily able to handle all types of passengers regardless of their particular situation.
Like many of my fellow headquarters colleagues who volunteered for the Thanksgiving weekend, I helped officers with bin removal and replacement in the lanes. I also helped spread traffic around to each of the five lanes to expedite the entire process. As I stood behind the Travel Document Checker podium, a frazzled mother approached me and asked:
"Is that the Family Lane over there?"
I replied, "Yes it is."
"Should we go over there?"
"Do you have any medical liquids over 3.4 ounces?"
"Nope. We're traveling pretty light here."
"Then you're good to go right where you are [which happened to be lane 2-the shortest line at the moment]."
Another good thing I noticed during my time at BWI: pies, cakes, and other holiday food items went through checkpoints without incident-though some items were subjected to additional screening.
The holiday spirit was on display as another passenger approached "TSO Dave" while he was helping bags through the X-ray machine and said: "You guys are doing a heck of a job today." Little things like that mean a lot.
While things went smoothly for the most part, there was one interesting moment around noon. As I was chatting with passengers and helping them with their bins, I noticed an Evian bottle with less than three ounces of red liquid in it under one of the metal tables situated in front of the X-ray conveyor belt. I picked it up, and let an officer know where I found it. He quickly placed the bottle into a little bowl and sent it through the X-ray machine. Based on the image displayed on our end, the officers was able to verify that the liquid was not in fact dangerous and disposed of it.* I love technology.
There's been plenty of articles out there about the decrease in traffic over the 2008 holiday season, but it was very clear from my first hand experience at BWI that TSA's officers, expeditious security features, and prepared travelers certainly helped the flow of traffic today.
It was an awesome experience to work with the BWI team and experience firsthand what they do every day.
Hopefully my experience at the checkpoint will continue through Sunday and Monday. Look for another post from my colleague Christine, who will be volunteering at Washington DC-Reagan National Airport on Monday.
Quick update: Traffic has just started to pick up (2:45pm), but all five lanes are still running smoothly. Family Lane is being used primarily by families. Special needs individuals (wheelchairs, etc.) are still being taken care of in all lanes.
Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all.
- Poster Paul
* Clarification: While X-ray can detect many things, it cannot detect all types of liquid explosives. That's why the 3-1-1 liquids rule was put in place in September 2006 and will remain in place until a technology solution is tested and deployed. In this case, when an abandoned item was found at a checkpoint, officers used available technology to screen it to ensure passengers' safety and then disposed of it.