Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Apple MacBook Airs are Cleared for Takeoff

Photo of a MacBook Air laptop
Photo Courtesy Apple.com
So I was looking through my Google Alerts yesterday morning and something caught my eye. From a cursory glance of the day's blog entries, it looked as if the TSA was denying travel to Apple owners. I've never taken part in the war between Mac & PC users... I've used both and I enjoy using both, but I thought surely the TSA wasn't diving into the digital trenches and waging war against Apple. I know we're a versatile agency, but I would have to admit this would definitely be mission creep.

After digging into the articles, it turns out that a gentleman was traveling with his new MacBook Air. To make a long story short, it turns out the Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) gave some special attention to his new MacBook. Mac fans would tell you the TSOs simply couldn't resist getting a closer look at a fine piece of machinery. PC fans would tell you the TSOs are all PC fans and flagged the computer just to hassle the Mac guy. As a security fan, I can tell you that TSOs are trained to look for anomalies. Each TSO X-ray operator sees hundreds of laptops a day and some have been doing this for 6 years. They know what laptops are supposed to look like.

Here is my theory. Along comes the new MacBook Air. The thing is as thin as a potato chip, and looks completely different than any other laptop the TSOs have ever seen. They are seldom seen at TSA checkpoints due to their newness and the fact that they can be hard to find sometimes.

To help prove my theory, I've contacted Apple to see if I can process a MacBook Air through an X-ray and see how it looks. If it does indeed look odd, I'm going to take a picture and send it to TSA Training to help avoid future issues with MacBooks. The jury is out for now, but I'll post an update as soon as I can get my hands on the MacBook Air.

Click here to see my MacBook Air screening results (and, I've put together a movie).

One thing is for sure though. This was just a case of diligent TSOs paying special attention to something that caught their eye. Exactly what they are trained to do.

TSA Evolution Blog Team
*********** Update 3/12/08 ************
Still checking with Apple, but I wanted to highlight a post we received from Mr. Nygard. He’s the gentleman who posted about the experience he had while traveling with his MacBook Air. I’d like to thank Mr. Nygard for taking the time to comment on our blog. Here’s what he had to say:

It was my experience and blog post that got all this attention recently.

One of my purposes in writing this piece was to point out something I thought was interesting: namely that the x-ray screeners are trained to look for certain things--"landmarks", if you will--in the images they review.

Before last week, I had never given a moment's thought to the training or procedures behind the ubiquitous screening. Like many people, I supposed that they were just looking for obvious problems: suspicious outlines, coils of wires, etc.

I found it interesting that there might be a similar checklist of things that should be present: battery, hard drive, optical drive, and so on. I don't think most people would realize that.

Some people have interpreted me as variously "blasting", "vilifying", or "insulting" the TSA agents in question. This was not my intention. It appears to come mainly from people reacting to second-hand information, instead of reading the original post. ~ Michael Nygard


TSA Evolution Blog Team