Monday, July 7, 2008

The evolution of the Bag: Going "Checkpoint Friendly"

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the evolution of the security checkpoint here during the past seven months. Some ideas like the Diamond Lanes and our screening of the MacBook Air have been tremendously well received while other topics like the science behind 3-1-1 and our recent ID requirement have generated lots of, let’s just call them spirited debates… In all cases, we’re working to create a system that is not only better for security but easier for passengers to navigate. We do this not because of a need to be loved, but because we increase security through a calmer checkpoint (think bad guys sticking out of the crowd more in a relaxed environment).

One project we’re currently working on that has been widely discussed on the Internet and several blogs is a “checkpoint friendly” laptop bag. This bag would allow our officers a clear, unobstructed view of the laptop and allow passengers to keep the laptop in the bag during screening.

Why do we keep calling it a “checkpoint friendly” bag you may ask? Because the simple truth is that if we were to “certify” bags or “TSA approve” bags, we’d be here for months and maybe years and not weeks developing an approved government standard for laptop bags. By not certifying or approving, we leave it to industry to develop bags that work and get out of their way. We expect these bags to hit the market in the Fall, in plenty of time for holiday shopping this year.

To support private industry’s foray into this new and exciting field, we have opened up our operations to bag manufacturers for a look see. The TSA screening operations at Ontario, California, Austin, Texas and Washington-Dulles have invited manufacturers in to see how their prototypes appear on our x-ray machines, both AT and standard. Officers working these checkpoints are providing valuable feedback on which bags work and which ones need more work. After all, the ultimate authority on whether a laptop will have to be removed from a bag will rest with the officer working the x-ray machine.

Once manufacturers think that their bags are indeed “checkpoint friendly,” then we expect them to produce bags for the market. Some things to look for in your “checkpoint friendly” bag, once they’re on the market, include:

o No metal snaps or zippers underneath or on-top of where the laptop would be X-rayed
o Plastic works much better than anything metal
o No pockets either underneath or on-top of where the laptop would be X-rayed
o Bags with thick dividers may cause officers to pull the bags for secondary screening and do not provide clear images
o No emblems or seals that are thick and placed on top of or underneath where the laptop would be
o Bags greater than 30 inches in length when unfolded often do not fit on a single image, requiring the TSA officer to view the contents of the bag as multiple images, which takes longer. It is faster to keep the fully opened bag to an opened length of 30 inches or less (although not critical for image clarity).
o If the bag does not present a clear image to the officer, he or she should be able to have easy access to the laptop computer for secondary screening to speed the process.

The key is a clear image of the laptop inside the bag. If wires, batteries or cords are on top of or under the laptop, it’s going to have to come out; which will slow security and anger a passenger that just bought this new “checkpoint friendly” bag.

So, all this talk about laptops may leave you asking, “Why do laptops have to come out of the bag today?” The reason is so we can get a good, clear look at them. It’s easy to hide items inside of or underneath laptops. By removing the laptop from the bag and placing it in a bin, the officer can quickly make the determination that the laptop hasn’t been altered or is hiding anything.

EOS Blog Team