Thursday, July 5, 2012

Random Testing of Liquids at Departure Gates. Nothing new...

Water Bottles
While browsing the web this morning, I saw that the topic de jour was that TSA was now screening liquids at the gate. We've talked about random gate screening here before, and if you travel frequently, you've likely experienced a gate screening. Not a big deal really... Heck, even I have been pulled aside for random gate screening.

So, the most popular question that comes up with this topic is: "Isn't this redundant?" On the surface, it does seem that way, and it's the first logical thought that many have. However, any security expert will tell you that nothing is ever 100% secure. So, gate screening is kind of like our safety net to keep up with anybody who might be trying to get things past conventional screening.

We stay away from static security tactics. Layered security is common practice, providing the necessary unpredictable measure that makes it more difficult to do malice to the transportation infrastructure. If everything we did was always the same, it would provide a checklist for people to know exactly what to expect. While this would be extremely helpful for passengers, it would also be useful to those wishing to do us harm.

To keep this from happening, every day at airports around the nation, we work with airport partners to determine what additional screening tactics should be employed. These additional random tactics, such as gate screening, greatly increase security by making it truly unpredictable.

As far as the testing of liquids at the gate, this is just one of the many options we have to choose from when deciding what additional tactics to use each day. We started using test strips back in the summer of 2007 and continue to do so. The test involves a test strip and a dropper containing a nontoxic solution. In case you're wondering, our officers don't place the test strips in your beverages/liquids. They simply have the passenger remove the cap/lid and they hold the strip over the opening of the container. Procedures call for moving the test strip to the side and applying the solution from the dropper to test the strip. If the test results are positive TSA will conduct additional testing to make a final assessment.

In a nutshell, liquid screening at gates is random and it isn't happening at every airport every day. So other than possibly taking a few moments of your time before boarding your flight, it's business as usual.

If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact us by clicking here.

TSA Pre✓™ Through Global Entry: One Sweet Deal!

TSA Pre✓™ logo.As a spokesperson for TSA, I’ve been talking about TSA Pre✓™, TSA’s risk-based, expedited checkpoint screening initiative, for the past several months and decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is. 

I travel regularly for work and pleasure, but I am, shall we say, “thrifty.” Since I purchase the cheapest ticket and am not loyal to only one airline, I knew I would not be invited to opt into TSA Pre✓™ by one of the participating airlines (US Airways, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines or Alaska Airlines).
The only option available for me to receive expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™ would be to sign up for one of the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs (Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI). So I did.  

With my valid passport in hand, I visited, and then clicked on the Global Online Enrollment System link, where I provided some personal data on my application online and typed in my credit card number. It cost me $100, but I figured that if I got accepted, the “membership” would be good for five years, which comes to $20 a year. As I mentioned, I’m “frugal,” so I did the math. Nearly all of my travel is domestic, not international. Most of my travel is through the busiest airports, and on the airlines participating in TSA Pre✓™, so that sounded good. I take about 20 trips a year for business and another eight trips a year on my own. Multiply that by two (one flight departing and one flight returning) and it means that I stand in about 56 checkpoint lines per year. My back-of-the-envelope math told me that for 36 cents per trip in an average year, I could leave my shoes on, keep my jacket on, not have to bother to remove  my laptop from my knapsack, and allow my 3-1-1 liquids bag to remain tucked into my carry-on. PLUS I wouldn’t have to wait in line for others to take off their shoes and fill up the checkpoint bins. I had two words to describe that outcome: Sweet deal!

After I signed up online and paid the fee, a few days later I received an email that told me that my application had been processed and that I should arrange for a visit to an airport where I would have to go through an interview. The letter gave me a temporary Global Entry membership number that I was permitted to start to use immediately for international travel, but not right away for TSA Pre✓™ .  

Fortunately for me,  I live only about 25 miles from an airport where an officer from CBP conducts interviews. I realize that’s not the case for a lot of people. I browsed the appointment times online, and scheduled the interview. On the day of my interview, I brought my passport, driver’s license, and conditional approval letter, which I had received from CBP shortly after I applied. I watched a brief video about the Global Entry program. The video told me that Global Entry was a privilege program that could be revoked if I violated any customs laws or was arrested. I was handed a “Know Before You Go” brochure. I answered a few questions, was photographed and fingerprinted and got a solid handshake as I left. It took all of 15 minutes. My Global Entry ID card will come in the mail within a few weeks. It’s not actually necessary for me to carry around the card and cannot be used at the Global Entry kiosk, but it will include my ID number and photo. My temporary ID number is now my permanent number.

I’ve entered my new “Known Traveler” number in my airline profiles. (Apparently people forget to do that, so please consider this a reminder to do so.) The number is on the back of the card, upper left-hand number next to the words PASS ID, which I suspect stands for “Passenger Identification Number.” If you don’t have a card you can also find the number in your GOES account online.

I’m amazed that it was so darn easy.  If you see me in an airport, be sure to say hi. I’ll be the one with my shoes on. 

Lisa Farbstein
Guest Blogger & TSA Spokesperson