Update On The TSA Snack Screening Policy At Various US Airports – Take Your Food Out!

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A couple months ago I wrote about the TSA considering to demand passengers take out their snack food from carry-on items during the screening process – a policy that has now gained traction.

This decision comes as a result of high-tech scanners detecting organic compounds contained in some explosives and sometimes give false alerts on food.

While this was a first designed as a loose recommendation and possible fix to deal with the problem of new scanners showing anything organic as a possible threat, requiring to double check the detected items.

My original article from early April can be found here.

As the Washington Post (see here) reports it has now become frequent policy at many TSA checkpoints to ask passengers for the removal of snack items for screening purposes (you’re still allowed to keep them).

… Passengers at airports across the country — including all three of the Washington region’s major airports — are reporting a rise in TSA agents instructing them to remove their snacks and other food items from their carry-ons and place them in those ubiquitous plastic bins for a separate screening.

It’s not part of the agency’s standard policy, according to TSA spokesman Mike England. It’s simply a recommendation issued by the agency last year to help speed the bag-check process. Screening supervisors at airports have the discretion to decide whether, and when, to demand that passengers proffer up their pretzel packs for a solo trip through the X-ray machine.

But the “recommendation” appears to be gaining steam and moving rapidly into the territory of de-facto protocol, according to travelers who have received snack-related notices from their airlines, and who have been informed by rank-and-file TSA screeners that the snack checks are now standard practice.

“He was just like, ‘Sorry. This is a new policy. This is what we’re doing now,’ ” Anny Gaul, 33, said of her recent interaction with a TSA agent at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. …

England said the concern is not that people may be hiding explosives or other illicit material inside of food. Rather, it’s that the food itself can look similar to the components of an explosive — therefore making it more likely that bags with snacks would be flagged for a time-consuming manual search. Officials thought it might be more efficient, in some cases, to have passengers remove the snacks from their bags ahead of time.

He said there are no immediate plans to standardize the practice at every airport across the country, but the procedure is employed at times when supervisors think it might speed things up.

“It’s not a requirement. It’s a recommendation,” England said. “But you might see them recommending a little louder during busy times of the day.”

Such a statement coming from the TSA spokesperson is absolutely absurd. How is a passenger to know if something he is being told by TSA or actual law enforcement personnel is an order or a ‘recommendation’?

Are we now supposed to guess if we’re actually supposed to follow the instructions by the officers at the checkpoint? That doesn’t make any sense.

Passengers aren’t just noticing in Washington. Travelers have complained about the practice being used at Dallas Love Field as well as at Chicago O’Hare International, Los Angeles International, Newark Liberty International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airports. The recommendation is gaining traction at smaller airports, too — in Boise, Idaho; Greenville, S.C.; and Manchester, N.H.

Sure, passenger are allowed to keep their items but of course this will stretch the entire security procedure a bit longer and creates confrontation.

There was this funny tweet of the fake satirical account of the former United CEO Jeff Smisek:

Conclusion

As said previously, safety and security both on the ground and in the air is important but you can’t help but feel that some of the measures implemented are going in the wrong direction. That includes the use of devices if they indeed cause such problems. Maybe a solution would be to not roll them out until a fix is found.

People have snacks in their carry on all the time and with every new items TSA comes up with that needs to be taken out of the bag the process becomes slower while lines become longer. Let’s see if these measures will stay limited to the U.S. or also start to creep around worldwide as soon as the technology that creates these problems becomes the standard.

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