Having just endured another flight through America's airports, I swallowed the bitter irony of reading this article on plane, "How one airport keeps its security lines short." The answer seems to be that San Francisco's airport security has remained in private hands, which has generated more workforce flexibility and technology innovations:
San Francisco is one of five U.S. airports where security is not provided by the federal agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks. As the debate continues over whether the nation's airports should use a private or government security force, San Francisco is an example of how private security can make a difference — if implemented well.
Security waits at San Francisco were longer than 10 minutes only 2% of the time from June 2004 to mid-May, a USA TODAY analysis of federal records shows. At other large airports, lines exceeded 10 minutes nearly four times as often.
"It's an efficient airport," says passenger Luke Alexander of San Jose, Calif., who regularly takes international flights from San Francisco.
After Sept. 11, the Transportation Security Administration took over passenger screening from airlines, which had security companies plagued by high turnover. The law creating TSA let five airports have private security with TSA oversight to provide a comparison.
Despite San Francisco's experience, TSA says there's no clear evidence that private management shortens lines. (TZ: A shocking conclusion by TSA).
A TSA-commissioned study in April 2004 found that passengers "experienced shorter wait times" at San Francisco's checkpoints and that security there was no more or less effective than at other large airports.
Also, personally, one of my least favorite things in the world is having to take my shoes off when walking through the metal detector, especially because I had understood that removing shoes is not required by law. (If you need another reason other than inconvenience and the feeling of being treated even more like cattle, read this article "Airport shoe inspection raises risk of foot fungi". Blech.) I even wore sneakers on the flight to try to avoid having to take them off. No luck.
So, since I arrived early for my flight, I decided I would find out what would happen if I didn't remove my shoes. Then I entered the strange world of modern airport security. I was confronted by a TSA officer who told me, "If you don't remove your shoes, you will be pulled aside for a special check." I said "ok." They then led me to another cattle pen where--and I swear I am not making this up--a TSA official stood directly in front of me, ignoring me and staring at the work schedule grid for almost five minutes (mind you, all it was was a matrix of the 10 or so security officials and what time they would be working this week, so I'm not sure what was so complicated). Meanwhile, 4 other employees stood around seemingly doing nothing (compare that to San Francisco airport). Then after five minutes of ignoring me, the person in front of me finally noticed me and said, "We need to get a male screener over here." I'm not sure why she didn't mention that while she was figuring out the scheduling grid.
I was confused, because I thought that all they would need to do was screen my shoes in some way. Nope, they then did a full-body wand and patdown, ran my boarding pass through a computer, and then finally took a dust swab off my shoes to run through a computer. (Whew, I passed!!).
Why they need to do a full-body patdown, as opposed to just a scan of your shoes when you decide not to remove your shoes when you go through the metal detector is not clear to me. The only explanation that I can think of is to raise the cost and inconvenience to those don't want to remove their shoes so as to deter people from refusing to remove their shoes.