Six Things Every Traveler Should Know About Airport Security This Month


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Since the attempted bombing of Delta/Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, airport security has been turned on its head (once again).

While we expect changes, here are SIX things you need to know right now:

1>Most increased security is on inbound-to-U.S. flights. As far as we can tell, the only changes you may notice for domestic U.S. flying are more frequent pat-downs at airport security and the possibility of a random screening of your carry-on bags at the gate. (If you were traveling post 9/11 you may remember this procedure where a handful of passengers, usually those near the front of the boarding line, were chosen “randomly” to have the contents of their carry-ons displayed to everyone boarding the plane…)

2> Canadian authorities have lifted the onerous complete ban on carry-on luggage (except personal items like a purse or laptop) for flights departing Canada for the U.S. Updates here.  British Airways tells The BAT that travelers inbound to the U.S. from the U.K. are restricted to a SINGLE carry on that must conform to normal size standards. (one bag only…which means you need to put your purse or briefcase INSIDE your carry on suitcase)

3>When returning from another country to the U.S., you will go through TWO security checks: First, when checking in for your flight at the airline counter, you will face possible frisking, baggage inspection and questioning BY THE AIRLINE. Second, local authorities at airport security checkpoints will screen you as you make your way to the departure gate.There is also the possibility of random checks at the departure gate.

A remarkably quiet United Terminal at SFO. Sunday, Jan 10 at 5 pm

4>REMEMBER: We are entering the SLOWEST travel period of the year, so don’t expect ongoing huge delays or long lines. Despite media reports, you should not expect chaos at the airport. As a matter of fact, you could probably roll a bowling ball through airport concourses this month and not hit anyone! Just how dead is it at SFO? Check out this photo taken at United’s security checkpoint on SUNDAY Jan 10 at 5 pm. It’s super dead!

5>Expect to see more frequent use of the full-body scanners at the 19 U.S. airports where they are in operation. More international airports are said to be fast- tracking installation of these devices. (Full body scanners are in use at SFO’s International Terminal only. If you are flying United and a full body scan scares you, just go through security at United’s domestic terminal 3, and then take the new “connector walkway” to the international gates.) Silver lining? Check out the 6-month stock price chart below that shows the jump of OSI Systems, which owns Rapiscan, the manufacturer of such devices.


6>Restrictions on on-board activities (such as getting out of your seat or using electronics during the last hour of the flight) that were mandated last week are now left up to cabin crew—and from what we’ve heard, are essentially no longer in effect.

Bottom line: Terrorist incidents, like airplane crashes, happen. No matter how hard we try to prevent them, they are going to happen. No airplane is 100% safe. No airport is 100% secure. We should do our best to be vigilant, but not make long term decisions based on reactive fear.

NEW!! See The BAT on SFgate

  • Robert

    The description of inbound security is not correct.

    I came in yesterday on KLM from AMS to SFO. As always, there was no central security, there was only security at the gate. I went straight to the gate with my carry-on after printing out a boarding pass at the KLM check-in machine.

    At the gate, there was the usual KLM security – a passport/visa checker to makes sure the traveler had appropriate documentation to enter the US, and a metal detector/luggage x-ray machine. The difference from before Christmas Day was that after going through the metal detector everyone got groped by a private security officer (very polite and un-TSA like, he said to me “may I check you” and got the irony when I started to say “well…..”), and someone also went through all of the luggage after the x-ray machine (after asking “may I check your luggage”.)

    No other changes, except on board the navigation system no longer had a visible map, and the captain did not point out landmarks.

  • chris

    It is indeed the United terminal, but what a lot of readers may not know is that the Premier Exec, 1K, Global Svcs, First and Business class security check in area has MOVED to the far western end of Term 3 near the international concourse. Stay tuned for a future post and video of the new digs. Thanks for reading! — Chris

  • Joe

    The United picture, unless something’s been reversed, appears to be of the area for frequent flyers. However, it is pretty quiet out there, based on the last couple of weeks.

  • Hoison

    Indeed nothing is safe, lets all just get used to that instead of protesting with security theater.

  • biggiggles

    Thanks for this useful information update! I flew into SFO from Germany two days ago and it appeared that there was a single policeman together with three hired security personnel at the gate. While people waited at the gate, the security personnel would select a passenger then frisk them and go through their belongings. It appeared that they were only selecting passengers who appeared to be of South Asian extraction (seriously…). Apart from no GPS updates once we crossed into US airspace, this seemed the only other extra security measure (though I have seen gate-checks many times before in the UK and Asia, so I’m not sure how ‘novel’ it really is)…

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