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Taking Your Laptop Out in the Airport Security Line

Robert Poole
August 19, 2008, 11:54am

The TSA has approved some laptop bags as checkpoint-friendly, meaning you don't have to take your computer out of the bag. I see two major drawbacks with this approach. First, a lot of cases that will be marketed as checkpoint-friendly won't be, and will lead to lots of instances in which the screener stops the belt and requires the laptop to be removed and run through again by itself. This will slow things down for everybody else. Second, since airlines are getting fussy about enforcing the two-carry-on maximum, I for one don't want a separate carrying case for my laptop. I travel with a roll-aboard and a briefcase, and the laptop goes in one or the other. Unless they invent a briefcase with a fold-out laptop pocket that otherwise meets my briefcase needs, I won't even consider such a product. A far better approach is the new multiview checkpoint X-ray machines. These machines are now in use at all seven of BAA's airports in Scotland and London--more than 200 of the Smiths Detection machines in all. British aviation security officials have concluded that the sophisticated, multi-view imaging capability provides an accurate look into laptops that are inside ordinary carry-on bags. Hence, passengers at BAA airports are no longer required to remove their laptops. Time savings in checkpoint processing are estimated at 15%, so far. TSA is installing 900 multiview X-ray machines this year, at major airports nationwide. One can only hope that they talk with their U.K. counterparts to understand how and why they have found the new machines up to the task of checking laptops contained in ordinary carry-on bags. What about shoe removal? The good news here is that the GE-developed shoe scanner that had been expected to be installed at all of Clear's Registered Traveler airport checkpoints-but had twice been turned down by TSA-is now in actual airport trials. After further development by GE and further testing at TSA's Transportation Security Lab in Atlantic City, it is being installed in the baggage-claim area at Atlantic City International Airport to test customer reaction to the device (and presumably to gather real-world data about what it detects on people's shoes). TSA has not said how long this testing will run, or what else may have to be done in order to certify the shoe scanner, but at least there is activity on this much-needed improvement.

Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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