WASHINGTON - New baggage fees, long delays and even longer security lines - these are just a few of the potential hassles air travelers dread as they head off to summer vacation.
It wasn't always this way. But the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 "shoe bomber" incident and a 2006 al Qaeda plot to blow up transatlantic airliners have led to several changes in airline security.
The new measures - things like taking off your shoes, losing the hair gel and water bottles and getting a random pat down or an extra bag check - have brought better security. But they've also led at times to long lines and frustrated passengers.
"When you go through the door to go into the airport you don't know if that line is going to be 20 minutes or 40 minutes or five minutes," said entrepreneur Steven Brill.
Skipping the Long Lines
Brill is the creator of the Clear Card. Passengers pay $128.00 a year to purchase the card. Once they obtain it, they can move to the head of the security line, escorted by a personal concierge. The concept is similar to EZ-Pass, which allows drivers to bypass long waits at tolls.
"With a Clear Card you know it's going be five minutes or less," Brill said.
Up to 170,000 people - mostly business travelers - have bought the Clear Card. Once you sign up, a computer scans your identification and fingerprints, captures images of your irises and takes your picture.
That information then goes to the Department of Homeland Security. Two weeks later, you receive your Clear Card.
Clear Card owners will, however, still go through the same security as everyone else after skipping to the front of the line.
"We can't reduce security on those people just because they have a card," said Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Ellen Howe.
The Clear Card is currently in use at 18 airports nationwide, including: Washington Reagan, Dulles, JFK and LaGuardia in New York, Denver, Los Angeles and soon, Atlanta.
One airport that does not feature the Clear Card is Baltimore-Washington International.
However, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Christopher White told CBN News that BWI is featuring something much more effective for travelers: a one-of-its-kind "Checkpoint Evolution" security gate.
White recently gave CBN News a behind-the-scenes look at what he calls the next stage of airline security.
Catching Them With Kindness
"What's here at Baltimore-Washington is the compilation of multiple elements in technology, in training, in directing passengers," White said. "For a family coming in we want to make it easy as possible. We want to really reduce their stress level, so that the bad guys stand out."
The rationale is that if passengers move through security at their own pace, in a relaxed atmosphere, they'll be calmer. Anything else raises red flags.
"We have specially trained officers that are looking just at behavior." White said. "...We are no longer looking for the scissors, the tweezers, for the things that make no security sense at all. We are looking for people who have harmful intentions. To get to those people, we have to calm down the checkpoint."
The emphasis on calm is obvious from the moment you step inside the Checkpoint Evolution gate. Mood lights and soothing music are the first things you notice. Then there are pictures and personal stories of TSA officers.
"We have these signs that actually show the officer in uniform and the officer out of the uniform," said White. "Talking about some of their hobbies, explaining what they like to do outside of work. When you see the officer's picture and then you go and see the officer, you make that human connection."
"These are people that live and work in your community just like you do," he continued. "So we've really made an effort to show people that there is someone behind the uniform."
You Set the Pace
Next comes the "prep stop" area. It provides benches for people to get ready at their own pace before going through baggage check.
"One of the main things we heard from passengers was: 'I don't want to be held up,'" said White.
He continued, "'If I'm a business traveler, I know the rules: don't slow me down. Let me get right to the business of being screened.' Families have said, 'I'm on my way to Orlando for vacation, I'm not in a hurry.' I want to be able to take my time. I want to be able to sit down. I want to be able to help take my children's shoes off. I want to collapse that stroller.'"
The prep stop also features a trashcan and recycling bin, with even those clear baggies on hand to store liquids.
"We've set it up so that you have some opportunities," White said. "...This really gives passengers an opportunity to get ready for security. Once you leave [the prep stop] area, you're really starting to get into the security process."
Yes, the shoes still have to come off. But new and improved x-ray machines enhance TSA officers' ability to identify potentially dangerous objects. The goal is fewer time-consuming bag checks.
There are no pat downs at the Checkpoint Evolution gate. Instead, those selected for random searches simply walk through a high-tech "whole body imaging" machine.
The whole body imagers can be found at 10 different airports throughout the United States. They scan beneath your clothes to see if there are any objects underneath, enhancing security, TSA reps hope, and discouraging any potential terrorist.
White says TSA has addressed potential privacy concerns about the scanners.
"The image is transferred to a remote location away from the checkpoint so that the officer looking at the image cannot see the person." he said. "The officer at the machine cannot see the image. We also do not save, store, print forward or anything with any of the images."
So what did travelers think of the changes? A few didn't even notice.
"I'm not sure what the changes were," one man told CBN News after passing through the Checkpoint Evolution gate. "It seems like every airport is a little bit different."
Others were more impressed.
"I'd rather have more security than less security," said another passenger. "In my opinion, you can't be too safe."
The debate is sure to continue. If the trial run at BWI Airport goes well, you may begin to see elements of Checkpoint Evolution at an airport near you in the future.
Originally published August 3, 2008