TSA: A history in airline security


Although the TSA has its fair share of critics, the organization still works to ensure airline safety today (Internet Photo).

Dominique Pasek, Contributing Writer

Frustrating news stories about regulations at the airport often annoy many passengers. However, the Transportation Security Administration does not look for ways to lengthen trips or pick out insignificant mistakes, but rather to provide protection and security to passengers.

The organization’s goal, as stated on the official website, is to “ensure freedom of movement, provide the most effective transportation system and efficient way as a high performing counterterrorism organization.” The Transportation Security Administration was created in November 19, 2001. The agency, abbreviated as TSA, was a response to September 11.

Social studies teacher Jacqueline Dickens remembers life before TSA regulations.

“I was in seventh grade on September 11, 2001.  I was old enough to understand that something had happened that would have a lasting impact on my life and the lives of all Americans, but not quite old enough to fully understand all of its implications” Dickens said. “I do vaguely remember as a kid walking through O’Hare with my Dad whenever he left for a business trip and watching his airplane leave from the terminal window, which would never be allowed now.”

With the introduction of the agency came several layers of security created as counterterrorism tactics. This includes customs and border protection, prepared flight crew, and specialists taught to deal with suspicious behavior and baggage, and explosives. Each passenger is subject to random searches and must have an I.D., ready to be presented.

Despite all the harsh regulations, junior Sophie Kish has no problem with the rules and procedures the TSA has implemented.

“They’re less restricting now than they were when they started, after 9/11,” Kish said. “As long as another tragedy like that doesn’t happen again, the TSA rules will be getting more lenient, which is fair. It’s only for safety.”

The TSA also has restrictions on liquids brought in carry-on bags that are over 100 milliliters. Things that can be purchased easily, such as shampoo, drinks, or toothpaste will be thrown away if over the limit. Exceptions include anything immediately necessary, like medicine or baby formula.These items that do not exceed the maximum must be placed into clear plastic bags.

The restrictions on liquids were created  to reduce the possibility of threats such as liquid bombs being smuggled on board. The most recent and known threat involving liquid explosives was the thankfully failed attempt in December 2009. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid explosives in his underwear and brought them onto the plane, keeping them hidden until after lift off. The bomber improperly set off his liquid filled plastic cases, resulting in a small fire that the passengers were able to put out after Dutch passenger Jasper Schuringa restrained him. The pilot landed soon after as a cause of the emergency.

When standing in line while going through security, it is common to be asked to take off shoes and separate electronics to examine the many layers and easily detect inappropriate or illegal objects. When asked to separate electronics, TSA agents are looking to locate any irregularities and, through screening, find if the electronic devices have been tampered with.

The full-body sensor that passengers are required to walk through works in a series of pulses that run through its circuit at approximately 100 pulses per second. When a metal object enters its field, the pulse is reflected off of it, and is therefore recognized as something that should not be there. This process can be compared to echoes: the more surfaces there are to bounce the echoes off of, the more times it’s heard.

For anyone unwilling to walk through the full body sensor, the pat-down is the substitute. Pat-downs may not be the most comfortable experience in a passenger’s life, but they serve a purpose as well. However, if the sensor detects something in those willing to go through, the manual search is also needed.

Dickens defends the TSA when it comes to what may seem like over-the-top procedures.

“It would be easy to criticize TSA for controversial responses to safety concerns, but finding a better solution is a much more difficult task,” Dickens said.

Dickens also acknowledges that the TSA is better informed in terms of safety and trusts they will do their job.

“I take a greater risk by driving to work every day than I do by flying several times during the year,” Dickens said. ” The media has highlighted several tragedies involving airplanes during my lifetime, but part of the reason why these tragedies were so hotly discussed in the media is because they are much rarer than car crashes.  I want to live without allowing unnecessary worry to stop me from enjoying activities like traveling, so I choose to accept that TSA will keep me safe.”