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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

Diary of a Post 9/11 Flight

Last week I made a trip to the US Virgin Islands to begin production of a new
television show on travel. The show will debut sometime in January on Black
Entertainment Television. My travels took me to airports in Los Angeles,
Miami and St. Thomas. I want to take a few moments of your time to share my
observations about airport security as the holiday season approaches.

I left on an early morning American Airlines flight out of LAX two days after
Thanksgiving. I only mention Thanksgiving because I want to draw your
attention to the heavily traveled holiday weekend. I was carrying the ticket
for a member of my staff who actually arrived at the airport a few minutes
before I did. Due to some miscommunication on our part, the person whose
ticket I was carrying went to curbside check-in while I went to the ticket
counter. Sylvia, the person whose ticket I carried was allowed to check bags
without showing her ticket or identification. I guess attractive people can
get around security just about anywhere.

When I finally reached the ticket counter to check-in for the flight to
Miami, everything went pretty much as expected. I showed my identification,
checked two bags and answered the obligatory questions, have the bags been in
your possession the entire time and did you pack any sharp objects? Now it
was off to the gate, where Sylvia joined me just moments before passing
through the x-ray machine. With two Air National Guard troops standing armed
and ready we both proceeded through the checkpoint. Then we were both
subjected to a wave of the magic wand used when a passenger sets off the
alarm on the x-ray equipment. I was somewhat confused why we were subjected
to the magic wand since neither one of us triggered the alarm. I guess it’s
better safe than sorry.

I lingered at the checkpoint for a few moments to see if anyone else would be
patted down, have a bag hand searched or suffer through the indignity of the
magic wand. I didn’t have to wait long. An elderly woman, I’m guessing in
her late 60’s to early 70’s setoff that annoying beep. She went through the
x-ray machine five times, each time removing various items of clothing and
jewelry. On the fifth try, she even removed her shoes, but that alarm just
kept singing. Finally, out came the magic wand and off she went, so much for
a terrorist profile.

With my curiosity satisfied, I head to the gate only to realize my flight
doesn’t board for another hour. Off to breakfast I go, clutching my
briefcase afraid to put it down for fear someone may think it’s a bomb and
evacuate the airport. After breakfast I head for the gate. Upon arrival at
the gate, I’m greeted by a message over the PA system instructing passengers
in certain seats to proceed to a location just to the left of the boarding
area for a more rigorous hand search of their carry-on items. When I stopped
to look at the passengers assembled in the corner, it was obvious this was a
random check that had nothing to do with fitting any terrorist profile. I
observed an elderly couple, some people in business attire, and a child who
appeared to be traveling with his family. OK, I felt more secure than I did
just moments before.

The flight to Miami was rather uneventful with one exception. About an hour
into the flight, the cockpit door was opened for about two minutes. Didn’t
the Federal Aviation Administration mandate that cockpit doors were to remain
closed during flight? Did the flight attendants and the pilots know
something I didn’t? Was there an armed Sky Marshal on board? So much for
secure cockpit doors. On my trip from Miami to St. Thomas the cockpit door
opened once again. I must admit I got a little nervous when I spotted a
gentleman who looked like he played professional football head towards the
front of the plane while the cockpit door was open, but he quickly turned
left, sucked in his gut and plowed his way into the restroom. Talk about a
sigh of relief.

Our return trip to Los Angeles proved equally confusing to me as I was again
baffled by the lack of standard procedures in security. Clearing through
customs and immigration in St. Thomas was relatively easy since the island is
a U.S. possession. Customs officials check the few items we declared. Then
we were routed to another table where officials there went through a few bags
looking for fruit and illegal contraband. One member of our crew actually
had four apples hidden in her carry-on luggage. Customs found two apples but
for some reason never found the others. Now it’s off to security where we
were asked several questions before security took our checked luggage. All
checked luggage was supposed to be x-rayed while you waited, but for some
inexplicable reason security either forgot or chose not to screen not one of
our 20 or so bags. I wonder how many times a day that happens?

Once our checked luggage was taken from us, we headed to another security
checkpoint with just our carry-on bags. Once we passed through the security
checkpoint and all of our bags were x-rayed, I was startled when two rather
large gentlemen with weapons escorted me to a machine where they did an
explosives check of my bags. Just to set the record straight, they didn’t
single me out, in the confusion at the security checkpoint, there were so
many people standing around I couldn’t hear the screener ask me to come over.
The explosives test took just a few seconds. It basically consisted of
taking a swab of my bag, then placing it on some cloth and inserting the
cloth in a machine. In a matter of seconds the results came back negative.

Now, remember the apples they took from us, well guess what was for sale at
the snack bar once you cleared security? Yeah you guessed it, apples. All
told, I found security to be tighter at all airports. Am I convinced it’s
safer, yes? How safe, remains to be seen. There were obvious visible signs
of security and obvious breaches as well. And some security measures seemed
down right ridiculous like the elderly woman who had to take her shoes off.
One of my staff members had a comb removed from her bag. When you head to
the airports this holiday season, remember the key to getting through all the
security quickly is to travel light and ship those presents ahead of time.
And lastly, be patient. You should arrive at the airport two hours early for
domestic flights and three hours early for international flights.