Soothing blue lights. Light background noise. Brightly dressed employees who have been trained to create a "calmer environment."
A hip spa, right?
No. This is how top government officials imagine the airport security checkpoint of the future. In fact, the atmosphere is so calming that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff forgot to remove his shoes while demonstrating the prototype checkpoint's screening process for reporters Monday at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. (His top aviation security official took his shoes off.)
The new checkpoint, which includes an automated bin-return system and machines that can see through passengers' clothing, is part of an effort by Homeland Security officials to make airport security more efficient and customer-friendly.
Authorities also announced an initiative Monday that they say will reduce hassles faced by thousands of travelers with names similar to those on a terrorist watch list. Those passengers often face hurdles in trying to get boarding passes and often must go through extra screening at checkpoints.
Airlines, which check passenger names against the list, will now be allowed to accept dates of birth from passengers to more thoroughly check information against the watch lists, Chertoff said. Once a passenger has proved he or she is not a terror suspect, the traveler will be able to print boarding passes at kiosks or at a home, rather than going through a check-in line, Chertoff said.
Airline representatives said they are generally enthusiastic about the proposal, but some privacy advocates were skeptical that the measure will work.