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'Dance' moves could reduce TSA checkpoint hassles

Veteran air travelers call the ritual at airport checkpoints "the dance" — or worse.

Quart-size, zip-top bag full of bottled liquids in the plastic bin. Slip off your shoes. Empty your pockets. Take off the belt. Remove your laptop from its bag. Hold the boarding pass for the officer on the other side of the metal detector. Cha-cha-cha.

The Transportation Security Administration has two new initiatives designed to eliminate the two steps that annoy people most. One, at least, has the potential to make the experience a lot better.

Starting Saturday, security officers will let travelers keep laptops inside "checkpoint-friendly'' bags during X-ray screenings. The TSA contacted companies in March with standards for bags to receive the new designation.

Screeners must get a good look at electronics inside laptops to make sure nothing's been tampered with. So, the TSA ordered that the new bags — or anything in them — can't obstruct that image. To qualify, "laptop-friendly'' bags must have a separate laptop compartment that folds out to lie flat on the X-ray belt and has no pockets, metal snaps or zippers.

But travelers typically use laptop bags to carry cables, chargers and other accessories. There's no guarantee you won't be required to remove the laptop. And the agency won't let bagmakers say their product is TSA-approved. How many people will pay $100 or more for a product with so many caveats?

More promising are the upcoming tests of a machine that can sniff shoes for a bomb without travelers taking them off. The PassPort explosive-trace detectors look like a subway station turnstile. They puff air across a subject's waist, hands and shoes, and test for chemicals used in explosives.

Travelers can walk through the portal without stopping, says manufacturer L-3 Communications. The TSA last year rejected a shoe scanner made by General Electric for the Clear Registered Traveler program. That machine used X-rays to scan for bombs.

Passengers in the PassPort test at Los Angeles International won't save any time. Because the tests are designed to collect data, not catch shoe-bombers, they'll need to take off their shoes and put up with the standard screening.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813)-226-3384.

'Dance' moves could reduce TSA checkpoint hassles 08/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 1:30pm]
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