Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoint Atlanta
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Imagine Airport Security Being Like This One Day…

Y ou arrive at the security checkpoint at an airport, and food, liquids and paper are all screened separately. You must remove your shoes and all metal objects prior to being screened. You are not permitted to take any electronic equipment — including cameras — aboard an airplane, as those items must be checked. You will have to wait in a long line when you reach immigration and passport control at your destination and pay a minimum of $160.00 for your visa.

Imagine Airport Security Being Like This One Day…

Yes, some portions of the scenario you just read do exist today and can be mitigated in some form by paying the federal government to be a part of a trusted traveler program — but to not be permitted to bring food or paper aboard an airplane unless thoroughly checked in some cases?

Well, apparently the Transportation Security Administration has been testing pilot programs for screening — or confiscating — both food products and paper products, according to discussions posted at FlyerTalk. No one knows exactly what “credible” threats has prompted these programs.

For the paper screening, reports of travelers being asked by agents of the Transportation Security Administration to remove all paper products from bags — including books, looseleaf paper, “sticky” notes and documents, just to name a few items — gives a whole new meaning to asking for your papers and adding at least 30 minutes to the security screening process.

“Does anyone have any guesses as to why the TSA is doing this?” Bruce Schneier asked in this article at his weblog known as Schneier on Security pertaining to the pilot program of screening paper products separately. Reading the responses guessing the reasons is both entertaining and somewhat frightening.

For the food screening, reports of travelers being asked by agents of the Transportation Security Administration to remove food products from bags also has been adding approximately 30 minutes to the security screening process.

In both cases, there have been reports of the confiscation of some of the items — such as granola bars — and that members of the Pre✓ program of the Transportation Security Administration are not exempt from the pilot programs.

Electronics Ban Expanded to Flights To and From Europe?

Now there are reports of a rumor that the electronics ban — which is already in effect for flights to and from certain airports in the Middle East in a revised version from the original iteration — may be expanded to flights to and from Europe and may be implemented as early as later this week. If that occurs, electronic devices larger than a mobile telephone will only be permitted as checked baggage and cannot be carried aboard airplanes by passengers.

Of course, one workaround to this policy — should it become a reality — is to travel to Europe the long way: through Asia, South America or Africa, for example. Of course, the time and expense to do that would be significant.

Tighter Visa Restrictions For Americans in Europe?

Back in March, a resolution was passed by the European Union indicating that the era of tourism free of hassles with no visa requirements could be ending…

…but although there is no chance of that happening anytime soon, the possibility of that happening in the future does exist — perhaps meaning not only longer lines and tighter restrictions; but perhaps also fees for the revised visa requirements. $160.00 is the fee which the United States charges certain visitors; and some countries whose citizens are affected charge what is known as a reciprocity fee to American citizens.

I have long asserted that if a country wants to increase tourism, it needs to relax its reciprocity fees or visa requirements — and Belarus is doing just that in what seems to be an effort to increase tourism. Chile did it — as well as Argentina as two examples. Let visitors and tourists spend that money on local businesses within the country instead — the government will still collect taxes through the businesses.


Much of what is written in this article is speculative — there is a good chance that a number of security initiatives discussed in this article may likely never happen — but although I rarely delve into rumor and innuendo, all of the pilot programs, news and rumors pertaining to safety and security while traveling which have surfaced during this year alone is rather curious to me. If it all became true, what exactly are the real intentions and reasons behind this information?

Although I agree with most of what Glenn — I will not divulge his last name — of The Military Frequent Flyer wrote in this excellent article which defends the electronics bans that were recently implemented by the United States and the United Kingdom, I would be quite interested in his thoughts pertaining to other aspects of security restrictions pertaining to travel — such as the aforementioned pilot programs for screening paper and food.

Let me revise the scenario which started this article: you arrive at the security checkpoint at an airport, and food, liquids, medication, paper and writing instruments are all confiscated, as none of them are permitted aboard the airplane. You cannot wear most types of clothing while aboard the airplane, as they have been banned. You are not permitted to take any electronic equipment — including cameras — at all when traveling. You will have to wait at least two hours in line when you reach immigration and passport control at your destination and pay a minimum of $450.00 for your visa.

“Don’t be ridiculous with your specious arguments, Brian,” you might be thinking — and you might even post in the Comments section below. “What is the point of traveling with that scenario?”

Exactly — what would be the point of traveling with what many people would consider to be unreasonable restrictions?

More importantly, however, is the threshold of security versus freedom of travel — starting with that chant of “well, as long as we are safer, I am all for it.” Not me. If the costs, effort and time to comply with what I consider to be unreasonable restrictions becomes too much, traveling may not actually be worth doing. That would be a sad and dark day for me if I were ever forced to make that decision; and I hope that day never comes.

Somewhere in the spectrum of travel where there no security at all on one end and total security on the other end — which would render travel impossible to the point that we all may as well stay locked up in our homes — there is a threshold which would be at different points for different people where the balance of safety and security may not be worth traveling. There are people who do not travel now because of restrictions and policies currently in place pertaining to travel.

I have stated this before and will state it again: the answer is obviously not to completely abolish the attempts to ensure safe passage for all travelers. That would be sheer lunacy…

…but I have said many times over the years that there needs to be a balance of smart safety and security measures with the simultaneous assurance that disruptions to travelers be kept to an absolute minimum.

What is your threshold? How restrictive does travel have to be before you would consider no longer traveling unless policies and procedures changed for the better? Do you believe that the policies and restrictions on travel could one day get to that point where you might reconsider traveling? What do you believe are the reasons behind the pilot programs of scanning food and paper separately and for the other aforementioned restrictions and policies?

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. If it comes to this, I’m jumping on the Eurostar and going back to travelling the way I did as a teenager. I’m avoiding the U.S for now anyway but hope this craziness doesn’t spread

  2. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

  3. Look at this way, if you are flying a low cost carrier just leave everything at home and you can travel really cheap. In fact maybe the legacy carriers are forcing this so they can compete with LCC’s 🙂
    Imagine the look on the faces of TSA and custom officials when they ask you to look through your phone or post-it notes and you have nothing on you except your passport.

  4. It’s already close to being at the point where I’m fed up with the whole Security Theater. I’m guessing the food and paper restrictions, and the new sexual-assault-level “pat downs” are over-reactions by TSA after having failed another red team test. The first two are ridiculous the third is a violation of our rights. Yet recently TSA missed a loaded handgun that a passenger (an off-duty cop) accidentally left in her carry-on bag – discovering it only while en-route on her flight from the US.

    As for the large electronics ban…I don’t even know what to say. If it was a real threat, a terrorist would have simply shifted their plans away from the routes currently included in the ban. I’ve read credible articles with experts explaining that placing the laptop-bomb in the hold doesn’t preclude an incident – and that adding more unattended Li-ion batteries in the cargo hold is also dangerous.

    And it’s not a matter of not having a tablet or laptop for entertainment during the flight. Checked baggage is completely vulnerable to theft, loss, and damage. And airlines’ contracts of carriage limit or preclude liability on electronics or expensive items…some travel insurance has similar exclusions. Who will fund replacement of stolen electronics? And it’s not just laptops – but cameras and other electronic items.

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