Posts in the category "Security":

Airports working out how to deal with new pot laws

POT SIGN at the Airport

It’s been about six months since specialty shops selling recreational marijuana began operating legally in Colorado. In July, the first batch of shops licensed to sell retail weed will open in Washington State.

Both states prohibit locally-purchased pot from crossing state lines and marijuana remains illegal under the federal laws that also govern the aviation industry.

So as the busy summer travel season begins, we checked in with the TSA and some of the airports in the pot-pioneering states to see how they’re enforcing – or plan to enforce – rules prohibiting passengers from taking pot on a plane.

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein emphasizes that the agency’s focus remains “terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers.” And if you search for “marijuana” on the TSA’s “Can I bring my … through the security checkpoint?” tool, you’ll get a message that begins “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs.”

But if TSA officers discover something – let’s say a small amount of locally-legal pot – in a passenger’s carry-on or checked luggage that may violate the federal law, Feinstein says those officers are required to refer the matter to local enforcement, “whose officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation.”

In an effort to keep travelers from trying, even inadvertently, to take pot through security checkpoints, airports in Colorado have instituted a variety of measures.

In January, Denver International instituted a policy that bans marijuana anywhere on airport property, including pre-security areas where having small amounts of pot would otherwise be allowed. Signs announcing the rules are posted and remind travelers that the airport can impose fines of up to $999.

Denver Airport no pot sign

Word seems to have gotten out: Since the beginning of the year, only ten passengers have been found to have small amounts of marijuana on them at the TSA checkpoints. “The Denver Police Department was called for each person and they all voluntarily complied with our rules by throwing [the pot] away before flying,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery.

“We established our rules early and worked to educate people about our expectations. That seems to be an effective combination,” he said.

Other airports in Colorado are reporting much of the same.

At the Colorado Springs Airport, the local police department installed an amnesty box and as well as signs alerting passengers to the laws governing traveling across state lines with marijuana.

“We asking people to voluntarily comply,” said Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs Police Department, “and so far only a small amount – 1.4 grams – has been turned in on one occasion.”

In cooperation with its local sheriff’s department, in January the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport set up signs and an amnesty box as well.

“We haven’t really noticed too much of an issue,” said Brian Grefe, the airport’s assistant aviation director of administration, only that many images of its amnesty box have been showing up online. “It’s been one of our biggest social media hits,” said Grefe.

As Washington State gets ready for its first licensed recreational pot shops to open, “the best lesson it can take from Colorado is that while it is illegal to transport marijuana out of the state, people are still going to inadvertently show up with it at the airport,” said Jeff Price an aviation and security expert and an a professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Price suggests airports in Washington take the approach Denver International adopted, “which is to ban it in the airport but then not prosecute people if they are caught with it – just send them back to their cars or confiscate and dispose of it properly,” or to follow the lead of other airports that have set up pot amnesty boxes at TSA checkpoints.

So far, that’s not what airports in Washington State seem to be planning.

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport say there are no plans to install amnesty boxes and no plans to change any airport procedures due to the opening of retail pot stores.

“I suppose a passenger could throw their pot in the garbage if they’d like,” said airport spokesman Perry Cooper.

There are no plans to change procedures at the Spokane International Airport either. There, airport police officers who currently encounter travelers with small amounts of medical marijuana “advise them of the option to surrender it to the airport police who can legally destroy it,” said airport spokesman Todd Woodard.

“Transporting marijuana across a state line is a criminal matter not an aviation issue,” said Woodard. “We will not be installing amnesty boxes. Nor will we be erecting signage.”

(My story about airports and pot first appeared as my June At the Airport column on

Serene security checkpoint for ORD Airport

It happened at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Now security checkpoint 3 in Terminal 1 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has gotten a temporary “chill-out” makeover too.

At least for the summer.


SpringHill Suites by Marriott, working with the Transportation Security Administration and airport advertising companies, has made the checkpoint look more like a relaxing hotel lobby than a sterile airport checkpoint by adding modern furniture, a video wall, calming lighting, soothing music and comfortable seating before and after the checkpoint.

During the promotion, SpringHill Suites has promised to bring over surprises and giveaways so travelers will keep “smiling along their journey.”

It’s all good, except for the fact that the checkpoint lounge will likely not last beyond the busy summer travel season.


Wrapping luggage may add extra layer of security

courtesy Secure Wrap

Some air travelers might be more determined to fly with only carry-on bags or add extra security to checked baggage after recent news of an alleged theft ring by workers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Others, however, may rely on plastic.

For about $15 per bag, luggage wrapping companies such as Seal & Go, TruStar and Secure Wrap encase suitcases in multiple layers of Saran Wrap-like plastic.

“I do it every time I fly out of San Juan Airport,” said Allisan Konrath, a customer service representative based in Chicago. “When I started years ago, too much luggage was being pilfered before flights.”

Wrapping stands are plentiful at many international airports but hard to find in the U.S. beyond the pre-security Secure Wrap stations in some terminals at Miami, JFK and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, which together wrap about 1.6 million pieces of luggage a year.

A wrapped suitcase might make a baggage handler think twice before rifling through your luggage. However, it won’t stop the Transportation Security Administration from opening your bag if needed.

TSA screens all checked bags using Explosive Detection System (EDS) machines. And while “the vast majority of bags screened by the EDS do not involve any physical inspection, bags that alarm may be opened and inspected before being reintroduced to the system,” said TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein.

In some U.S. airports, Secure Wrap employees re-wrap bags that have been opened by the TSA.

“TSA does a great job of screening all luggage,” said Daniel Valdespino, executive director of Secure Wrap. “But many customers worry about what happens next.”

Wrapping bags may offer some added security, but keep this in mind. “At some point, after all the wrapping and unwrapping and wrapping, that bag will be handled by a human again,” said personal security expert Robert Siciliano. “And humans sometimes steal.”

(My story about wrapping luggage in plastics first appeared on NBC New Travel)

Automated Passport Control machines at Sea-Tac

The airports in Vancouver and Toronto have them. And so do airports in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Montreal and Miami. JFK in New York has them.


Now Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks as well.

With these self-service machines, eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing when returning from an international trip.

 Here’s how they work:

 “Instead of filling out a declaration card and taking their travel documents to a CBP officer, passengers who are eligible and choose to use Automated Passport Control can proceed directly to a self-service kiosk in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection passport-control area.  Travelers will follow the on-screen instructions to scan their U.S. or Canadian passport, answer the customs declaration questions using the touch screen, receive a receipt confirming their information and proceed to the CBP officer to finalize processing.  The kiosk allows up to four people residing at the same address to be processed together.”

At Sea-Tac, which now has 14 of APC machines, the entry process for eligible U.S. and Canadian citizens should be cut in half.

Sounds great!

Montreal Airport offers reserved checkpoint slots

MOntreal Airport

Most travelers dread waiting in long lines at airport security checkpoints.

And even though airline VIP programs and the TSA Precheck program promise to expedite the experience, it’s not unusual to find extensive checkpoint waiting lines.

Now, one airport is offering an easy way to reliably—and legitimately—cut to the front of the line.

Passengers using Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International can enter their flight number on the airport’s website and receive a text message with a reserved time for a designated checkpoint. Travelers show up at their assigned time window and use the text message as a ticket to enter the SecurXpress priority line.

“The system is free to the general public and a bit like the Disney FASTPASS system,” said Francois-Nicola Asselin, spokesman for Aéroports de Montréal, referring to the theme park’s program that lets guests return to a crowded ride at a specific time. “It was imagined through a brainstorming session to improve customer service.”

Once it came up with the idea, the airport asked the company already contracted to send flight alerts to travelers to develop a system for the checkpoint reservation concept.

Rolled out this fall, the program has already been used by thousands of travelers and “allows us to more evenly distribute the passenger flow at the checkpoint,” Asselin said. “Therefore, not only people using it benefit from an improved service, but all passengers, since the peak period is better distributed.”

For now, SecurXpress is available only at Trudeau for those traveling within Canada and, because of preclearance requirements, on non-U.S. bound international flights.

The program is likely to appear at other airports in 2014.

“We are always interested in looking at ways to improve the customer experience throughout the airport,” said Heath Montgomery, spokesman for Denver International, “So we’ll watch to see how Montreal’s new service works.”

While passengers and airports could be enthusiastic about the program, carriers may not like it, said Hudson Crossing travel analyst Henry Harteveldt.

“Travelers who earn ‘elite’ status in an airline’s loyalty program may be eligible for access to priority security lines at an airport, and this reduces the need for a traveler to be loyal to an airline.”

(My story about Montreal Airport’s program offering reserved times for passing through security first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)


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