Fear and Loathing at Logan

1205935061I don’t travel by airplane very often. With high gas prices and a weak dollar, I’d have to open another credit card to finance a trip, which wouldn’t be likely since all available credit has been locked down due to the foreclosure crisis. But I just returned from a long weekend in Fort Myers that was financed by my tax return, and the only thing worse than going from 85-degree weather to snow is dealing with the security people at Logan Airport.

Which is why the TSA’s new “self-select lanes”, which debuted at Logan yesterday, won’t do anything to alleviate the long lines at security checkpoints. The security people will still get in the way.

Passengers who want to take their time can use the slow lane (which the Transportation Security Administration calls the “families and special assistance” lane). Seasoned travelers can scoot to the fast lane (the “expert” lane, actually). The rest (“casual” travelers, the TSA calls them) can cruise through the middle lane.

TSA officials say that the new system will help security screeners be “mentally prepared” for the travelers they screen. Business travelers who are familiar with the system will speed through, while parents with a brood of children will all be in one molasses-slow line.

But after my experience with Logan screeners on Friday evening, the only way they mentally prepare themselves to deal with the traveling public is to imagine every wrong they’ve ever suffered in life, then take it out on the harried travelers at their mercy.

A friend and I stood in an impossibly slow line around 6 p.m. on Friday. Two screeners walked on either side of the line, barking out numbers of flights that were departing so late arriving travelers could skip ahead of the line. The screener on the right side of the line told a mother with three small children to move to the left side of the line to get screened before they missed their flight. A moment later, the screener on the left side of the line sent the family and their huge pile of stuff back to the right side.

A shouting match erupted between the mother and both of the TSA employees. While it was more entertaining than the security procedure video playing on a loop over my head, I felt for the family. We all know we have to deal with tight security, but it would go much more smoothly for everyone if the security personnel were all on the same page.

The security people at the Fort Myers airport weren’t exactly rays of sunshine, but the line moved quickly and without any mass hysteria. Here’s an idea: Instead of investing in cutesy new signs, the TSA could spend its money on training its employees to better control the long lines at security checkpoints.