TSA’s new security measures will have you unpacking your bags

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Airline baggage fees have apparently sparked an unintended consequence of causing travelers to load up their carry-on cases, so the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun testing new rules to unclutter bags in an effort to make them easier for x-ray screeners to view.

By having travelers place opaque items, such as electronics, food and books into a separate bin, TSA screeners will have an easier time spotting forbidden items, which should reduce the amount of bags that have to be checked manually.

“It has to be efficient and it has to be effective,” according to Darby LaJoye, assistant administrator for security operations. “We are far enough along that I am very optimistic that what we are piloting is working.”

Small airports, including Colorado Springs, Colo., Boise, Idaho and Lubbock, Texas were among the first to test the new procedures. Now, they’ve begun to implement them in the larger airports, such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Boston, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

For instance, earlier this month, screeners in Kansas City, Mo. instructed passengers to remove all paper from their bags but had to scrap that test days later when it didn’t go well.

The TSA says PreCheck lanes, which provide expedited screening for trusted passengers, will not likely be affected.

“It is not any one particular item we’re worried about. It’s not about paper or food or anything. It’s how best to divest those items,” said LaJoye, noting that people will probably be asked to remove items–which could vary depending on which line and which airport you’re in–upon encountering x-ray machine conveyor belts.

Compliance will be optional, although those who don’t want to participate will likely face a manual inspection.

“The more items in a bag, the more complicated it becomes,” explained one TSA explosives specialist involved in the pilot program, noting that dense food, such as chocolate, can resemble some types of explosives in the X-ray machines and books can pose a problem.

Criticized in the past for failing undercover government tests in which they let weapons get through security, the TSA is attempting to beef up their efforts while at the same time keeping passengers happy.

“It’s all about how you do it,” says Mike McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association. “We run the risk of, certainly for the U.S., of creating an environment that is really bad for business.”

Machines to verify passengers’ ID cards, which will eliminate the need for passengers to show their boarding passes, will start being tested at Washington Dulles Airport before other airports use them, with a full implementation expected to take place in the next two years.

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