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Home / General Travel Tips /
Airport Security Updates

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Airport Security Updates

So, what's the latest with security at borders and airports? In a few words: Every airport and border has different methods of security checks and passengers are basically patient and understanding.
At Canada/US Border
We crossed the British Columbia, Canada border into Washington State on the Quick Shuttle*, a coach service to SeaTac International Airport. We stepped off the bus, retrieved our luggage from the bay and proceeded into a holding area where our luggage was scanned and our passports and ID's examined. Three officers and thirty passengers took less than 20 minutes.
At SeaTac International
No ID checks at the entrance to the terminal at SeaTac. At the ticket counter in SeaTac, my passport was enough ID, and my carry-on bag was checked directly to San Jose, Costa Rica. I was reminded by American's counter agent that nailfile, pocket knives and scissors (even the one's with the rounded ends) should be placed in my checked luggage and was asked if anyone had access to my bags other than me.
At the general security gate I was taken aside by a female guard and asked if I objected to being searched. I asked why me and was told I was randomly chosen. I was throughly scanned -- including my shoes and hair and legs. As I was touched I was cautioned. "Do you mind if I touch (with the wand) your waist ... legs .. ?'
As I was boarding the plane, still at SeaTac, I was taken aside by a male guard and my carry-on bags were hand searched. Once again I was asked, this time by a male guard, whether I objected to being scanned. I asked him what would happen if I objected. He said, they would ask for a female guard. ... and then if I objected. They would ask for a supervisor. ...and then if I objected. By now, the plane would be gone, he laughed. I did speak to the supervisor about the procedure. I asked why I was lucky enough to be searched twice. I was told the first time was at random, the second time was a computer request. This time my carry-on bag was tagged cleared.
At Dallas International Terminal
At the Dallas airport, I didn't have to leave the secured area to get my flight. My carry-on was scanned at the holding gate but not opened when the tag was noticed. Again, everyone's ID was checked as we boarded the plane.
( Please note that not all passengers were taken aside, only one or two out of dozens. Generally, I did see more armed guards at gates and entrances to the terminal in both SeaTac and Dallas International. And twice as many security personnel at all stations.)
At San Jose International Airport
In San Jose, Costa Rica, a guard at the entrance to the terminal asked to see my tickets, I said I didn't have any, and after checking my passport, he let me by to stand in line at Copa's counter. My passport and an additional piece of ID were required before my tickets to Panama City were issued. At general gate security I was scanned from tip to toe as was everyone else that walked through the detection arch. My bag was not searched, and we were not required to show ID as we boarded the plane.
At Panama City International
Returning to San Jose from Panama City, ID and tickets were required at the terminal entrance. My bags were not searched, but I did notice a few passengers were taken aside and their bags hand searched. Passports were checked prior to boarding the plane.
American Airlines Counter, San Jose International Airport
Returning to SeaTac from Costa Rica, the line at American Airlines, 2 hours prior to boarding, was extremely long and moving very slowly. Not until I was closer did I notice two flights were leaving within an hour of each other and that the line for my flight, which left later, was much shorter. However, the earlier flight had six counter clerks and my flight to Dallas had one, so basically they moved the same. There were two checks prior to issuing boarding passes at American Airlines line. First an ID check and then a checked baggage search. An attendant looked through the bag to be checked and talked about what can go in a checked baggage and what couldn't. Hairspray or any aerosol cans weren't allowed, for example. He asked whether I had any scissors and nailfiles in my carry on and if I did he suggested I put them in my checked bags. He tagged my checked bag.
At the counter my ID was checked again before the boarding pass was issued. I also got a boarding pass for my flight to SeaTac, but my checked bag had to be picked up prior to customs and immigration when we landed in Dallas and then rechecked.
Back at Dallas International
This was the most awkward moment in my journey. With only an hour to spare, I had to go through immigration, pick up my bag, go through customs, recheck my bag and go through a general security gate. Only five minutes remained when I sat in my seat and I doubted whether my checked bag would make it. It was at another terminal. As I strapped on my seatbelt, a baggage truck pulled up and there was my bag, along with about three others.
Back at Seatac
At Seatac, I boarded Quick Shuttle's last trip of the day for my trip back to Vancouver. Back at the US/Canada border, we retrieved our luggage and waited for Canada custom/immigration officers to arrive. Our ID's were checked but our bags weren't scanned or searched. The process took the expected 20 minutes.
My Conclusions
In conclusion, I would suggest to get to the airport closer to three hours ahead. The lines will be practically non-existent and you'll zip through quickly. Then you can go make yourself comfortable with a magazine or a book. It's the same as beating the rush hour traffic. However, you may prefer to arrive closer to your departure time even if it means standing in line.
Gate Entry Info
One hint: Once you get your boarding pass, you will be directed to a particular gate. At departure times, everyone is going through that same gate. You can go to another gate that takes you to the same area. Many times, this gate is empty. The security guards will tell you this is not your gate. Just let them know that you are aware that you have to walk a bit to get to your gate when you get on the other side. And you'd rather walk than stand in line.
For More Information
Visit the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration website for current information on airport security in the United States and around the world.
* About Quick Shuttle
Quick Shuttle is a smooth and efficient way to travel between SeaTac International airport in Washington State and Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia. Stops include downtown Seattle, downtown hotels in Vancouver and the Bellingham International Airport. For reservations and rates call 1-800-665-2122.