How airport security should work

Reading time: 4 minutes

Last week I went to a conference in San Francisco. I showed up an hour and a half early to the airport, because you know, the security theater one has to go through. And this time, it sucked even more than usual.

I was pleasantly surprised initially as the line before baggage check went by pretty quickly. I then proceeded to take off my belt and shoes, empty my pockets, and take out my laptop and iPad mini from the backpack I brought with me. As I was lead towards the scanner, I asked to opt out and get a pat down, which I've done since the very beginning of the scanners being added. In all the times I've done it in the past, the procedure wasn't too bad, and didn't take that much longer. This time however, unforeseen circumstances took a good 20 minutes before someone got to me.

After the security guy felt me up, and went through my stuff, he reported a positive reading on the swab results, with a message saying I had some kind of explosive device (I got a glance of the screen, that's actually what it said)! So, I had to wait some more as the guy had to ask another employee to do the screening again. This time, I had to go into a private room and my bags had to be even more thoroughly looked through, which meant shuffling through my (semi) neatly packed clothes and then stuff them back in the bag.

Another 20 minutes in, after being groped a second time, I was finally told I was cleared to go. I spent another 10-15 minutes packing up my clothes properly, and putting things back in my bag and on myself. As I put my laptop back into my backpack, I found one of those silicone packets that comes with new stuff. I had just ordered this backpack from Amazon a few days before. That's what was probably messing up their residue detectors and they didn't even catch it! All it did is waste a lot of everyone's time and make me rush to my plane for no reason.

Having arrived in San Francisco, I decided to go down to the Sunnyvale area to meet with a friend for dinner. Having a couple of hours to go before he finished work, I decided to stop by the Apple Visitor Center in the area. Because I hadn't yet checked into my hotel, I still had my bag of clothes and backpack with me. While there, I had a coffee at the cafe, toured the store, and bought a couple of things. I went upstairs to sit on the viewing deck area with a hot chocolate as the sun went down. I soon realized that my phone was almost out of battery and asked if there was some way I could plug it in to charge it. The Apple Store employee told me my best bet was to go downstairs and use one of the iPad stations. While down there, I told another employee what I was trying to do and they even pulled up a nearby stool for me to sit while I waited. I asked if I could use my laptop in the meantime which they were also fine with.

The key thing about this was how casual and open the employees were about me doing all of this. Especially surprising in this particular Apple Store, and especially when I had reason to appear suspicious as I went through stuff in my bags among all their untethered products sitting nearby. After a while, I noticed no one even asked me if I needed any help with anything. I took a look around the store, curious what kind of security they had. They obvisously had to have something in place. There were no cameras I was able to see anywhere. However, the sides of the store had a line of employees that wore sunglasses and didn't move from their spots. And they were generally a little bigger than the rest of the employees. They were of course watching everything that was going on and communicating with each other. This was the store's way of ensuring security while not interfering with the pleasant experience of store visitors. Even someone in my situation. (Which made me feel more comfortable having spent $40 on a t-shirt.)

Which begs the question: why can't airport security work the same way?