I’m writing this in Terminal 2 at Honolulu, waiting for the 45-minute flight to Hilo. I only booked the flight yesterday, as a one-way ticket – and that was how I was fingered by the TSA.
It’s actually a pretty sensible system. If an airline detects a reservation that looks suspicious (and it doesn’t get much more suspicious than a last-minute booking, on a one-way flight, paid for by a credit card that’s not from a US bank… the only way it could’ve been more suspicious was if my name was Terry Wrist), they flag your booking, and you get “SSSS” printed on your ticket – this tells the TSA screeners that you’ve been marked for ‘secondary screening’.
In most US airports, for a local flight, you just have to pop your shoes and send your stuff through the x-ray machine. Occasionally you might get the explosive sniffer (which is more intimidating than it sounds – you stand in a little chamber and get shot at by a 21-Airzooka salute). But they took extra care with me… or, at least, I thought they would.
“Okay, sir, we’re going to have to pat you down… lift your arms please… lower your arms… alright, your shoes are over there. Thanks very much.”
“Here’s your shoes… shoulder bag… camera bag… and laptop.”
“OK, cheers… but I’ve been marked for secondary. Is there something I’m missing?”
“Nope, that’s it. Oh, hey, are you an economist or something? You play the stock market?”
“Heh, yeah, how did you know?”
“I saw the magazine when I was checking your shoulder bag. Are you any good at it?”
“Well, I haven’t blown up yet…” Oh, shit! Wrong thing to say! Wrong thing!
“Heh – ah, that’s cool. Have a good time.”
Secondary screening is not as intimidating as it sounds.