Airport Security Marked by Hassles
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
If you want to find out how air travel has changed in recent years, you could learn a lot just by following the Eldridge family through the airport in Philadelphia. They checked in there for a flight to West Palm Beach.
Ms. JANICE ELDRIDGE: One of our suitcases was a little overweight so we had to do a little juggling, as always.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Oh, you mean you took some stuff out of one suitcase and stuffed it in another one?
Ms. ELDRIDGE: Yeah. That's I guess what happens when you got a bunch of kids going traveling, right?
MONTAGNE: Yesterday, the Eldridge family began our conversations this week about air travel.
Today, we pick up where we left the Eldridges, at security.
Ms. VIOLET CHARLES: My name is Violet Charles. I'm from San Francisco. Going home. Had a wonderful time with our middle daughter in Dover, Delaware.
MONTAGNE: Violet Charles was at the end of a long security line there in Philadelphia. Standing with her husband, Bill, she looked at across the knot of passengers, still thinking about her vacation just ended.
Ms. CHARLES: It's been awesome.
Mr. BILL CHARLES: As often as we travel, this is unbelievable.
Ms. CHARLES: So we wait in line and we have hassles. But this is what 9/11 has given us.
Mr. CHARLES: As a result of 9/11, we've given up a lot of our freedoms. It used to be that you'd go at most an hour to get through. But now it's a minimum of two hours. So...
Ms. CHARLES: That's the volume of people that have to be scanned.
INSKEEP: That's the point of view of two passengers at the end of the security line in Philadelphia.
At the front of the line that day, this man was doing the scanning.
Mr. PETER LEBOON(ph) (Transportation Security Officer, Philadelphia International Airport): My name is Peter Leboon. I'm a transportation security officer. And I work in Philadelphia International Airport. And I'm at the security checkpoint in Terminal E.
INSKEEP: A MORNING EDITION producer caught up with Peter Leboon at the end of his shift, just outside Terminal E. His union helped to arrange with this interview so he was not speaking for his employer, the Transportation Security Administration. He was speaking about his job.
You've been in Philadelphia Airport a long time?
Mr. LEBOON: Almost three years.
INSKEEP: Oh, okay.
Mr. LEBOON: I worked in corrections before that. And then before that, I was in the cargo industry for about 20 years.
INSKEEP: Oh. When you say you worked in corrections, were you a prison guard?
Mr. LEBOON: It's not many people getting corrected in there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Now, as we're talking, it's about half past noon. Did your shift just end?
Mr. LEBOON: Yes. We just finished up at 12:30.
INSKEEP: I'm just counting backwards, and when do you start in the morning?
Mr. LEBOON: Four o'clock in the morning.
INSKEEP: So eight and a half hours on the job. And do you have a specific role that you always do? Are you the person who checks IDs, or the person who looks at the metal detector?
Mr. LEBOON: We're going to rotate around and we're going to do everything that you're going to encounter as a passenger traveling through the airport. We're going to facilitate all the screening functions in an eight and a half hour day.
INSKEEP: So what happened today, if anything?
Mr. LEBOON: Today is just another typical day. You know, you just go through all the screening functions. We are having a lot of problems with the traveling public, is not grasping the idea of the liquids and gels and creams and aerosols. And I mean it's been almost a year since we implemented this new program. And it's just every other bag that comes through is a bag check. It's not us slowing the process down. It's the traveling public that is slowing the security line.
INSKEEP: Do people get angry at you when you take their liquids and gels away?
Mr. LEBOON: Yeah. A lot of the times, they do get angry and they - a lot of times they think we're going to take them home. We don't want anything to do with them. We dump them in a, you know, container. And today we probably had, you know, 10 containers full of it, every day.
INSKEEP: Is this a high pressure job?
Mr. LEBOON: I mean at times it can be. I've worked in much higher pressure industries. The corrections job is very high pressure. For a lot of us here, this is pretty much one of the easiest jobs we've ever had, if you've really worked in some high pressure, you know, fields.
INSKEEP: You know, a few years ago somebody tried to compile a lists of clues to warn people like you about who are suspicious characters. And it was funny because when you looked at all the different warnings, they canceled each other out. Look for somebody who's bought a one-way ticket, or look for somebody who's bought a round trip ticket. Look for somebody who paid cash. Look for somebody who paid with a credit card. You realize when you begin reading this that it may be difficult to narrow down to the few people that you really want to look at.
Mr. LEBOON: Yeah. Well, I would say in this day and age now, I don't even know if you can narrow down anymore. I would, you know - if you read the papers and you listen to what's going on in the news, pretty much anybody is capable of anything. It could be anybody at any time at any place. And therefore everybody is, you know, has got to be, you know, scrutinized the same way.
INSKEEP: Mr. Leboon, I'd like to play a piece of tape, if I might. This is a passenger who flies out of Philadelphia International Airport.
Mr. JIM RUFUS(ph): Well, my name is Jim Rufus. I'm looking at this long line. And it's just - I'm glad I got here early because if you're rushing, you're not making your flight today. It always seems like the rule of thumb is the earlier you are, the faster you get through security. The later you are, the longer it takes to get through security.
So you know, I would recommend never getting in line in back of people with kids with strollers. Bring a book. Bring a magazine. If you have your laptop, make sure it's charged. Get there early and just make sure you bring your ID so you can go in the bar.
INSKEEP: Would you have any advice to add to that?
Mr. LEBOON: Well, I mean it's just the whole process. I mean, you also have Philadelphia International is trying to, you know, really, you know, expand this airport. More flights, more flights, more flights. And you know, more passengers that really are not, you know, grasping what the current rules are. And you're not going to show up an hour before anymore, 45 minutes, and expect to, you know, get through the whole process swiftly.
INSKEEP: You like this job?
Mr. LEBOON: Yeah. Yeah, I like it. I - you know, initially it took a little getting used to with the hours and - but like I said, I'm committed to doing my job, you know, 110 percent to make sure that the traveling public is safe. And I always put 110 percent into whatever I'm doing.
INSKEEP: Well, listen. I've really enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you so much.
Mr. LEBOON: Okay. Thank you.
INSKEEP: We did have one more question for Peter Leboon. His answer looks ahead to a conversation tomorrow.
Do you fly much?
Mr. LEBOON: Me? No. I don't fly. I was actually - the last time I was on a plane in 1980 was a very bad experience coming back from Los Angeles. It's just, you know, mechanical problems with the plane, but it was a near miss. So after that, when you're 13 years old, that was too much.
INSKEEP: We'll find out about safety in the sky next in our series about changes in air travel. We'll go to the brain center for air traffic control.
Unidentified Man: So those are the airplanes that we're tracking. On a normalized day it's about 7,000 flights in the air at any given time.
Unidentified Woman: That makes you a little, gives you pause. You know, when you're up in a plane, you seemed to think you're the only one.
MONTAGNE: Well, that's true. When you look at the U.S., it looks very crowded.