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Over Easy: “Flying is the Safest Way to Fly”

Mobile Boarding Pass

iPhone Boarding Pass

Title of this post courtesy of an old Shelley Berman routine: (“Flying is the safest way to fly.” “They have seatbelts on airplanes in case the plane comes to a sudden stop … like against a mountain.”)

I just returned from two weeks in California, and the trip involved two long flights. I flew Southwest Airlines from Chicago Midway to Oakland, CA (plus a 2-hour outbound and return bus ride between Midway and South Bend). For all of the bad press the flying experience and the TSA get, navigating the two airports and the airport security process was surprisingly painless, thanks to a couple of relatively recent improvements since I last flew.

The first is the mobile boarding pass that allows you to display your boarding pass on your smartphone. No more rummaging in pocket, purse, or carry-on for a paper boarding pass, hoping you haven’t left it somewhere. You can use your mobile boarding pass in place of a paper boarding pass at baggage check, in the airport security line, and when boarding. Scanners accommodate a variety of mobile devices. When you check in for  your flight,  you choose how to receive your boarding pass (email, text message, or view in browser). On the outbound flight, being new to the process, I chose to receive the boarding pass via email, and opening the email on my iPhone displayed the pass. But Southwest (and probably most other airlines) has an app for the smartphone, and you can use the app to check in and to display your boarding pass within the app, which I did on the return.

The other new wrinkle is the TSA Pre? (pre-check) program. It (supposedly) requires an application, payment of an $85 fee (covers 5 years) and being fingerprinted, but I didn’t do any of that, or even know about it. The TSA Pre? symbol simply appeared on my boarding pass. Maybe they figure a 72 year old grandmother is low risk sight unseen. (They must not know about the subversive FDL and all of my surveillance posts.)

If your boarding pass has the TSA Pre? symbol:

  • You bypass the regular long security lines and are directed to a relatively short TSA Pre? lane;
  • You present your boarding pass and Government-issued ID to the Travel Document Checker;
  • The TSA Travel Document Checker scans the boarding pass barcode (on the smartphone!);
  • You don’t remove your shoes, belt or light jacket, you keep your laptop in its case, and leave your plastic bag of liquids (if you have one) in your carry-on. I was directed to put my smartphone in one of the little plastic dishes and run it through the scanner, along with my purse and carry-on.

In both airports I had to submit to their full-body scanner. I wasn’t much perturbed because as the proud owner of a titanium knee replacement, I have set off the alarms and been wanded and patted at every airport for 9 years. But interestingly, I had to be very briefly patted in places the monitor highlighted (my shoulder and a spot at my waist, neither of which had any metal, but NOT the artificial knee, which does). Go figure.

In both airports the TSA crew and the airlines employees were courteous, friendly and helpful. So in all it was not an unpleasant experience, and if you have to fly, do take advantage of the mobile boarding pass and if you can, the TSA Pre? program. If you fly often, the TSA Pre? program might be worth $17/year. I’m still trying to figure out why I got it automatically.

And just today I came across an interesting tidbit online. It seems that airline travelers forget to collect their pocket change from the little basket at the security screening. According to the Los Angeles Times, Passengers leave thousands in loose change at L.A., S.F. airports The paper reports that travelers nationwide left about $675,000 in loose change at airports in the past fiscal year.

Occasionally passengers forget or don’t bother to pick up the pennies, nickels and quarters they dig out of their pockets and put in the plastic bin that passes through the luggage scanner as they pass through metal detectors.
So where does that money go? Back to the TSA. In 2005, Congress gave the agency authority to put the money it collects from airport checkpoints back into security operations. For fiscal year 2014, that amounted to $674,841.06 nationally. In 2013, it collected $638,142.64, and in 2012, it took in $531,395.22.

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I retired from the University of Notre Dame in the Office of Information Technology in 2010. I'm divorced, with two grown children and 8 grandchildren. I'm a lifelong liberal and a "nonbeliever."