I don’t have to take my shoes off anymore.
The evolution of airport security screenings has been long and difficult. For most of my professional career, the changes have all been for the worse: more restrictions, more intrusions, more hassles and less freedom. Now, for the first time in a long time, the tide seems to be turning in the opposite direction.
My first memory of airport checkpoints is from the late 1980s, when my dad took periodic business trips. The whole family would accompany him to the airport to see him off. We all breezed through the metal detectors at the security station. I didn’t have anything in my hands to send through the X-ray machine. If I did have something, I would have been excited about watching it go down the conveyor belt.
In those days, anybody could go through the checkpoint and into the gate area, whether they were passengers or not. So my mother would take my brothers and me to the gate to say goodbye at the last minute, just before Dad boarded his flight. Once he disappeared down the jetway, we would go upstairs to an observation deck on the top floor of the terminal, where we would watch as Dad’s plane pushed back from the gate, taxied to the runway and then took off into the sky. And at the end of the week, when Dad returned, we would all be waiting at the gate to welcome him home.
Today, tearful goodbyes and joyful reunions at airports seem much less common. That’s due in no small part to the post-9/11 airport security regime, which has banned nonpassengers from gate areas and instituted a long list of things that can’t be brought through checkpoints, including simple bottles of water. Modern travelers have become accustomed to a whole routine of indignities they never had to endure before, such as taking off their shoes, coats and belts; submitting to full-body scans and pat-downs; and eliminating liquids from purses and backpacks.
Thankfully, the clouds have begun to part. The TSA Precheck system now allows travelers who have passed a background check to skip the long lines and pass through simple metal detectors again, fully clothed and with their bags intact. I’ve had Precheck for a couple of years now, and it has revolutionized the way I travel. It almost feels like I’m flying in the ’80s again.
For years, complaining about the hassles of air travel has been something of a sport among the American public. But the advent of Precheck and other improvements is making the experience remarkably better. Security lines are shorter. On-time performance has improved, and airline apps give us minute-to-minute flight status updates on our smartphones. Airlines are investing in customer service, and onboard Wi-Fi and free streaming entertainment are making the in-flight experience genuinely enjoyable again.
Grouchy travelers will still find plenty of reasons to complain, of course. But for this travel lover, the future looks bright.
I’m still waiting for the day when my kids can meet me at the top of the jetway after a long trip. But even if that time never comes, it’s worth noting how remarkably fortunate we are to be traveling in the modern world.
Travel may have been easy and glamorous in 1988. But I’m more grateful than ever for the way we all travel in 2018. And I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years bring.