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Today's word on

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Those were the days:

"The way I had it is all gone now. The bars are
gone, the drinkers, gone. There remain the smartest, healthiest newspeople in the history of the business. And they are so boring that they kill the business right in front of you."

--Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist, 1996 (Thanks to alert WORDster Jim Doyle)


A TSA baggage screener explains it all for you

By Julie Oliver

January 25, 2005 | Dustin Olson, 25, entered the Salt Lake City Airport on Nov. 23 to fly home in time for Thanksgiving. He checked his luggage at the ticket counter, with the exception of his carry-on.

Olson, a frequent traveler, approached the security checkpoint with his carry-on in hand. A Transportation Security Administration worker greeted him with a smile while verifying Olson's license and placing a pen mark on his boarding pass.

He placed his bag on the conveyer belt, so it could be screened and X-rayed.

Olson showed his boarding pass to another worker, who nodded with approval and motioned him through the metal detector, which he passed without setting off the alarm.

Olson was asked by a TSA worker to take his items over to a separate screening area, where he was asked to take off his shoes and spread his arms and legs.

Olson was one of the many passengers that day whom were physically searched along with their carry-on items.

Dale Wursten, a TSA worker at the Salt Lake City Airport, said, "We do not profile at all – the computer does it all, about one in 10 are selected. There are usually four S's marked on the ticket or some other marking," which alerts check-point workers that the computer randomly selected an individual to be physically searched.

TSA, a section of Homeland Security, is responsible for protecting our nation's transportation systems and supervising the entry of people and goods into the United States. TSA workers are responsible for screening the 730 million people that travel on commercial aircrafts and their more than 700 million pieces of luggage that are checked for explosives each year, according to

"The Salt Lake City Airport was the first airport in the nation to screen 100 percent of bags," Wursten said. It began with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"At the SLC Airport, we probably take away 300 things a day from people in carry-on check security," Wursten said. "I usually deal with 30-40 items a day that people try to bring on.

"One time there was a hunter who brought one of his guns through the security checkpoint. We called the cops," Wursten said. "Any gun brought through security falls under the 100-percent prosecution rule, or zero tolerance rule.

Kathy Sudeikis, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society of Travel Agents in National Geographic News said, "In October we had more than 2,000 instances of ammunition at the checkpoints and 77 firearms at the checkpoints."

These discoveries emphasize the need for continued attention at airport checkpoints across the country. TSA screeners in Orlando discovered a loaded handgun stuffed inside a plush teddy bear as it was being X-rayed July 12.

The bear belonged to a 10-year-old boy who received it as a gift from a stranger, according to

With the average of 2 million air travelers and 2 million-plus pieces of luggage a day it is reassuring when dangerous items are found and confiscated; however that's not always the case.

In New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport some luggage screeners spotted - and then lost - a fake bomb planted in luggage by a supervisor during a training exercise.

"Despite an hours-long search . . . the bag, containing a fake bomb complete with wires, a detonator and a clock, made it onto an Amsterdam-bound flight. It was recovered by airport security officials in Amsterdam when the flight landed," according to Wayne Parry, an Associated Press writer. Incidents like these are far and in between. In fact, TSA workers, at times, find things they wish they wouldn't have.

Wursten, recalling one of these experiences, said, "I had to check a guy who had poo in his bag." No questions were asked regarding that item. We just sent him on his way, quickly.

"I find sex toys and other related items about once a month," Wursten said. We leave the items and allow the people to leave if they checkout all right.

Another incident occurred when Wursten was hand-wanding a man, who had set off the metal detector and was being searched by hand. The man had a lot of coins in his pocket, but he would only take out one coin at a time.

Finally Wursten said, "Take everything out of your pocket." The man asked,

"Do I have to?" Wursten said, "yes." The man emptied his pockets and held out a bag of marijuana and a handful of coins. Wursten called a police officer over and the man was taken away for questioning.

"Every time the cops come over to deal with a situation they check the individual's record. The man with the marijuana had a previous record and was arrested," Wursten said.

"Once a day there is someone who gets angry and doesn't want us to search their purse or bag," Wursten said. "If you don't let us search your stuff, you don't get to fly."

The other day a man was being a "jerk." He made a female screener cry. The man started to walk away when a cop told him to stop. The man ignored the cop, so the officer tackled him, handcuffed and arrested him," Wursten said.

"An offense committed in an airport is a federal offense – so it's serious."

Wursten also works for Millionair, a charter flight company, that transports professional and college athletes to games. The players are screened in the Delta Center and then put on a bus and brought to their plane.

Wursten has screened the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and University of Notre Dame football teams, as well as the L.A. Lakers and the Utah State Jazz. "It's a lot of fun to see the players," Wursten said. "They are very patient and polite through the whole process."

There are more than 56,000 dedicated screeners, who are hired, trained and deployed to all 429 commercial airports in the TSA system, according to

However, in November airports were allowed to get out of the federal system. Airports could go back to private companies for security and get rid of TSA, Wursten said.

Airports are a luxury that most Americans take for granted. The TSA was implemented so we could still enjoy flying in safety.

The extra security measures may be a pain, but it's better to go through the process and have a safe flight. Pack accordingly and become knowledgeable about airport security to help your experience to go more smoothly.

"Patience is the other thing that you have to pack," Sudeikis advised. "You can't get there any faster by getting upset."

TSA offers the following security tips:

• Pack valuables and fragile items, like laptops or jewelry, in your carry-on bag.

• Avoid overstuffing checked luggage, which can be more difficult and time-consuming to search.

• Try to carry fewer metallic items, including keys, coins, phones, etc., in your carry-on bag. Remove laptops and video cameras from their cases so they can be placed in a plastic bin for screening.

• Remove your overcoat, as well as your jacket, blazer, and suit coat. Sweaters and sweatshirts are OK if not unusually bulky.

• Consider wearing flip-flops, sandals, or other nonmetallic and easily removable footwear that won't raise suspicions, according to


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