It all sounds good. But I fear it’s also empty promises. I just returned from Tel Aviv, Israel. I kept a keen eye on security procedures throughout my trip. I saw some changes to security. But I was also again reminded of the differences between the U.S. approach and the rules and procedures Israel has in place.
On January 6th, I checked in at Philadelphia International Airport to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. One noticeable change at the airport was increased presence of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. I counted 10 plus a dog in the area (many more than usual). About an hour from landing, the captain asked us to take our seats. We were then required to remain seated when we were 30 minutes from landing.
Other than that, it seemed to me to be business as usual. That’s not to say security was lax. Certainly U.S. airport security has become much tighter since 9/11. But other than more TSA officers and being asked to remain seated, additional security precautions were not apparent to me.
Now let’s compare the current state of U.S. airport security to Israel’s approach. In Tel Aviv, security is in place long before you arrive at the airport. On the highway, you have to pass through a checkpoint manned by Israeli border police. Officers look into your car and assess the occupants before letting the car pass through to the airport access road.
You’re screened again upon arrival at the terminal. The men and women who perform the security checks are highly trained in evaluating travelers. They look for telltale signs, check stories, ask questions, and stare you in the eye as you answer their questions.
They are skilled at noticing subconscious body language (“tells“) that can reveal when someone is lying. And they will pull you aside for deeper questioning or other actions if they have the slightest concern. You can’t check in for your flight until these officers are satisfied that you don’t pose a risk. In fact, you can easily be interviewed multiple times by various agents if any one of them doubts about your motives.
Your checked luggage is also screened before you check in for your flight. Nothing gets to the counter — much less the airplane itself — without quiet, comprehensive, repetitive scrutiny.
Ben Gurion International Airport has not had a terrorist incident nearly 40 years, despite being surrounded by legions of Jihadists who would gladly sacrifice themselves. And guess what? They maintain this successful level of security for travelers without asking any to remove their shoes.
I’m not saying international travel isn’t safe. What I am saying is that the world should take a hard look at how Israel protects travelers, and ask what we can learn from their impeccable track record. It’s especially impressive when you consider, again, that Israel is probably the radicals number one target for destruction.
It’s a shame that, since the incident with the so-called underwear bomber, some folks have been inconvenienced more than is probably necessary. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about “the new airport security,” where delays and lines are longer and more tedious. While this is true in some U.S. airports, I didn’t experience this in Tel Aviv. It’s an interesting contrast. Ben Gurion International has tighter security, yet it is easier for travelers to deal with.
Despite the failed underwear bomber attempt, the TSA’s measures are clearly working most of the time. Otherwise, we would have experienced more incidents like the near-miss on Christmas Day, or worse. That said, we don’t want and can’t afford any more near misses or successful attacks.
We should learn from the best. And right now, the best airport security operation is in Israel. Let’s hope the TSA is paying attention.