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Thu, Feb 10, 2005

Aero-Views: TSA Quick, Courteous, And Friendly At MHT

The Nose Gives Credit Where Credit Is Due

by ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

(Few things in this world can make us slack jawed with amazement. This is one of them. Senior Correspondent Kevin O'Brien has been a harsh critic of the TSA, blasting what he sees as inefficiency and surliness among other things. But on his last trip, he noticed a mighty change. --ed.)

On my way to HAI, I flew Southwest (always a pleasure) out of Manchester International in Manchester (where else?), New Hampshire. It's always a pleasure to fly out of Manchester, too, even though I'm closer to Boston Logan. But after some of the stuff I've written about the TSA lately, I knew I needed to give it a little extra time. Based on what I've been hearing both from other journalists and TSA insiders, I could expect the "full proctoscopy." Ah, well, I knew that when I wrote the columns.

I got an early enough start but didn't leave enough slack time for General Winter... wait a minute, that's what Napoleon and Hitler did when they invaded Russia... I'm just driving to the airport, for cryin' out loud.

But it feels like the Retreat from Moscow with the road, slick as a skating rink, forcing a car change... to a car than needs gas (oops)... till I finally got to a parking lot and could just make it if everything went 100%, perfectly, slicker-than owl-guano-after-forty-days-of-rain, right.

Of course, everything didn't go right. The shuttle bus didn't come... and then I waited... and then when it came we had to drive to every shuttle bus stop on the airfield. (I guess I picked the wrong parking lot... big time). So by the time I got to the baggage check counter, the flight attendants were probably berating the pax to get out of the aisles and strap in for departure.

The gal at the Southwest counter was all professionalism and smiles (did I mention that I love flying Southwest?) as she rebooked me through The City That Grafts (where Southwest is at least in cozy Midway rather than sprawling, grimy O'Hare).

Finally my reckoning with TSA was at hand. I approached the checkpoint with much trepidation. First, I had to get by the private security guard -- but he was a friendly guy and fun to talk to, and then the TSA people themselves were pleasant, professional, and courteous. Usually the large amount of computer and camera gear I fly with stirs up a hornets' nest of angry TSA guys that can't believe anyone can have that many wires in a carry-on and not be Abu Musab Al-Zarkawi.

Not this time -- they thoroughly inspected my stuff, but they did it quickly, efficiently, and sensibly. And I'll admit my stuff is non-trivial to inspect: when I'm writing for Aero-News, I haul a computer, scanner, multiple cameras, an iPod (I have it set up for recording interviews), a PalmPilot, and all the cables, wall-warts, docking adapters, memory-card readers, and assorted gingerbread that goes to make all the high-tech goodies play well together. Sometimes I have another bag of aviation stuff, headsets and Flight Guides and all that, or a set of solar panels, an Iridium phone. It's enough to make a good Fed suspicious, but there's a pro way of dealing with it.

More than once I've had a TSA type upend my bag and dump everything that I took an hour to fit in together out, just so he could paw some artifact and regard it with that faux-thoughtful look a good retriever gives you. So the contrast of the sharp operation at Manchester, compared to, say, Boston Logan, is even clearer. The TSA can do its job, courteously and effectively -- as long as the will and,one presumes, leadership is there. After all, Napoleon tells us there are no bad regiments, only bad colonels. If that's the case, the TSA has a better colonel in Manchester than in many of its other postings.

I have been loud in my complaints when the agency acts stupid. Let me be equally loud in my praise when it's working well.

(Will any reader who finds our teeth please send them back COD? We seemed to have dropped them reading this. Thanks. --ed.)

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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