The friendly skies

Dear Ace: I recently read about an American Airlines flight being grounded because a woman lit a match to cover up an unpleasant smell. After my giggles subsided, I got to wondering: How secure is the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport anyway?—Joan Jet

Dear Joan: Ace wouldn’t know. He’s been boycotting air travel since airlines started banning smoking on their flights in the late ‘80s. Road trips are more fun anyway. But ever the dutiful reporter, Ace valiantly drove his Acemobile into the lion’s den to get the security scoop.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO) handed over control of its security detail to the Transportation Security Administration, an agency formed in 2002 under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. It was part of a nationwide effort to federalize airport security. The TSA is now the go-to agency for all passenger and baggage security concerns. So what does the TSA have to say about how secure we are?
An airport press release tells Ace that in November, the TSA presented CHO with a Partnership Award “in recognition of the airport’s outstanding contribution to homeland security.” The press release goes on to say that “CHO is one of a small group of airports to have received the award since the inception of TSA in 2002.”

According to James Crockett, TSA liaison for the airport, the award was given to recognize a complete redesign of CHO’s baggage check-in process. Crockett (Ace was barely able to suppress his “where’s Tubbs?” jokes) told Ace, “When TSA took over the screening responsibility in September of 2002, your baggage check-in for TSA was in the lobby.” Back then, you had to check in with your airline, then come back and get your baggage from TSA. And then each airline would run its own baggage detail. The TSA “put in a centralized system that runs across the rear of the counter that all airlines could dump their bags on” and built a baggage room that consolidated all the airline and TSA resources into one place. Crockett explained that the TSA now has comprehensive and efficient oversight of baggage and boarding procedures. For you, this means a safer flight with fewer headaches at check-in (as long as you don’t try to sneak on that now contraband shampoo bottle).

So Joan, it looks like the airport authorities have security pretty locked down over at CHO, and the TSA, who ought to know, has recognized them accordingly. Just don’t light any matches. Better yet, skip the bean burrito before your next cross-country flight.

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