1 more airport security step
• Photo gallery: TSA swab security procedure
By William Cole
Advertiser Staff Writer
Queue up, show your ID and boarding pass.
Take off shoes, place metal objects in a bin, take out laptop and remove jacket.
Pass through metal detector.
Until Monday, that was generally the procedure to make it through security at U.S. airports, including Honolulu International.
This week, the Transportation Security Administration added a new step — random swabbing for explosives residue in the security check line and in boarding areas.
In response to a failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight, TSA has increased its use of "explosive trace detection" technology within security checkpoints and at gates to screen passengers' hands and carry-on luggage.
Bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly hid powdered explosives in his underwear and got through Amsterdam airport and onto the Northwest flight.
TSA said the stepped-up checks started at all airports nationwide on Monday. There has been some swabbing of carry-on luggage after a run through the X-ray machine, but explosives detection as a whole is being increased.
Glen Kajiyama, TSA's federal security director for the Honolulu airport, yesterday said security officers will be focusing on random hand swabbing in some security lines, while at the gate, there may be hand and carry-on luggage checks.
The cotton swabs — which don't contain any chemicals — are analyzed by a cash-register-sized machine. Honolulu has more than 100 of the machines, and smaller portable devices will be on the way in fiscal year 2011, Kajiyama said.
The security line hand checks, which take less than a minute, started Monday.
"We haven't received any negative complaints," Kajiyama said. "Of course, we're trying to balance security with convenience. Unfortunately, being safe is not always convenient."
"How are you doing today, sir?" TSA agent Timothy Vinigas said yesterday to one passenger as he wound his way through the Checkpoint 5 security line. "We're doing additional screening of the hands."
Thien Doan, 38, who lives in Los Angeles and was flying out yesterday afternoon, didn't have a problem with a hand swab. He wasn't sure what was being checked. Told afterward it was for explosives, he said, "Oh," paused, and then said, "Five seconds — I don't have a problem with it."
Michael McGuire, a TSA supervisory officer who was demonstrating a detection machine, said agents will pick out passengers at random for hand swabbing.
"We don't use any kind of criteria whatsoever to pick someone out," he said.
Kajiyama said there haven't been any positive results for explosives at Honolulu airport with the new detection system. If there is a positive result, a secondary screening is conducted.
"Unfortunately, I can't divulge that part," he said.
Kajiyama acknowledged that gasoline or motor oil can trigger a positive reading, but said the secondary screening would resolve the issue.
Brett Steadman, 44, who was headed to Rhode Island yesterday, said he had "no issues whatsoever" with a hand swab.
He said he isn't sure how effective all the security measures are, but he thinks they have some value.
"I think that if somebody really wants to do something, then they can do something," he said. "But (the security measures) are going to deter a certain amount of people, so I think it's a good thing."