The TSA screening area at Reno-Tahoe International Airport’s B gates isn’t much to look at. It’s a dark, cavernous processing area with well-worn linoleum floors that almost makes you feel like you’re visiting a relative in prison.
But looks can be deceiving. I just had the best TSA screening experience in Reno, and I’m not alone. On a recent Monday morning, my entire family transited through Terminal B, and they could scarcely believe they’d been checked by federal screeners.
The TSA checkpoint at Denver International Airport looks like it’s something straight out of a science fiction movie. It’s a gleaming hall with the newest technology, including an array of shiny new body scanners. It’s the kind of place where you’d expect to find a modern, friendly, and efficient screening.
Yet here, too, all is not as it seems: A few days ago, I had the single worst screening experience of my life. I still can’t believe what happened.
The two TSAs
In America, there are two TSAs: one that understands its real mission and seems to respect the dignity of its passengers, and another that’s operating under the mistaken belief that it’s the last line of defense against terrorism and that it can break a few laws, and trample on the US Constitution, to get the job done.
You can experience both today, with the apparent blessing of the Department of Homeland Security. Why? Because the government encourages “random and unpredictable” airport security, which means that it’s in the TSA’s best interests to have one airport that passengers actually like and another that’s universally hated.
No one ever said this would make sense.
Best little checkpoint in Reno
When we arrived at the Terminal B screening area in Reno, we were prepared for the worst. But the line moved quickly, and within less than a minute, we were standing in front of a TSO who greeted everyone with a friendly and genuine smile.
“Looks like you guys have been in the mountains,” he said. Our sunburned faces had given us away.
Another screener checked our boarding passes and waved us through quickly. There are no full-body scanners at Terminal B, which doesn’t seem to bother anyone. (And surprisingly, no terrorists have exploited that little loophole — makes you wonder about the deterrent power of those scanners, doesn’t it?)
After getting our bags scanned, a screener asked my 10-year-old son, Aren, what was inside his bag.
Oops. Turns out he’d left his laptop in his luggage by mistake. But the agent examining his bag didn’t scold him; in fact, he cracked a joke about what else he might have packed.
“Got any Tasmanian Devils in there?” he kidded.
“Uh, no,” Aren replied.
Within less than three minutes, the backpack had been rescreened and we were on our way.
“Wow,” said Aren. “They were really friendly.”
Indeed. The Reno TSAers won the airport of the year award back in 2010, which suggests we aren’t the only ones who like their work.