I traveled to Rome and back last week, a pretty good gig I admit.
But this isn’t about the sights of Rome or the joy of working for a Catholic organization, although those are certainly topics of interest.
Instead, I offer my perspective on airport security; my expertise is related to standing in line.
I flew out of O’Hare, a very large airport. And it is staffed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The TSA treats everyone the same. Whether you are a decrepit granny or a gun-toting lunatic, you get the same screening and you stand in lines for a long time. For the most part, the TSA agents are friendly and polite. But they are more like theater ushers than police. If my home were being invaded, I wouldn’t call a TSA agent for help.
I flew into Rome (FCO), also a very big airport. And it is staffed by more serious security people.
The Italian security people treat people with selective seriousness. In other words, they adjust to their perception of people and, well, profile. This makes more sense to me, although I don’t really understand everything they do – or why I had to go through so many steps.
After getting a boarding pass, the first security person checked it and asked where I was going. I suppose she couldn’t assume that I was going the same place it said on the boarding pass.
Next, she turned me over to an elegantly dressed, attractive young woman who asked me a series of questions:
- What is your job? (Communications for a Catholic organization.)
- Where do you work? (Chicago.)
- Where is the organization headquartered? (Rome.)
- What are your hobbies? (Fishing and playing the piano, not always in that order.)
If she had asked me my astrological sign I would have feared she was looking for a date. But this wasn’t the right environment or circumstances, so after these strange questions, she ushered me along to the next checkpoint.
After I put my electronic chargers and cords in plastic grocery bags, a nice woman in a blue uniform helped me take things out of my luggage and navigate the x-ray equipment. She didn’t ask me any flirty questions.
Then it was off to the departure area. Before actually getting on a plane, I had to show my boarding pass and passport three more times. They were really sure I was me.
One other little detail about the airport in Rome; they have real SWAT folks hanging around. We’re talking body armor, assault rifles, lots of ammo and serious faces. If my home were being invaded, these are people I would ask for help.
Both the Americans and the Italians exhibit imperfect security systems. Each could learn from the other. But the Italians sure seem more serious. I like serious.