Security for Flying Internationally to the United States: Little More Than Wasted Time

Went through security today, handed in my printed online boarding passes which read “API OK” (Advance Passenger Information). I was told that wasn’t acceptable, I had to go to the ticket counter to get a “real” boarding pass. So I went to the next line over where they happily took my “homemade” one.

There was nothing extra at security or passport control. I was flying through an airport that pre-clears US immigration.

The airline called for boarding a bit earlier than usual, and everyone had to go through an additional screening before reaching the aircraft.

Men and women were separated into lines staffed by same sex officers. I got a pat down, but it wasn’t at all invasive. They certainly wouldn’t have found anything hidden in my more private regions. They asked me to empty my pockets, but didn’t inspect the items I removed. They asked me to open my carryon, the rustled around the items on top but didn’t get anywhere below the first level of packing and didn’t open up any of the zippered compartments. The opened my laptop bag but didn’t ruffle through the compartments.

They checked to be sure my water wasn’t opened, as “unsealed” liquid containers had to be disposed of before reaching the aircraft. But they simply told passengers that and pointed towards trash bins past the screening area. Folks were free to dispose of those liquids on their own (or not, as most simply ignored the order).

I suppose we could just call it a government jobs program rather than a security exercise. But really, it was much ado about nothing. And thanks to the early boarding call, everyone was on the aircraft and in their seats about 14 minutes prior to scheduled departure time.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Sounds about the same as my experience in London, though I hear that Barcelona is much stricter.

    The fact is that universal screening isn’t going to work because there aren’t sufficient resources to do it thoroughly enough for it to be effective. But that won’t stop the government from talking it up huge like they’re making a difference.

  2. Happy new year Gary

    That is similar to the experience on my recent flight to USA.

    At the gate we all got a pat-down (unisex line & not asked to remove contents of pockets), and a token look at carry-on. Really just going through the motions – security theatre indeed.

  3. Yeah, this seems to be the new protocol. At Madrid, where US-bound flights always had a “special area” at the end of Terminal 4S, they expanded the area to include single-sex pat down lines and bag search area before you could enter the boarding area. The problem was that, as flight times approach, the area can get too busy. My Iberia flight to JFK on Monday was delayed by about 40 minutes due to stragglers clearly this security check. Not sure why they apparently didn’t pull late-arriving pax for the flight to the front of the line. I guess they’ll eventually learn, and the delays will decrease.

  4. BTW, travelling with my family, I feared the worst on Monday regarding gate bag check and simply checked our rollerboards at our departure airport, IST. If you’re on the fence about checking your bags, these new procedures might push you into doing it (it did delay me about 15 minutes at JFK waiting for my bags after clearing Immigration.

    If you’re a solo traveller, though, you could probably get through the bag check line, in most circumstances, in 5 minutes. You’ll never be able to know in advance how thorough they’ll be. I didn’t feel like having 10 days of stuff unpacked and repacked.

  5. Same for my wife and I coming in from Costa RIca on Jan 1.

    There’s almost no incentive for residents/employees of foreign governments or agencies to do an inspection on planes leaving their country, so they won’t spend any more effort on it as necessary to meet minimums.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *