Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Airport Security: The TSA Tries 'Chat-Downs'

Under a TSA pilot program, passengers are questioned in line

The man in the blue uniform wanted to know where Felipe Mejia was going and why. He held Mejia’s gaze, as well as his boarding pass. “I said, ‘Who are you to ask me these questions?’ ” recalls the medical company executive, who was waiting at Boston Logan International Airport on his way to Charleston, S.C. “‘It’s none of your business. I don’t think you have a right to ask me these things.’ ”

The man who questioned Mejia in late August was a Transportation Security Administration officer taking part in a pilot program aimed at identifying suspicious characters as they inch through airport security lines. Since August some travelers at Logan’s Terminal A have been directed to an additional queue for a brief interview with an officer before they reach the conveyor belts and screening machines. A reporter was permitted to observe these interactions, which usually lasted less than a minute, from a distance of about 25 feet. Some passengers, like Mejia, grew visibly angry at the questions. Others, like Mark Aaron, a logistics manager at Ryder System in Raleigh, N.C., didn’t seem much bothered by the latest hassle passengers must endure on the way to the gate. He says his conversation with a TSA officer went something like this: “Why were you here? Where are you from? What brought you here?”