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SFO Security Change?

I flew from SFO to CDG today. Like a good traveler I got to the airport 3 hours before my 3:40 flight. And got through security in under 5 minutes.

One thing that helped was there was absolutely no line. I walked right up to the screener, and that was where a huge change was. I did not have TSA precheck or any other shorten the line options. I did not have to take anything out of my backpack and I had an iPad and iPhone. I also did not have take off my shoes.

i do not know what the security point at the other end of the terminal was doing, but it had a much longer line. Has anyone else had this happen? Any light you can shed?

I must say it was very nice.

Posted by
11275 posts

"i do not know what the security point at the other end of the terminal was doing, but it had a much longer line. Has anyone else had this happen? Any light you can shed?"

I had a similar experience in Atlanta in May 2016. There was some issue at the airport (I don't remember exactly what) that was expected to slow security dramatically. It was such a big deal that it not only made the local news, but I got a text from Delta warning me to get to the airport early. So, even though my flight was domestic, I pretended it was international and got to the airport over 3 hours early. Once there, I found there were multiple security lines, and I went away from the center one to the one on the far side, which had only two people in it. And, that line didn't use the millimeter scanner, but just a metal detector. I don't think I've ever been through security so fast, even before 9-11-2001. I was so early I was able to make an earlier flight (the $50 change fee was worth it to avoid a 2 hour wait).

Less drastically, leaving Montreal for the US this past July, the lines for US pre-clearance were so short, I was sure I was in the wrong place or skipping steps. But I wasn't - for whatever reason, that part of the process was just unusually fast.

So, you just never know. But I'm fond of the saying that "at airports, you can either be stressed or bored; choose bored."

Posted by
166 posts

I am fortunate in that I leave from Wichita, Ks for all my European flights and with TSA pre-check our security line takes about 1-2 minutes at the most and even the regular line only takes 5-7 minutes. My biggest issue use to be on return flights from Europe getting through immigration at Atlanta or Minneapolis with enough time to make our flight to Wichita but Global Reentry has made that very easy now. I still have to go back through security at both airports to get to my flights (this makes no sense) but so far I haven't missed any flights like we use to. I'll never forget several years ago when things were not running as smoothly as they are now, getting out of the taxi at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport and seeing the security line coming out of the front door of the airport and along the sidewalk!!

Posted by
419 posts

donseery: The reason you have to go back through security again after clearing immigration in ATL or MSP (or anywhere else in the US) is because you've had access to your checked bags. The sequence is immigration (passport control) - pick up your checked bags - clear customs - drop baggage off - continue to next flight.

This means you could have had access to things that are prohibited in carry-ons but permitted in checked bags (liquids over 3 oz, knives, etc.) and so they need to re-screen you to make sure you don't have any of those things.

Posted by
269 posts

My daughter flew from Newark to SFO yesterday. She said the lines were so long that a TSA person was allowing people to go through the security lines without being screened. Yikes!

Posted by
12400 posts

That's the Air France flight take whenever I fly from SFO to Paris, don't have TSA precheck either. There have been times when I just breezed through, no taking off the shoes, no carrying of electronic gear either. Some thing is marked / scribbled on your board pass, then I just follow the line the TSA types want me stand in.

Posted by
947 posts

In regards to re-clearing security if you have a connecting flight following your arrival back to the US--I understand this is because you have access to your checked baggage, but my question is why do we have to reclaim our checked bags? You don't do this if you have a following connecting flight in Europe after arriving from the US (say, LAX--FRA--VCE)--you don't see your checked luggage until your final destination. Is it because the TSA doesn't trust the baggage screening at non-US (or non-US pre-clearance airports)?

Posted by
10265 posts

Eric, when you enter the U.S., immigration and customs are done at your first port of entry. You are entering the U.S. It is one country.

Europe is not one country. Using your example, both Germany and Italy are in Schengen so you would go through immigration in Germany--your first port of entry--and travel freely to Italy. Immigration comes under Schengen.

Customs, however, is not covered by Schengen. That comes under EU rules. And while there is no customs between EU countries, you were not coming from an EU country. You were coming from the USA. Each country still operates their own customs. Since you were not staying in Germany, they didn't need to worry about your luggage. That is done at your final destination (Italy.)

Even with all that, customs in Europe is usually just a walk through.

Posted by
947 posts

So if I were (for some reason) to fly LAX--FCO--VCE on one ticket, I would collect my checked luggage in FCO, then re-check it before my flight to VCE, since FCO was my entry to the country?

Posted by
18056 posts

The reason you have to go back through security again after clearing immigration in ATL or MSP
(or anywhere else in the US) is because you've had access to your checked bags.

Maybe we should ask why you have had access to your checked bags. I've reentered the US from Europe fourteen times and, although I have picked up my bag to go through customs, it has never been opened or inspected. in Europe, you don't go through customs and have access to a "checked-thru bag", until you reach your final destination. (But then customs in Europe is a walk-thru anyway.) Maybe TSA should learn something from the Europeans and save Americans a lot of time and hassle.

Posted by
1217 posts

Many secondary and tertiary US airports do not have immigration and customs services at all or only have them on effectively a reservation basis for general aviation flights. It’s far more cost effective and efficient for the system as a whole to have customs at the point of entry than to require the EAS airport that gets fewer scheduled commercial flights and passengers in a year than Atlanta gets in a weekend to have a full time immigration and customs staff that may not see any inbound international passengers for days on end

Posted by
1202 posts

I’ve had short waits at the SFO international terminal too. Midday seems to be fairly quiet . Half a dozen people in line.

As for screening or inspections of luggage upon return to the US. How would you know if it was or wasn’t inspected if the bulk of the process occurs behind the scene and out of view?

Posted by
996 posts

So if I were (for some reason) to fly LAX--FCO--VCE on one ticket, I would collect my checked luggage in FCO, then re-check it before my flight to VCE, since FCO was my entry to the country?

Flying into Italy from the USA, it's a different process. You arrive at FCO. As long as your bags were checked through to VCE when you boarded at LAX, you do not have to collect your checked luggage at FCO. destination.

IF for some reason you have booked two separate flights on two separate reservations, then you will need to collect your luggage at FCO. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the fashion show at the Rome airport while you wait for your next flight.

Posted by
996 posts

in Europe, you don't go through customs and have access to a "checked-thru bag", until you reach your final destination.

I have never understood why we have to collect our luggage on arrival in the US for a connecting flight. I don't want to have access to it. I don't want the hassle. (And it IS a hassle. I've missed connecting flights because I had to wait for my suitcase to be unloaded from the plane so that I could just drop it off again.) I'd prefer for my bag to be checked through to my final destination, period. I don't want to see it again until I'm home.

Posted by
1268 posts

aquamarinesteph,

See selkie's response above.

Posted by
5697 posts

@Barbara, which airline ? We flew United out of SFO in early December, no major difference from usual TSA experience. Air France/KLM use the security gates on the other side of the international terminal. I think it's all random -- sometimes you get in line behind people who know how to pack their 3-1-1 bag, sometimes you are behind people who have never flown, and sometimes the TSA person is just having a bad day.

Posted by
315 posts

@Rocket: TSA places a "We Opened Your Bag for Inspection" note in the bag. Your belongings can be all messed up too!

Posted by
1202 posts

But what if they just run the dogs past the bags to see if there are drugs, explosives, USDA restricted items inside? Or send the bags thru machines to scan for such things? I don’t believe they leave a note if they haven’t opened your bag. How would you know?

Also I have had my bag inspected and no note was left.

Posted by
947 posts

I understand that it is easier to take care of customs at the large international airports instead of having it spread out to every airport great and small. What I still do not understand is why the checked baggage claim/redeposit rigmarole is part of this process. I realize I am asking what might be impossible--a sensible explanation for a governmental regulation--but I have never been stopped to have my bag inspected before dropping it back off, nor seen anyone else stopped before rechecking, you just walk the (usually) short distance to the recheck area and drop off your bag. What does this step accomplish?

Posted by
419 posts

Eric: I can attest I have had my bags checked after declaring in the primary customs inspection that there was food. It was a bunch of canned/tinned products from France, all but one of which turned out to be admissible in the end.

I'm not defending (or criticizing) the system, as I think there are a lot of complicated factors here between airport design, the US air travel market, immigration, customs, security, etc., but did want to say that inspection of bags does and has happened to me.

Posted by
947 posts

Thank you, Andrew, for sharing your experience. That does start to explain why this is done.

Posted by
996 posts

See selkie's response above

I understand physically going through US Customs at larger airports when you return to the US from another country.

It's the hands on baggage part that I don't get. I don't understand why I have to wait for luggage to be offloaded, why you have to grab it and turn around twenty feet and shove it to someone who is yelling at people to hurry up with their suitcases. I've also heard TSA making announcements that you shouldn't open your luggage during this transit period. So why do it at all? Why not just let the airline handle it like any luggage transfer from one flight to another where you never see your suitcase until the final destination? It would be less of a security issue to let the airlines handle it. Basically it feels as if you are working for the airlines while hauling your suitcases, and it's an excuse to make you clear security (not customs) again.

I'm not trying to argue with anyone here. I'm just saying it seems like double work for reasons I do not understand.

Posted by
1217 posts

I've gotten sent to secondary agricultural screening at JFK with my luggage. It wasn't over food. It was because we'd taken advantage of UK 'right to roam' laws and had hiked a bunch of national park trails in Wales that went through sheep pastures. And then I was honest on the question about 'have you been in contact with livestock while outside of the USA?' on the customs questionnaire.

In the absence of an active bulletin about current livestock disease outbreaks, this answer apparently confuses the heck out of the ICE so we were sent over to have our checked bags (but not carry ons) sent through a token x-ray scan with no further action taken since all the agents were far more interested in the guy from Nigeria trying to bring a suitcase full of Africa's favorite packaged snack foods into the country.

Posted by
12400 posts

There have been a coupe of times my checked luggage was opened by TSA (they sometimes leave note to that effect), other times no note, but I know my toiletry bag was opened up, (it's obvious), ie, unzipped, and re-zipped. How do I know it was opened, ie disturbed? By the way the TSA re-zipped the bag, which was a way I do not do regarding the zippers. Yes, customs is after Border Check and Baggage Claim, I don't bother with "their" logic on the luggage, just proceed, follow it through and get it over with. My opinions/objections/efforts are irrelevant.