The poker-faced traveler; is there such a thing?

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Next time you're out at the airport, you had better watch your facial expressions, because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be, too.

The TSA reportedly is sending out to dozens of major airports across our nation "teams of TSA behavior-detection officers specially trained to discern the subtlest suspicious behaviors ," according to a story that appeared last week in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer .

TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program -- called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) -- that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent. But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions -- a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt, said Carl Maccario, who helped start the program for TSA.

The story, headlined Airport profilers: They're watching your expressions , is by P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky . TSA officials can ask a few questions to gauge facial expressions and, hopefully, weed out potential terrorists. I was alerted to the story by Slashdot .

I have to admit that news like this makes me a little nervous, but not for what you probably think. I could lecture on here about privacy, human rights, and the evils of government invasiveness, but that's what the Democratic Primaries are for, and like me you've probably had your fill. Confidentially, if we can nab terrorists at airports by their nasty facial expressions, I'm all for it.

No, what I'm worried about is me.

I'm trying to remember the last time I was standing in any line in any airport when I wasn't really PISSED OFF about something. I can't recall even one time. All I can remember are the different levels of distress, frustration, anger, exhaustion, and anxiety that are the delights of modern air travel.

I can't imagine what my airport facial expressions have been, but I know this isn't good. According to the Post-Intelligencer story, TSA officers ask simple questions like "How are you today?"; "Where are you heading?"; and "Is this all your property?" It's how passengers respond that makes all the difference (check out the comments to this story).

If one of these guys catches me at a perfect moment, well I shudder to think.

"How are you today"
"Aw, fer crissakes, I don't think you really want to know."
"Where are you heading?"
"Please, God, just get me home! I'm begging you, just get me home!"
"Is this all your property?"
"It's looking like it. I can't even remember WHERE I live anymore."

Well, maybe they'll cut me some slack. Then again maybe the next blog you read from me will be datelined Guantanamo Bay. Nonetheless, I think we're all ready to find out.

Some people have a poker face. Others put on their game face. Now I think we need to add the airport face to our repertoires. It could make the difference between getting home on time and experiencing a very long delay.

Stay tuned for future accounts of travel nightmares. We'll give you all the gory details. Feel free to share yours with us.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

June 2015
Volume 26, Issue 6

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