I think Ben-Gurion airport in Israel has a decent system. All people going to the airport -- in taxis, cars and buses -- have to pass through a checkpoint a couple of miles away from the main terminal. When you get to the main terminal, plainclothes security officers are everywhere, looking for suspicious behavior.Yes, I know, having shepherded 28 fellow St. John's pilgrims through the process on Saturday evening. What's unique, at least in my experience, is that you go through security before you check in as well as after. Moments after we'd entered the terminal, each of us had been interviewed, out of the hearing of the others, and asked a series of questions about our luggage and whether we'd been given any gifts while in Israel.
After our bags were examined by a machine, most of us were sent to have at least one bag opened and inspected. When one of our pilgrims had made it all the way to the check-in desk, she casually asked me if it was okay that she had packed some items for another pilgrim who'd run out of space in her suitcase. We were evidently overheard by a plainclothes officer. A couple of seconds later, she was directed back to secondary, where she had to unpack her luggage item by item.
As I think everyone knows, the Ben Gurion system is based on profiling. Arab friends say it takes them at least two hours to clear security, every time. Sometimes they're subjected to strip searches. Absolutely nobody likes that. But everybody likes a safe airport. Not that it would ever fly politically (unless the U.S. suffers another catastrophic attack), but the Israeli approach at U.S. airports would cost the TSA up to $150 billion more a year.
One thing about Ben Gurion's system for checking people and their carry-on baggage: You don't have to shed shoes and belts or go through a body scan. Either the Israelis have cooler machines, or they're more casual at the second stage because of the thoroughness of the pre-check-in process.