Lautoa was born in Samoa and went to high school in Honolulu. He has been on the Mainland for thirty years, raising his family. I meet up with him in Terminal 1, where he’s doing his ten-hour shift with fourteen other screeners. No lines. The big, friendly man in his Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) uniform—white shirt, clip-on tie, navy pants and black shoes—offers to buy me a cup of coffee at a nearby food court.
Lautoa estimates he puts in about eighty hours a week working at SFO, where he’s been employed since 1991. He’s a Skycap for United Airlines; a VIP handler for Golden Gate Services, shepherding the likes of Sharon Stone, Joe Montana and Robert Redford through the indignities of check-in and baggage claim; and, for forty hours a week, he’s an SFO security screener.
At each checkpoint, Lautoa explains, anywhere from seven to fifteen screeners rotate every half-hour among five positions. There’s the “loader,” who coaxes passengers out of their belts and shoes, and shuttles the plastic bins into the X-ray machine; the “X-ray person,” who monitors the screen; the “mag operator,” who directs passengers through the door-frame magnetic detector; and the “wander,” who sweeps individual passengers with metal-detecting wands after they have double-beeped the mag. Lastly, there’s the “ETP person,” who runs the Explosive Trace Portal (a.k.a. the “puffer machine”).
A week earlier, Lautoa and the SFO security apparatus had weathered a worldwide airport-security scare provoked by the discovery of the now-infamous liquid-explosives plot in Great Britain.
“The news happened on a Wednesday,” Lautoa remembers. “By Friday the lines at check-in were overwhelming. Security lines doubled. We couldn’t take any time off until further notice. We had to work around the clock to make sure that our airport was safe.”