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Most of Molokai‘i's prime ‘opihi grounds are only accessible by boat. Jordan Spencer, just offshore of Wailau Valley, September 2006
Vol. 9, No. 6
December/January 2007

  >>   Hearts of Palm
  >>   On the Rocks
  >>   Top Flight

Top Flight (Page 4)


Ed Lautoa

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.”