The last time I traveled was to Thailand in November-December 2006, shortly after the binary liquid explosive scare and new screening procedures for carrying on liquids, gels, etc. had gone into effect. Prior to that, a number of work related recruiting trips were instructive. We always brought two fingerprinting kits that use a heat-sensative red ink that turns black when you stick the fingerprint cards in a panini-grill like heating element. The units are rather expensive and were critical to our events, so we always carried them on the plane. The person who carried the unit was always pulled aside to the special extra procedures area and questioned by security. They always inspected the units and on more than one occasion swabbed them for any traces of explosive materials. While I think the whole airport security routine is a farce and studies indicate that people can still pretty effectively sneak banned items onto planes, I have hitherto thought that I had been given a pretty thorough going-over.
My impression from my most recent experience is that airport security has seriously lapsed. On this trip I was somewhat careless about metal and liquids when I packed and was carrying a router, its power adapter and thirty feet of coiled ethernet cable. I thought that surely I would be required at least to take a few things out of my bag, but no. We all went through screening extremely quickly and I was just rushed right along with nary a question. The special screening section behind the partition wall seemed like it may be growing spider webs.
After I got through, I was sufficiently struck by it that I asked S., a gargoyle always heavy-laden with personal electronics. She had gone through a separate screening station and concurred that it seemed that things had gotten pretty lax. At Sea-Tac there was a person putting out a little effort to make sure that personal electronics and liquids were out of their bags and in separate bins, but things didn’t seem much better there.