The TSA has long been a bane of travelers, really since it was implemented after the September 11th terrorist attacks. At least three TSA workers were fired last year for groping travelers, while Dana Loesch and her family have had issues with the federal agency for years. The anger this year isn’t about supposedly isolated incidents about groping, but about long lines at airports. It’s caused TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to apologize for recent delays in Chicago. Via ABC News (emphasis mine):
“We had a significant challenge in Chicago yesterday. I don’t know what that was. We’re fixing that,” Administrator Peter Neffenger said during an event in in Houston. “I do apologize to the people who found themselves stranded in Chicago yesterday.”
According to ABC-owned station WLS, about 450 American Airlines passengers slated to fly out of O’Hare International Airport Sunday night didn’t make it to the gate in time. Some said they waited two to three hours to get through the security checkpoints.
“We’ve got a team out there right now trying to figure out what the root cause of that were. We are not seeing that kind of problem throughout the system,” Neffenger said.
The problem with Neffenger’s claim the delays aren’t systemwide is that it isn’t true. Denver International Airport has been dealing with horrific delays for months, with staff deciding to bring therapy dogs, bottled water, and candy to try to alleviate passenger anger (I’m sure some of the passengers would prefer booze, but that might make things worse). The New York Times reports other airports have been complaining about the delays:
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy International Airport, La Guardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, recently sent a letter to the T.S.A. saying that security waiting times had “risen dramatically in recent months,” leading to delayed and missed flights. The Port Authority threatened to hire private security workers if the T.S.A. did not increase the number of screeners at the airports.
Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta sent a similar letter in February. Other airports, such as Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., are also considering using private security contractors.
So is the government doing anything about it? Sort of? Again via NYT:
Last week, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, announced that the T.S.A. would pay more overtime for screeners, speed up hiring and increase the use of bomb-sniffing dogs. Congress has shifted $34 million in the T.S.A.’s budget to help the agency pay for 768 additional screeners. The agency is also moving bomb-sniffing dogs that screen passengers from smaller airports to larger ones.
Mr. Johnson urged travelers to sign up for T.S.A. Precheck, an expedited screening process that allows passengers to keep their shoes on and keep their computers in their bags. Enrollment in the program has fallen short of expectations, exacerbating the longer lines.
The problem with TSA Precheck is it may not be as easy as people think. Observer editors attempted to sign up for it this week and found it was sorely lacking.
It took about 10 minutes to complete the TSA’s online questionnaire. We then had to schedule an in-person appointment to show our documents and get fingerprinted. (Why our Global Entry data—the same fingerprints and passport—couldn’t be transferred to the sister agency still baffles us.) When we chose one of the three Manhattan locations, we saw that the next available appointment wasn’t until late July. So we thought we would check out a different location.
When we hit the back button, all of our data was lost. There had been no “save” button and we couldn’t retrieve it. (That we filed a complaint via the TSA’s online form is of little consolation. Some matters take as little as 48 hours they advised, but others much more—like their baggage screening.)
Here’s the question only a few people are asking: why is the government involved in airport security at all? Yes, it’s understandable (although hard to defend) why the Bush Administration decided to create the agency because it made it seem like the government cared about safety and security. But isn’t it possible the increased bureaucracy at the airport is slowing things down? Chris Edwards at CATO suggested in 2013 the stats show private security works better:
(T)he House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure released a report in 2011, which found that expanding the SPP program would generate savings. It found that the private screeners at the San Francisco airport (SFO) were 65 percent more efficient than the federal screeners at the Los Angeles airport (LAX). SFO screening operations also had lower employee attrition rates than LAX, leading to reduced costs from recruitment and training. Federal rules require that private screeners be trained to the same standards as federal screeners, but even with that restriction SFO was able to achieve those standards at lower training costs than TSA screeners.
Democrats are obviously having none of this, with Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal blaming the delays on airlines for having baggage fees. They believe waiving the fees for the summer will actually reduce wait time because more people would be willing to check bags. This ignores the logic used by some passengers (including myself) that checking bags just causes more personal delays and there’s always the risk of an airline losing luggage. But sure, blame the airline for a problem the government is causing, instead of just shutting the TSA down and letting the private market handle things. It probably can’t be done before the start of travel season this year, but it’s certainly something the government should look into as it prepares for next year’s budget.