In all the talk about full airport security, TSA, full body scanners, and enhanced pat-downs, one element has been absent: the airlines’ role in all this.
Today is national opt-out day and as of noon ET, doesn’t appear to be wreaking mass havoc on airport screening on the busiest traveling day of the year. But let’s assume for a moment that widespread disruption lead to hundreds of people missing their flights, thereby clogging up airport customer service lines and call centers and making life generally difficult for the airlines.
An airline clearly has an interest in keeping their very expensive equipment and the passengers they transport safe. Yet they also have an interest in keeping their customers happy and long and invasive security checks hinder that goal.
Oddly, airlines have been silent regarding passengers screening. Without making comments on the security procedures themselves, Delta has stated it is considering refunding passenger tickets on a case-by-case basis for those who wish to cancel their travel plans because of the new security procedures. American has said it will not offer changes or refunds to non-refundable tickets due to TSA concerns. No other airlines have commented.
I can appreciate why airlines might take a wait-and-see approach but this issue has been festering far too long for airlines to remain on the sidelines. It appears that airlines are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want their planes safe and mistakenly believe that full body scanners and enhanced pat-downs further that goal. But they also know there is a tipping point, and because it is not yet clear where that tipping point is, they are waiting to see what how public opinion develops as the new AIT program and invasive pat-downs become more widespread.
Here’s my plea to the airlines: take our side now. Airlines should partner with the public in advocating for genuine security reforms and deride the government’s practice of engaging in security theatre. A United gate agent at PHL complained to another passenger yesterday that, "I don’t get these people. If they want to fly–follow the rules." I shudder at that ignorant mentality, but think that mentality could be overcome if United CEO Jeff Smisek, and leaders from all U.S. airlines, banded together and issued a stern statement condemning the subjugation of U.S. citizens to unreasonably invasive security procedures.
While I wouldn’t be happy, I’d rather see airlines come out in support of the TSA than remain mum on this issue. But I think if airlines really think critically about this issue, they will realize that alienating passengers with burdensome, gestapo-style security checks is counterproductive and unconstitutional (well, we’ll have to wait and see what the courts say about the constitutionality…). The ends do not always justify the means and the airlines, while having a slightly different than security calculus than the public, should value rationality and liberty over perceived safety. In the end, that will increase their bottom lines as well.