The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wants to eliminate airport security at 34% of U.S. airports in a new process to “streamline” security. I’m actually in favor of the idea.
The plan would see the elimination of security at 150 (out of 440) airports in the USA; all those that operate aircraft with 60 seats or fewer. Passengers on these flights would be forced to re-clear security if connecting to another flight. Checked baggage would also be screened at the connecting airport for onward connections.
The TSA concedes this move could bring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” Indeed, that is the case.
Perfect security is possible…in an authoritarian state. I’m certainly not comparing the TSA and authoritarianism, but like everything else in life, airport security requires a cost/benefit analysis. Millions of people use mass transit on a daily basis in the USA. About 5.7 million per weekday in New York City alone. A bomb in Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station could kill so many more than a small regional jet.
Yet we have decided to forgo security in these vulnerable places. The burden would simply be too high. Can you imagine screening everyone getting on a train in New York or Chicago? Such screening may well make us more secure, but at an unacceptable cost to our time and dignity.
I say dignity because so much of security is driven by fear and theatre. We see those blue-shirted men and women and suddenly feel safer. We feel better when these agents make squiggly marks on our boarding pass. And when they pat us down, we feel safe, even when they miss 95% of weapons smuggled through.
What Really Makes Us More Secure
Two things really make us more secure. One is re-inforced cockpit doors. A properly re-inforced door (something that did not exist on September 11, 2001) can stop any flight deck attack in the passenger cabin. The second real defense is vigilant passengers. I’m willing to forgo security screening knowing full well every other passenger on my flight also was not screened. That will not make me fearful, but it will make more vigilant. It was passengers, not the TSA, that stopped Richard Reid from detonating a shoe bomb in 2001.
One Mile at a Time takes a different view, conceding that the TSA is mostly security theatre, but adding, “[I]n some ways the theater works, and surely sometimes works as a deterrent.”
I just don’t see the evidence for that.
My Only Concern
My only concern about this policy change is how it will impact the ease of connections while making security lines even longer at major hubs. We’re talking about 10,000 passengers per day, so perhaps the damage would be limited, but I’d be annoyed having to schedule in a longer connection than necessary in order to clear security at my connecting airport.
The proposal would only save $150million/year, which is nothing considering the overall bloated TSA budget. Perhaps it is not worthwhile…but it is a discussion worth having.
Airport security in the United States remains theatre and I would like to see that change in a meaningful way.