In recent weeks, the TSA has evolved from being the answer to jokes about government ineptness to the leading face on America’s Most Wanted due to activities that are at best, border line criminal. The change in notoriety is a result of the TSA’s deployment of the back scatter X-ray machines combined with new standard operating procedures. The new SOPs have TSA agents doing “aggressive” pat downs to anyone who does not pass through “normal” screening. With increasing cries from the public about “sexual harassment,” several airports are now weighing whether to exercise their “opt out option” which would terminate the TSA and have security provided by a private firm at the opting airport. While I’m all for shrinking government and privatization of government services, allowing individual privatization of airport security will not solve the customer service issue and in fact, will make it worse.
First, my bona fides: For several years prior to and subsequent to 9/11, I was one of Northwest Airlines most beloved customers. Don’t be confused, while I paid lots of money for lots of flights on NWA, for which they loved me, I never once saw any indication of their appreciation. NWA employees never showed any favoritism to those of us who contributed most to their livelihood. They sneered and snarled at coach and first class customers equally. But, I digress. While my travel had dropped off for a few years, I again became a most beloved customer this year with Southwest Airlines….and they do love me!
I give you this list of bonafides so you know I have/do travel alot and that I’m not a lover of the mental vacuity that is the TSA.
So why am I defending the TSA?
Prior to 9/11, traveling by air, while not glamorous, was easy. I remember many a trip where I would get to the airport 25 minutes before departure and made the flight with the plane door grazing my backside as it closed. Of course, that all changed with 9/11.
Security procedures implemented post 9/11, were challenging. Lack of equipment, buildings that weren’t designed for large holding areas and confusing rules were all part of the challenges for the first weeks and months following 9/11. Additionally, you might remember that while the TSA was officially formed shortly after 9/11, it was private security companies that actually performed the airport screening while the TSA staffed up. It’s this last issue that concerns me with the cries for abandoning the TSA.
I believe an honest assessment of the year that private companies were providing airport security, would be hard pressed to find that “customer service” was any better than it was/is with the TSA using the same set of enforcement methods. In fact, my personal experience was that along with a bunch of people with Barney Fife kinds of attitudes, I was additionally subjected to security procedures that varied by airport. Each security company was interpreting the TSA rules and applying them in a fashion they determined appropriate. These variances not only caused high levels of frustration with the flying public but also had the impact of slowing the screening process as there wasn’t a routine that you could always depend on or prepare for. Cattle move in an orderly fashion when they know what to expect. Spook them or cause uncertainty, and it’s very hard to get them to move through the shoots.
My point is not that I support the TSA’s aggressive, personally violating tactics. While I’m always a supporter of outsourcing all government activities that can be done by private enterprise, I don’t believe replacing the TSA with private security firms will improve the customer friendliness. Iit will however, lead to an inconsistent enforcement of policies that the TSA itself can’t agree on.
The problem with airport security is not “who” is doing the security but “what” the security measures are. Having a private company employee grab my crotch (not to be confused with viewing my crotch for which I’m on record as being for,) makes me feel no less assaulted than having a government employee grab my crotch. In my mind, blowing TSA employees out of airport security may feel good (pun intended) but it would have no effect on the user experience without changing the mindset of the idiots who refuse to use proven methods including profiling rather than getting their jollies from groping elderly, Scandinavian descended, women.
Improving the security process has little to do with who is doing the process and everything to do with who the process is being done to. Until Congress grows a pair (easily verified by walking them each through a backscatter x-ray) and decides to not kowtow to the ACLU, we can expect an ever increasing loss of privacy that will be veiled under “increased security.”
Maybe it’s my age but I don’t have fantasies about having sex acts done to me in public. On the other hand, Congress has been screwing us for so long, I don’t think they consider public sex abherent behavior.