Thursday, August 30, 2012

Your Safety is Our Priority?

The Transportation Security Administration’s slogan “Your Safety is Our Priority” became more of a question than a goal on my most recent airport experience a few weeks ago.  Forced to change gates with the same airline at Newark meant leaving one ‘secure’ area and going through security a second time.  This long line was being managed by an agent who was not having a good day.  She would scream out to people “stay to the left” and somebody wouldn’t (or their bag would be in the aisle) and she would keep screaming and pointing at the person to move.  Then the line got backed up when a young woman, traveling alone with her baby, had to dislodge the child from its stroller.  The agent wouldn’t let another passenger hold the baby while the mother folded the stroller and placed it on conveyer belt.  Nor would the agent allow somebody else to help with the stroller.  Another TSA agent tried to help the woman and the managing agent screamed “Don’t you help her.  This is her thing to do.”  America is safer for this diligence?
Railing against the TSA feels a little easy – I mean, who likes undressing and unpacking in public?  Does the 3 ounce limit to liquids really make the skies safer?  And because one deranged individual attempted to make their shoes into a bomb millions have had to walk in stocking or bare feet on a floor traversed by tens of thousands of people each day.  My assumption is wrong.  54% of Americans believe that the TSA is doing a good or excellent job according to Gallup.   
It is estimated that 120 million people a year travel by plane.  That’s approximately one-half of the country, though many of those travelers will be one person traveling several times during the year.  The point is that it is unlikely that any of those who have actually gone through a TSA screening procedure are part of the 54% who think that the TSA is doing a good-to-excellent job.  Much of what the TSA does is theatre – creating the illusion of safety. 
There are a slew of incidents showing drinking and sleeping agents, sexual harassment by agents and theft.  Certainly the majority of agents are well intentioned and committed professionals, but the actions of others impacts the entire organization.
The Associated Press reported this week that airlines are now telling passengers how to dress.  It won’t be long before the airlines lobby the government to have the TSA issues a dress code for passengers.
USA Today reports that after spending millions of dollars on testing various security screening systems, passengers will still have to remove their shoes. 
The attacks of September 11, 2001 changed how everybody travels.  Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania that day was the first Post-9/11 flight:  the passengers having heard of the other attacks heroically took over their plane and crashed it into a field, sacrificing themselves before allowing another the plane to be used against another target.  Today no hijacker could fend off hundreds of passengers.  And if somebody was hellbent on placing a bomb on board, there are dozens of points of entry that have little to no screening (food service delivery, cargo isn't screened, etc.)
Traveling by air today means surrendering our Fourth Amendment rights curbside.  Giving up a core American value for the illusion of security and the ‘convenience’ of travel means that I fall with 13% of Americans who think the TSA screening procedures are not effective.

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