Thursday, May 5, 2016

De Plane ... De Plane

I’ve been doing a fair amount of travel in the last year or so with lots more to come in the next six months. On my most recent trip as I bemoaned the state of getting from point a to point b – I decided to do a quick calculation in my head about how much of my life I’ve spent in a metal tube going from place to place. By my conservative estimate it’s about 2 full months of my life. It’s a huge amount of time on the one hand – but on the other where I have friends who fly much more than I – I imagine they’ve spent years on planes. Traveling is not fun, pleasant or nice anymore. And while there’s lots of reasons for that, the TSA continues to show a level of incompetence that is baffling and Congress keeps rewarding them.

Here’s some quotes from TSA staffers at the recent (4/2016) hearings in Congress:

“…bosses at the TSA are the biggest bullies in government."

“Assistant federal security director Andrew Rhoades agreed that the TSA suffers from ‘gross mismanagement’ along with operational and monetary waste.”

“The TSA is getting worse, not better.”

The agency was formed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks and became part of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003. They have a $7.6 billion budget funded largely from the $2.50 per passenger tax that is paid by the traveling public on each ticket. Those who pass through the various “security” lines left behind $765K in coins last year which add to their funding.

People just want to get away from the TSA agents so much so they leave lots behind. The TSA are fully of bullies, rude staff who are fundamentally incapable of doing the job they were hired to do. That’s not me being pissy or mean – that’s based on their own statistics. The TSA’s own testing protocols show a 95% failure rate. A TSA employee told the LA Times: “This is all a joke. I can think of a hundred ways to sneak a weapon through all of this." And if you’re a conspiracy theorist – this is what the TSA is self-reporting, perhaps the real number is even higher.

“All those expensive body and baggage scanning machines, all that intrusive rummaging through luggage, all those intimate pat-downs of little kids and grannies, all those nail clippers confiscated, all those bottles of liquids seized, all those shoes and belts taken off, all those laptops pulled out and all those thousands of frustrating hours wasted in line have been mostly for show.”

Each year the FAA is reauthorized by Congress. It’s the opportunity for the legislative branches to make sure that the agency that oversees the airlines keeps the focus on the public good rather than the private profit. Despite its own evidence to the contrary, Congress increased funding for safety and security “in light of the Brussels” attacks.


The Senate also opted against requiring airlines to keep the seats at a particular size – or even to disclose how big their seats are. “Economy-class airline seats have shrunk in recent years on average from a width of 18 inches to 16.5 inches. The average pitch — the space between a point on one seat and the same on the seat in front of it — has gone from 35 inches to about 31 inches. Many airlines are charging passengers for extra legroom in amounts that used to be standard.”

Point of reference: AMC Theatres has moved in the other direction – changing their seats from 44 inches to 60 inches. 

The article continued: “No senators spoke against the proposal, but airlines opposed to the measure have accused lawmakers of trying to "re-regulate" an industry that has been deregulated since 1978.”

The airlines, however lobby Congress extensively to regulate the size of carry-on baggage.  Included in the approved legislation (that is en route to the House for approval) is the requirement that if your checked bags are delayed or lost the airlines must refund the fee they charged. Airlines said “the legislation will make it more expensive for travelers to fly.”


The government is very much in the business of flying. At the airlines behest they have set the size of carry-on bag (which changes every few years to keep the manufacturers of luggage in good business). Disobeying anything anybody who works for the airline asks a passenger to do is literally a federal crime. How you can wait in line to use the rest room on the plane is mandated by Congress. So why not throw away all pretense and do something that the public would benefit from – like the width of the seat or the pitch between seats? Or having the security lines actually be about security? Now there’s some wishful thinking!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your article, Craig.

    I've been wringing my hands about the state of so-called public service for a long time - airport security, the MBTA, police, many of those employed by the government... While the for-profit sector largely values customer service for its impact on the bottom line (and stockholders' portfolios), at least they are motivated to provide service. So many interactions with the non-profit and government sectors seem like Dorothy & her crew approaching the great & powerful Oz. :-|

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