Really? Really?

Security lines at American airports have grown longer, delays have increased[1], and it looks to get worse as the summer travel season occurs.[2]  Why did things get worse?  Is there anything that can be done about the problem?  Are there any larger lessons to be derived from this unpleasant experience?

Since 2011, the number of air travelers has increased by 12 percent, while the number of screeners has declined by 12 percent (5,702).  More travelers x fewer screeners = longer lines at airports.  OK, that’s simple.              Congress hastily appropriated $34 million to hire 768 new screeners.[3]  Part of the decrease in the number of screeners comes from the “promotion” of the cream of screeners into a behavior detection unit.  Loosely modeled on Israeli airline security, the group has been of doubtful utility.  More importantly, people don’t like working as TSA screeners: they lose about 35 percent of their workforce every year because they quit.[4]  You think it’s boring standing in lines, taking off your belt, shoes, under-wire bra to pander to the latest case of the vapors?  Try sitting for eight hours staring at a little screen at something not produced for X-tube.

Recently, the Inspector General of the TSA humiliated the agency by releasing a report that showed that TSA screeners had missed a bunch of potential security threats.  The TSA responded by enforcing strict fulfillment of regulations.[5]  These same regulations apply to private screeners employed in many airports, so going private will not solver anything.

Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal, Democrats both, have suggested that the problem created by the publicly-owned federal bureaucracy could be partially addressed by penalizing the privately-owned airlines.  They want the airlines to end the charge for checked baggage to speed up processing of carry-on baggage.

Jeh Johnson, the head of the Department of Homeless Security, announced that the Department would increase the hours of overtime that it would pay,[6]  hire more screeners, and increase the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.[7]  Even so, airline travel in Summer 2016 is going to be even more awful than usual.

This “minor”—I’m not flying anywhere this summer, so it’s minor—catastrophe engages several issues.  First, private industry failed on 9/11, so the government substituted a federal agency that isn’t any better.  The TSA doesn’t track industry trends or communicate with the airlines in order to facilitate travel?  If Yes, why didn’t they respond in a timely fashion?  If No, why is that?  Second, labor unions employ “work to rule” as a non-strike slow-down technique in bargaining.  Here it is being employed by a federal agency against its critics. Without anyone being fired.  Third, this is how Bernie Sanders wants the whole American economy to run.

[1] At Chicago’s O’Hare airport, 6,800 Eastern Airlines passengers missed their flights in March 2016, including 450 passengers in one day.

[2] Ron Nixon, “Behind the Backups at Airport Security,” NYT, 19 May 2016, .

[3] That averages out to a unit cost of $44,200 each.  Presumably, this includes federal benefits.  So, what do you think, about $33-35,000 in base pay, plus about a quarter in benefits?  Sounds about right for former high school custodians.

[4] “Anger mounts at TSA over airport security chaos,” The Week, 27 May 2016, p. 5.

[5] So travelers are being punished for the failings of the TSA?

[6] So the number of tired, bored people looking for threats on your flight will increase.

[7] You ever wonder if terrorist scientists are working on dog-sniffing bombs?  “He, King, whadda ya smell?  BOOM!”  Anyway, the Brussels airport bombing shows that bombs in the lobby can also be highly effective.  What caused the greater uproar, the Brussels bombings or the loss of the Egyptian airliner?

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