Since 9/11, the process of airport screening in U.S. travel culture still annoys. And passengers have tolerated so much – from having breast milk seized to being touched in seemingly inappropriate ways, and getting publicly berated by uniformed TSA personnel. But none of this has prompted passengers to say enough is enough.
Well it seems we have arrived at that moment. Over the past 24 hours, the head of security at TSA has been sacked as lines lengthen at airports. The chief operating officer of Texas-based American Airlines has publicly complained of the long lines causing passengers to miss flights. There’s a sense that the TSA system doesn’t care.
Among those calling for a change is Dr. Benjamin Powell, an economics professor at Texas Tech University who says the problem here is typical of what happens with any monopoly.
“We have here is a government bureaucracy that’s not responsive to people who are customers of the airlines, and the airlines themselves,” Powell says. “I think what we need is true privatization. You wouldn’t ever see a private firm treating people the way that the TSA as a government bureaucracy does.”
About 22 airports in the country are already using some form of privatized security. But Powell says that isn’t good enough – those private contractors are still beholden to the same rules and regulations that the government lays out for the TSA.
“What I favor is airlines having to provide their own security screening. That way, when you choose which airline to fly, you’re choosing both the service you’re going to get on the airplane, but also the service you’re going to get at the airport,” he says. “They have every incentive to make sure their flights are secure because the airline, if their plane is taken over or crashed, are the main ones who lose them and their paying passengers who want both security and not hassle.”
But wouldn’t finding the right balance between security and convenience compromise safety? Powell doesn’t think so. He even argues that the current state of the TSA is compromising safety by its own right.
“All of those long lines provide a great target for terrorists, as we’ve seen in Europe recently,” he says. “Furthermore, people who just don’t want the hassle of all that time in line choose to drive instead on shorter distance flight flights sometimes, and driving is of course much more risky than flying in the air. So there’s a tradeoff even within security, and right now the government has gone way too far in one direction. A lot of what they do isn’t security – it’s just security theater.”