Here we go again: TSA shuts down another terminal

by Wendy Thomson on August 6, 2012

There must be something about Newark.  

Once again there was a shut-down due to the TSA’s realizing, after the fact, that someone had gotten through its vaunted “20 layers of security” without a “proper” screening. More than 100 flights were canceled because of a left-behind suitcase.

The owner of the suitcase, though, had already left. She got to her destination, Cleveland, without incident. And nothing blew up. What a surprise.

This happened just months after another expensive shut-down at Newark that was covered in an earlier post. This time, Terminal 3 was closed for hours. Not only were flights canceled, but planes that had been cleared and were on the tarmac were called back to have passengers re-checked.

I can’t even begin to speak to the millions of dollars of cost associated with this Keystone Cop activity. But I have a few questions:

(1) How did the TSA know it was a woman who had escaped their strangling grip? That her flight left before everyone else was called back, and before the terminal was under lock-down tells me that there was quite a bit of time between her screening experience and the shut-down — 30 minutes minimum. Add in potential tarmac time and we might be talking an hour.

(2) How did they come to the conclusion that she was bound to Cleveland? How did they identify her so long after the fact? Newark to Cleveland is a very short flight, and if her flight had already left before the shutdown it was possible that it had already, or nearly, landed before the Newark shenanigans started. Did it take until noon before they realized that, whoever she was, she had already gotten to her destination? Is that why they reopened the terminal?

What amuses me about this whole expensive charade is the risk assessment — or lack thereof. As indicated in the earlier post, the probability that any passenger flying out of Newark would just happen to be the one — a terrorist — who somehow evaded the crack TSA team is one in about 12 million.

Is that worth the cancellations, the delays, and the thousands of hours of lost productive time of passengers? According to the academic heavyweights who study and evaluate this stuff (people like Professors Sommer Gentry and John Mueller), the answer is a resounding No. (To see the credentials of these distinguished scholars click here and here.)

All I can say is there must be something in the water in Newark. Not a whole lot else — except money, or hysteria — can explain this ridiculous behavior, made worse because this isn’t the first time. You’d think that people would learn from experience.

We can only hope.

On second thought, I’m being way too optimistic.

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