Congress has created a new class of air traveler: members of the armed services.
The legislation, passed by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, calls for the TSA to develop a separate process for checking military personnel when they travel. It’s designed to ensure members of the armed forces can board planes more quickly.
But will it work?
During my nine years working as a TSA agent in Houston, the fourth busiest airport in the nation, we never stopped experimenting to make security simultaneously tougher, less painful, and faster.
Before the TSA, the airlines had created an employee lane to speed up crew access to their planes and other employees to their duty locations.
When TSA took over checkpoint operations, it immediately decided to create a separate holding place for selectees to be subjected to additional screening— anyone who purchased a one-way ticket, paid cash for it, has an ID problem, who’s a citizen of 14 Muslim countries, or simply was included in a no-fly list.
Today, only the latter is still in effect.
With the introduction of the 3-1-1 rule for gels and liquids a few years later, TSA created a separate lane for families and babies.
The family lanes soon failed as passengers randomly chose witch lane to use depending on the shortness of it and disregarded all signs. In most cases, air travelers were skeptical of the lanes reserved for business- and first-class versus economy-class passengers, let alone the lanes for families or employees.
And now the want to add another lane?
Making a security exception for military personnel seems to be an act of political correctness rather than logic.
After all, a soldier should be the first to give up his seat for the public he protects — not someone who insists on being singled out for special treatment.
Besides, TSA already bends a few rules for soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Today, servicemembers in uniform are allowed to keep their shoes on as long as they don’t alarm. They also are exempt from body scanners, as their insignia may be interpreted as anomalies and might subject them to unnecessary pat-downs.
Injured veterans are presently escorted by Bomb Appraisal Officers (BAO) to facilitate the screening process. BAOs spend all day running back and forth with veterans through the checkpoint as they have little else to do.
A BAO makes $80,000 a year, by the way. The same customer service duties used to be handled by the airlines at no cost to the taxpayer.
The agent’s perspective
Giving men in uniform a separate line is simply disguised profiling. It assumes that seemingly normal people cannot contemplate committing suicide and taking a few others with them.
The only successful acts of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism against Americans was perpetrated by military servicemen.
Doesn’t anyone remember the Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hassan or Sgt. Hasan Akbar, the Muslim convert convicted of murdering fellow soldiers in Kuwait?
Security should be equal and random for all adults.
What should we do? Here’s how I would approach TSA reform, despite this week’s unfortunate congressional action.
1. Keep uniformed BDOs federal, while making all checkpoint screeners private. For a period of two years, the BDOs will serve a transitional deterrent for people who may look down on private security. After the two years, eliminate the BDOs.
2. The present screening equipments are more than adequate to stop prohibited items. Shoes should stay on as long as they don’t alarm. Bulky jackets need to be removed, or patted at the metal detector.
3. Hand-wands should be used instead of body pat-downs. Localized pat-downs only when necessary.
4. All tamper-proofed liquids and gels above 12 oz allowed, including all drinks.
5. Random tests not exceeding 10 percent of the public conducted on electronics, shoes, and liquids.
6. Sell all the body scanners on eBay.
The solution is not to create even more special classes of traveler, but to reduce screening to pre-TSA levels while conducting random screening on shoes, electronics, and individuals.
The random process along with limited profiling should keep any would-be terrorist in check. Intelligence services, Air Marshals, and armed pilots should take care of any loopholes left.
(Photo: US Army/Flickr)