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The Real Problem with the TSA and the Solution

written by Josh Barker


Passengers in line at the Milwaukee-St. Paul International Airport     Photo Credit: Star Tribune

Just this past week, the TSA announced that lines would be even longer this summer. The Chicago O’Hare Airport is telling passengers to arrive 3 hours before their flight’s scheduled departure. I’ve had a couple of experiences with the TSA. I want to talk about two of them, extremely contrasting. I was leaving Washington DC for a domestic flight through the Dulles International Airport (IAD). My flight departed at 10:15. I was running late and got to the airport at 8:50. That’s still about an hour and a half before. After getting my bags checked, I got in the TSA line. The line was so long, we didn’t get through until about 9:45. That’s almost one hour in line. I will note that I didn’t miss my flight and that people have and still do have longer lines to sit through. It was still bad. I got to the gate on the other side of the airport at 10:00, 15 minutes before take-off, because my concourse was on the other side of the airport. I would understand a long TSA line because my flight was in mid-June and on a Saturday. However, the airport should have known it would be a busy day. Only two TSA lines were opened, lines 17 and 23. When I got close to the front of the line, another one opened. I could see that there were many lines not in use. Considering there was a line 23 opened, I figured there must be at least 21 other lines not in use. I’m not saying that all 23 or more lines should be opened. I’m saying at least 5 lines should have been opened. I would have recommended 10 lines. I can wait in line. I can wait 20 or 30 minutes, but hours, that’s way too long. (And the New York Port Authority is complaining about 20 minute wait times. Whatever.)

Recently I was leaving Atlanta for a domestic flight. I was traveling with a frequent flyer member. Since we had booked our tickets together, we got to go through the special Delta TSA line similar to pre-check. It’s called the Frequent Traveler Security Line. It was two lines on one side of the airport away from the regular pre-check and TSA lines. Only one was opened at the time because it was 6am. I thought nobody would be at the airport, but it was extremely busy compared to what I expected. I’ve been through Atlanta during the day 1-3pm and it wasn’t that busy, but it was fairly busy. Our special TSA line had one person in front of us and then we went through, no time at all. After going through, we were able to get to our gate with time to eat breakfast. Our plane left at 6:45 like planned and we had extra time than we had planned even though we got to the airport only 45 minutes early and checking luggage took extra-long, 15 minutes.

What was the difference between my two experiences? The obvious difference is that one had a super long line and the other had no line. What was the difference? One was run entirely by the TSA and one by Delta. You can argue there were many variables that made my experiences different, but after talking to people, I’ve heard that none of the people I know ever have experienced long lines in one of the Delta lines. Why might this be? Delta’s reputation is on the line here. If they have long lines, people might join a different airline’s rewards program where they have the same set-up but shorter lines. The TSA doesn’t have to worry about people switching, because no matter what, no matter how many people come through the airport, those people will pay them. Even if they don’t go to the airport, people will still pay. They will pay through their taxes.

I am thankful to have the TSA. They may have a 95% failure rate, but at least they catch that 10%. Let’s remember, America has not had any airplane hijackings since 9/11. That’s good. Maybe nobody’s tried, but at least we’ve deterred them. Before 9/11 there were hijackings in 1994, 1987, two in 1983, and 1980. That ends up being from 1980 to 2001, an average of a hijacking every 3 to 4 years. The TSA scares off criminals, but it’s expensive, bloated, and has a 95% failure rate.

I’m sure you’ve already figured out that the purpose of this article is to explain why the TSA should be privatized. The TSA is great. I’m glad we have it. The problem is that whenever the government gets involved, everything gets worse. The government doesn’t have the money to pay all the TSA agents it should. I don’t know if the lack of security lines opened at Dulles Airport was because of the incompetence of the people they did have or if it was that they didn’t have people. Either way, if this was run by the private sector, neither should be a problem. In the private sector, incompetent people get fired and people needed get hired. That’s how it works. What I do know is that, in general, the TSA doesn’t have enough money to hire people according to their administrator. It makes sense, it’s not like the government actually has any money anyway. They can’t fund our military to defend our nation. Somehow we can always afford Social Security, Medicare, and other forms of Welfare, but that’s another story.

More and more longer and longer wait times are becoming the norm. According to a CNN report, the New York/New Jersey Port Authority says that wait times have gone up at JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport from an average of 11 ½ minutes of waiting to now an average of just around 20 minutes. When I experienced my long wait in DC, it wasn’t the norm. Now, that’s what it’s becoming. When I plan on traveling in the future, I am planning on having long wait times.

My plan to solve our airport security problems would be to let each individual airport contract a group to perform security operations. The airports would pay the contractors from fees each airline must pay per a person who comes through the airport security. After one year, the TSA will no longer provide security services to any airports and will be disbanded. There’s more government money that can go towards defense spending. Now, each contractor is responsible for wait times. Airlines will be allowed to make deals with the airport, like Delta has done to have their customers or members of certain organizations (Frequent Flyers) to go through a separate security line (current Pre-check or Frequent Traveler Security Line). However, that would all be done internally through the airport. There will be no law requiring airports to have security.

There are two main reasons that privatized airport security would be better than current airport security. Privatized security contractors would be faced with competition from other contractors. Because of this, they will develop and use the most advanced technology to detect everything. When new terrorist technology is discovered, they will be able to adapt quicker to find a way to defend against it. They will do better than the TSA to prove themselves worthy. The TSA has a 95% failure rate. I bring this up not just because it’s fun 2 type numbers, but because it’s an important number. Based on the statistics, out of 10 planned terrorist attacks, the TSA would only be able to catch maybe 1, or maybe all of them would go through. Private contractors will need to prove to airports that they are better than the next guy. One of the guys will figure out how to bump that 95% failure rate down to 15 or 20%, maybe even 5%. Then, all the other guys will have to figure out how to bump their rates down as well or risk losing the contract.

Finally, this goes somewhat back to my first point, the private companies will innovate. How can we get people through quicker? Can we check for shoe bombs without people taking off their shoes? What about their belts? Innovation is key to making an industry better. If there was no competition in the technology industry, there would be no reason for one company to spend a ton of money on making a faster computer if they would receive the same amount of money for a cheaper and slower computer. The same thing is with the TSA. It’s not like there’s much of a real threat of the TSA losing its job. There’s no competition, nobody else vying for the contract with the airport. Because of this, why should they do but the minimum of getting people through security?

Let’s look at this from the airport’s perspective. If company A can get passengers through security with an average wait time of 20 minutes, but company B can get passengers through at a wait time of 10 minutes without the need for people to take off their shoes or belts, you would naturally choose company A. Even though there would be no laws requiring the airports to spend money on security and have it, they will. Shopping malls aren’t required to have security guards, but most do. If an airport didn’t get security, terrorists would flock there, it would get a terrible reputation, and all the airlines would move to a different airport. The reason there would be no requirement for security is so that the government doesn’t end up requiring people to take off their shoes and belts making innovation next to impossible then making the “competition” just like those of cable companies in your area. When was the last time you saw a commercial comparing Dish to DirecTV? Last week for me. When was the last time you saw a commercial comparing Charter to Comcast or any other cable company? I’ve never seen one. Why? Because they don’t really compete. It’s a fake competition. In reality, one company has a monopoly over a certain area. We want to prevent this from happening and that’s why it is vital for the government not to pass any laws requiring any type of security or security at all. Any attempt to do so would be unconstitutional as it interferes with the private sector. We here all the time the “separation of church and state” narrative, but never “separation of private sector and state/government”. Why? Because the lines are getting greyer and greyer until soon we become socialist and there are no lines, no competition, and no private sector. So what is the real problem with the TSA? Lack of competition. That’s all. All we need is competition, and not the public vs. private school competition, where you are penalized for not using the government’s option (Private School Tuition), but true competition like Kroger and Publix, CVS and Walgreens, and McDonald’s and Wendy’s.


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