April 20, 2012
“Flying isn’t fun anymore,” is a popular refrain among travelers. They recall wistfully a golden age when flying was glamorous, not an ordeal of long lines and intrusive pat-downs.
In America, these are inflicted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which was set up after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001. It’s now one of the country’s most hated institutions. Many passengers scorn its pettifogging rules. Many complain of ineffectual “security theatre.”
In an Economist online debate last month, a crushing 87% of respondents agreed the changes to airport security since 2001 had “done more harm than good.” The man given the impossible task of opposing the motion was Kip Hawley, a former TSA boss. Even he readily admitted that airport security needed reforming. And in an April 14 article in the Wall Street Journal, Hawley offered some sensible proposals on how to do it.
One idea the airlines will not like is to stop them charging for checked bags. Hawley says this would speed things up by discouraging flyers from dragging all their stuff through security. But carriers have come to rely on such fees, which rake in billions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), their lobby group, argues that in any case, checkpoint delays were already lengthy in the mid-2000s, before most airlines charged bag fees.
Hawley would also allow all liquids on flights, though those choosing to carry them might need to join a queue to have them scanned, something the European Union intends to start doing next year.
He would also lift the bans on such things as knives and lighters because stronger cockpit doors have made it much harder to use weapons to bring down a flight. And tests run by the TSA found that officers were so busy hunting for lighters and other fairly trivial banned items that they overlooked dummy bomb parts placed nearby.
In general, Hawley says, predictable and rigid checks help terrorists, who design plots around them. So instead of subjecting everyone to the same checks, security should be randomized. But he does not back one reform the airlines are keen on: a “trusted traveler” scheme in which flyers who have been vetted are spared most checks. Hawley, who initially liked the idea, now worries that terror groups are recruiting “clean” agents who would pass such vetting.
The IATA thinks that if vetting were thorough and a few trusted travelers were checked at random, this problem could be overcome. The airlines also propose merging check-in, security, passport control and customs inspection into a seamless “checkpoint of the future.” But getting government agencies to agree to such a move will be like asking hyenas to share a steak.
Even if all these reforms were introduced, far more would need to be done to make flying fun again. Airlines would need to bring back wide seats, and generous meals and drinks. Tedious safety drills and strict seat-belt rules would need to go, as would rowdy stag parties and wailing children. One can dream.
Quality News Today is an ASQ member benefit offering quality related news
from around the world every business day.