Airport security is a farce

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Ron Hall thinks airport security is a farce, and I think he may be on to something.

On a recent flight from Dallas to Chicago, he tangoed with the TSA at a checkpoint, with frustrating results. His takeaway: This is a circus, this thing we call security.

Hall’s experience (OK, he didn’t actually dance, but you’ll see what I mean in a minute) will make you wonder if today’s highly bureaucratic, multi-layered airport safety procedures — particularly the TSA’s “pre-check” program — isn’t just a big joke.

Here’s what happened to Hall: He was transiting through Terminal A at DFW early one morning when he noticed everyone was being pushed toward the faster TSA PreCheck line.

Pre-Check, for those of you who don’t fly that often, lets you avoid the biggest indignities of the screening process, including the dreaded scan-or-patdown choice, in exchange for a background check and paying a “membership” fee.

“I’m a member of Pre-Check anyway, so I didn’t think anything about it at first until I realized that the TSA Pre-Check line was now about 20 minutes long, and the regular security lines were virtually empty,” says Hall.

So why not use the regular line?

“I tried,” he says, “but an agent at the entry to the queue said, ‘No, once you’re in a line you can’t switch to another line.’”

Then things got even more ridiculous.

So after about 20 minutes I finally get to the ID checker. When I asked her why everyone, Pre-Check and non-Pre-Check were getting funneled into one line, she said, “Oh, they’re all Pre-check too.”

At which point a woman next to me spoke up and said, “I’m not Pre-check.”

At which point the ID checker said, “Whatever. Nobody here knows what they’re doing anyway.”

Hmm. Nobody knows what they’re doing anyway? That’s not exactly surprising, but it isn’t what you want to hear when you’re going through security.

Hall continues,

Calling on my inner consumer advocate, I asked to speak with a supervisor about the entire experience.

His response to me: “I’m sorry about the bad experience, but we have to get the TSA Pre-Check numbers way up here, so we’re putting everyone through Pre-Check.”

Wow.

As you’ve so often pointed out, airport security is a farce.

Well, it just so happens that I’ve seen the same thing. Recently, in Orlando, I watched a TSA agent randomly send a crowd of people through the fast lane. How could they tell these people were not security risks? They couldn’t. They were using a TSA “randomizer,” an iPad app that picks passengers and offers them special treatment.

Some might argue that security should go the other way. You should send everyone through the no-body-scanner, laptop-in-the-case, shoes-on lane, and only single out passengers who are deemed a security risk.

Why not? I can think of two reasons: First, they have to justify the millions of dollars they spent on the flawed full-body scanners; and second, they have to sell more Pre-Check memberships.

But is it asking too much to ask the TSA to be consistent? Here’s an agency that exists to protect the traveling public. Why should it be allowed to disregard its own policies when it’s expedient, or when it helps meet a sales goal? Isn’t that a little … dangerous?

Until the lumbering bureaucracy that is the TSA gets its act together by identifying real threats to security, instead of trying to coerce us into signing up for its little travel club, we will continue to deal with this ridiculousness. And as someone who waited in a security line for half an hour yesterday — oh no, I refuse to pay the TSA extra to do its job — color me a skeptic.

From where I sit, Pre-Check looks like just another gimmick that’s meant to make us feel better about airport security. It achieves nothing except to create a bigger bureaucracy.

We deserve better.

Is airport security a farce?

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  • J D

    I recently went out of JFK to Mexico with my family. We do not have Pre-Check, however it was printed on our tickets. It was chaos figuring out which security line to go on and I did notice that the TSA personnel was funneling people to the Pre-Check line even if they didn’t have it. The whole system made no sense. How do you charge people for something and give it to others for free? Plus, the line was just as long. Yes, it was nice not to have to take our shoes off or pull out my laptop but it would be nice if the system was consistent.

  • RealEnglish

    Pre-Check is a joke. Keeping your shoes on? What does that mean? We trust you enough to not hide a bomb in your shoes but we don’t trust you enough to not hide the same bomb in your underwear?

    It’s completely irrational.

  • Deepstardiver

    JD’s last comment “but it would be nice if the system was consistent.” could be why the system may work. Totally random check even if you have a Pre Check on your ticket.

  • CJT4010

    For those of us that “drank the Kool-Ade” and paid for the PreCheck when it was initially rolled out, it is more than disturbing to find that our wait times have gone from less than 2 minutes to over 15! When the “rookies” who get randomly selected to go through PreCheck get to the point where they’re putting their bags on the belt, they proceed to start removing belts, shoes, jackets, laptops, etc. and even though us non-rookies tell them that they don’t have to do all of that, they don’t listen and sandbag the queue. I won’t be renewing my PreCheck when it expires next year.

  • ctporter

    Now, instead of Precheck, I would like to see families in one line, experienced only travelers in another, and first timers in another. It should not have to take 3-7 minutes per passenger to have their carryons screened and it should not be necessary to go through the metal detector more than once. But, when you mix all types of travelers together in one line you lose all efficiencies. (Typical line hold up: oh, I forgot my phone in my pocket, and then my keys, and then my $5.00 in coins, etc, and the bottles of water, juice, pop, etc in carryons despite all the signs and warnings given) What is also frustrating when TSA doesn’t recognized something in a bag in the X-ray, why not just call immediately for a bag check and let the other passengers items go through, why stare at the photo for 3-5 minutes trying to figure out that yes that is a knife or some other item.