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.
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.”
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.