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My Problem With The New TSA Trial

by Jason Steele

Among traveler, opinions on the TSA are united; we hate it. Opinions do vary on the subject of how to fix it. Some feel that it should be abolished altogether, while others believe that it should be the subject of some serious reform. Prodded by the people who are in favor of dismantling, the current head of the TSA, John Pistole, is undergoing some changes that can only be seen as groundbreaking if you are part of the TSA.

The New Program

According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “The Transportation Security Administration launched a pilot program called “TSA PreCheck” for expedited security screening in Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami.” Other reports indicate that this program is only open to customers with status in American and Delta’s frequent flier programs.

The Good News

The idea here is that the TSA will take people who are relatively well known, frequent fliers, and subject them to slightly less intrusive searches. Those people agree undergo a background check and release their flight history. For them, shoes can remain on and laptops do not have to be removed. This is good; the TSA is focusing on people who may be a threat

The Bad Stuff

I have always objected to using Airline frequent flier program status to segregate security lines, and this more recent move takes it a step further. Airline status is a fictitious designation based on the random rules of private companies. For example, one could obtain Delta status by signing up for their SkyMiles Reserve card and hitting various spending thresholds. In other instances, status is given away though various promotions such that a traveler might only have to take a single flight. On the other hand, people like me, who travel frequently on many different airlines, are effectively penalized. I choose carriers based on the best deals and the most ideal schedule for my trip. I almost always use frequent flier miles, so I have little chance of making status anytime soon. In focusing on bestowing benefits to the most frequent customers they are leaving out the people who happen to be the most frequent travelers.

Finally, no story about airline security would be complete without comparing the dysfunctional system we have here in the United States, with the most highly effective system in the world, the one they use in Israel. It has been reported that plenty of research and intelligence assets are put into place analyzing passenger backgrounds before they even reach the airport.  On my latest trip to Israel, like previous trips, I was constantly amazed at how easy their process was. Yes, I was asked a few questions by their security officers, but they I flew through their actual screening process in seconds. No shoes were removed and no electronics were taken out of my bags.

I don’t know if the TSA should be eliminated or just completely transformed. I do know that whatever actions are taken, they shouldn’t be a the behest of the airlines and favoritism shouldn’t be shown to those who happen to qualify for elevated membership in loyalty programs of Blockbuster video, Burger King, or even Delta Airlines.

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