Friday, May 6, 2016

How the TSA Ruins Lives

How the TSA Ruins Lives

Have you missed a flight recently due to a long security line? I have. So have tens of thousands of others. It used to be that you could get to the airport an hour before your flight. That might still work. Or maybe not. Maybe security itself will take an hour or two. You never know.

We stand in line and watch in shock and awe. There are six security stations. Only one is open. The lines snake around the airport and even into the street. No one in charge seems to care.

You ask why the long lines. It’s a holiday. The TSA apparently forgot to put it on their calendar. So there aren’t enough employees. And they apparently lack the ability to call in more when necessary.

Right now, warnings are pouring out to be careful this summer. The lines could be one or two hours in waiting. Or maybe not, and then you will have time to shop and drink, to hunt for an outlet for your cellphone, or sleep in an uncomfortable chair. But you dare not take the risk. You will miss your flight. No one will reimburse you. Your sick mother, your daughter’s wedding, a crucial business trip, they will all just have to wait.

The TSA runs the show, holding hundreds of thousands of lives in the balance. Do they care? Maybe the individual employees feel bad about it. But management is in charge. And even they don’t determine policies. It’s the Department of Homeland Security that does that, under the authority of the US Congress. If you don’t like it, start a lobbying organization.

The trouble is that the TSA is not the private owner of anything. It has no stake in the profitability of the airlines. It gets funding either way. As for your convenience, forget it. One agent might be nice and fast, another might be mean and slow. It’s entirely up to the individual in question. There is no institutional reason to boost one temperament over another.

What about the labor miscalculations? I’ve been at airports where dozens of agents stand around doing nothing. There is no line. Security takes minutes. In other airports, understaffing is obvious and egregious. There is nothing anyone can do. It’s an island of socialism in a sea of markets, and socialism doesn’t work.

Ask any restaurant owner about staffing issues. They know they need extra servers and cooks on Friday night. You don’t bring in that same load on Monday because it would be a waste of resources. It’s a major challenge to anticipate consumer demand before it happens, but that’s the life of private enterprise. Making money is hard.

The TSA faces a completely different incentive structure. It’s all about compliance and rules, even when the stupidity is obvious. TSA employees know that it is idiotic to confiscate hair gel, wooden toy guns, and water bottles. Why am I taking my laptop out of my bag and leaving my iPad in? They know it makes no sense. It’s embarrassing. But there is nothing they can do.

As for security, The New York Times notes in passing that an “audit found that agents had failed to spot weapons and explosives in 95 percent of the undercover tests.”

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