Keeping the TSA busy – gate searches making a comeback

The TSA ruffled a lot of feathers several years ago when they initially started searching bags as folks boarded planes.  Surely if the passenger was screened when they entered the terminal there was no need to do it all over again as then boarded the plane, right?  And, over time, the gate searches tailed off and became one of those things that was remembered in stories about the days of yore rather than an everyday occurrence, at least for flights inside the US (many international flights headed to the USA have kept gate searches throughout the whole time.

And then a couple months ago it seemed that the gate searches were starting to make a comeback.  They were showing up intermittently at airports around the country with no particular rhyme or reason.  The TSA maintained their party line about “layers of security” and life moved on.  At the same time, however, the “SSSS” designation on boarding passes for additional security screening started to be phased out.  Indeed, such a notation is now a thing of the past as “Secure Flight” makes its way into the TSA and air travel (and that’s a whole different abomination, but more on that later).  So now the TSA has all these folks standing around and the number of passengers subject to secondary screenings has been dramatically slashed.  What to do?

Certainly firing those employees who no longer have work to do cannot be a reasonable approach.  After all, we need high employment numbers these days any way we can get them, even if it costs billions of dollars.  Instead, let’s pull out the folding tables again and start searching passengers at the gate.  Again.  Yippee.

It actually is rather entertaining to me in at least one sense – I like to see when people get their comeuppance, and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio seems to be the latest in the line of folks who got hit by the TSA inanity.  Depending on which version of the story you believe DeFazio either flipped out at a TSA employee who pulled him aside for additional screening or calmly explained to the TSO that the check was “stupid.”

"I did not say, ‘Do you know who I am,’ or ‘You can’t do this’ or whatever," he said. "I went over there, I put my bag down and I said, ‘You know, this is stupid. You know, I helped to create the TSA. You know, I’m an expert on security.’ … I didn’t say, ‘You can’t look through my bag.’ I didn’t ask for any special privilege."

DeFazio said he may have mumbled a swear word under his breath but did not recall cursing the security screeners.

It turns out that DeFazio is on the House Transportation Committee and was actually involved in crafting the legislation that created the TSA.  So his getting caught up in the annoyance and ineffective process that hinders thousands of passengers a day is actually a good thing in my mind.  He finally gets to see the effects of his actions up close and realize how ridiculous it is.  The rest of us have been living with it way more than he has.

[DeFazio] said the TSA tried random checks of passengers at the boarding gates but stopped after they were found to be ineffective. DeFazio said he recently noticed the TSA had reinstated the searches and that he intended to talk to the agency about them. He said the searches take staffers away from the main security checkpoints while failing to accomplish much.

Does any of this matter?  Probably not.  There is no way that any reasonable progress is going to be made in reforming the TSA or instituting a sense of actual responsibility and accountability in that organization in the near future.  For one thing, they don’t have anyone running the department yet in the new administration.  And besides, what Democratic congressman is going to vote to cut jobs and scale back the TSA?  I didn’t think so.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

One Comment

  1. I actually ran into that at SFO yesterday while boarding a UA flight to FRA. The gate agent made an announcement that they’d be checking passports and boarding passes, and some TSA agent indeed checked some (but not all) passports. What a hassle — I had stuffed mine back into my carry-on, pulled it out, and then didn’t need it. And after the boarding pass scanner in the jetway was one of those folding tables where another TSA agent was searching for contraband.

    You really have to wonder why. Aren’t they basically implying that their scanners/searches/ID checks at the entrance to the sterile area aren’t sufficient?

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