The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is considering a proposal to eliminate its security checkpoints at small airports. You'd think from some of the responses that the agency is planning to hire Islamic State terrorists as screeners.
According to documents that TSA officials provided to CNN, the plan would eliminate the agency's screening services at 150 small airports across the United States. The people who fly through these airports would not necessarily be free from security-theater hassles. If they had connecting flights at a larger airport, they would have to go through that airport's TSA-operated security. The change would affect an estimated 10,000 passengers daily, 0.5 percent of fliers.
The goal would be to "save" $115 million a year and redirect the money to security at larger airports. The proposal doesn't really seem to be a money saver, and it's not clear if it's going to be much of a time saver for travelers. It's also not clear whether the TSA is treating the idea seriously. A TSA spokesperson told CNN the agency frequently analyzes the impact of potential adjustments like this.
Under the Trump administration, the security theater at airports has been ramped upward, not downward. The administration seems intent on keeping Americans fearful that terrorists are out to get us.
Major news organizations are happy to help. Apparently CNN and The Washington Post could only find folks who think the TSA proposal is a terrifyingly bad idea with no potential benefit. Mary Schiavo, a former Transportation Department inspector general, offered the Post this overheated take:
Schiavo said people would be afraid to fly if TSA ended screenings at their local airports.
"Not only will this destroy any reasonable security over American skies, it will destroy small towns and cities across the country because they will virtually have no air service," she said.
"You poor folks from, say, Toledo, Ohio, you only have three regional flights a day," Schiavo said. "We're not going to do any security for you. Would anyone fly from Toledo? Absolutely not. What does it do to Toledo, Ohio? Destroys it. You'll have no air service. No one's going to get on a plane without security. It's not only terrorists, it's nut cases."
Schiavo bizarrely assumes that if small airports have no TSA screeners they won't have any security, and people will be so terrified that the airports will have to shut down. Or maybe—stick with me here—maybe they'll hire their own security? That's a thing that happens. It was a thing that was happening prior to the September 11 attacks. While it's true airports were much more accessible back then, there were still security checkpoints. If there's a market for flights from these smaller airports, they will find a way to secure themselves without having to rely on the TSA.
In fact, several small (and not-so-small) airports have already replaced TSA staff with private screeners. They operate under the same security protocols as the TSA, so passengers might not even notice the difference. But such arrangements make it easier for airports to hold screeners accountable for their job performance, a welcome change in light of frequent complaints about the aggressive behavior and bad attitudes of some TSA employees.
Schiavo's poor grasp of risk and how market pressures can provide safety solutions is nothing new. In a 1997 review of her book Flying Blind, Flying Safe, Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website), took her to task for a naïve belief in more and more safety regulations, no matter their cost or effectiveness.