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Will TSA Eliminate Security Checkpoints at Small Airports? If Only.

Fearmongering responses at the idea that the feds don’t need to run everything

TSA fondlingRICK WILKING/REUTERS/NewscomThe 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.

Photo Credit: RICK WILKING/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I will only fly at airports the TSA has pulled out of.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's ok though, I remember when they TSA considered letting people carry on nail clippers again, and the airline unions lost their collective shit.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Mary Schiavo, a former Transportation Department inspector general

    It's nice to see that being in a persistent vegetative state hasn't hurt her prospects of attaining a high level post within the federal government.

  • Vernon Depner||

    It probably helped.

  • BYODB||

    Abolish the TSA and replace it with nothing. The end. It's abhorrent to our constitution and our rights.

  • Mickey Rat||

    You will notice that the media, in general, is not a great questioner of appropriate government authority.

  • Rich||

    You'd think from some of the responses that the agency is planning to hire Islamic State terrorists as screeners.

    That could *never* happen.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    So please. Tell us all what I am supposed to conclude from that photo.

  • Rich||

    Sorry, Jeff. A poor attempt at humor.

    What am I supposed to conclude from your comment?

  • Nardz||

    Oddly enough, Islamic extremists are usually employed as baggage handlers

  • Rich||

    Perhaps you might tell it to Jeff.

  • Echospinner||

    Akron Ohio has a terrific small airport.

    Cleveland not so much. Big but hassle all the way.

    Toledo hardly has one. You go to Detroit or Cleveland.

    It is time to down size TSA. We don't need this level of security. Shoe and underwear bombers are a thing of the past.

    An Israeli security guy once told me "we look at who is on the plane, not what is on the plane". He lied because they do look at both but it is not Toledo Ohio.

  • Longtobefree||

    Do you think that perhaps a few more people travel by air in the USA than in Israel?
    Some things do not scale up well. Intelligence officers as airport screeners is one of those things.

  • Rossami||

    I first read your comment as "Intelligence in airport screeners is one of those things." I think the comment made more sense that way.

  • Longtobefree||

    Fair enough.
    As we all know, it is not what I actually say that matters, it is only how you perceive it. Thank you for not perceiving it as rape or racism.

  • ||

    Shoe and underwear bombers are a thing of the past.

    And never really were a threat, anyway.

  • Jerryskids||

    "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."

    First of all, if there's only 3 flights a day it's not like anybody's flying out of Toledo anyway, so how the hell would losing 3 flights a day "destroy" Toledo? And secondly, the people in Toledo aren't the "poor folks" you think they are, they're smart enough to figure out that the sky dragons won't gobble them up if they get on the giant flying metal bird without an adult like yourself to reassure them that it's okay, they'll figure it out.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    "Schiavo said people would be afraid to fly if TSA ended screenings at their local airports."

    I do remember that media polls after the creation of TSA, enhanced screening, and other post 9-11 "upgrades" showed that a majority of Americans supported the changes. But not the majority of air travelers, just the usual rubes who might fly every other year (if ever).

  • croaker||

    TSA delenda est

  • Bubba Jones||

    Is the Toledo flight supposed to disembark in the parking lot or something? At the private hangars?

  • DenverJ||

    Some years ago, during maybe the height of security theater, I flew out of Rochester MN and there was zero security. It was US to US, though.

  • Tony||

    We must certainly feel comforted by the fact that a terrorist plane attack is terrible PR for airlines.

  • Marilyn6||

  • Marilyn6||

  • Longtobefree||

    Of course, as soon as the TSA leaves a small airport, it will no longer be a small airport - - - - - -

  • μ Aggressor||

    You know, the thing that isn't mentioned (but probably would have to be factored, reducing options) is connecting flights usually have a pretty short window, unless they have special TSA for connecting flights I could see this causing even more havoc than they already do. I mean, I've missed flights plenty already, imagine wedging those idiots in the middle.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Anything that makes it easier to leave Toledo is a good thing deserving our support.

  • Johnny Galt||

    Obviously we need screenings for buses, trains, Uber rides, and perhaps every individual commuter too.

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