May 4, 2016

TSA messing up air travel big time

Boing Boing

The TSA gambled on millions of wealthy Americans opting out of its porno-scanner-and-shoe-removal process and signing up for its Precheck policy, which allows travelers to pay for the "privilege" of walking through a metal-detector with their shoes on, while their laptops stay in their bags.

It was a gamble that they lost. Americans have stayed away from the process in droves, but the TSA had already committed to cutting staff in anticipation of much lighter queues at their checkpoints. Instead of lightening, the queues have got longer, as the US economy has recovered and low fuel prices have kept the price of plane tickets down.

The TSA is now warning travelers to expect very long security lines this summer (Denver Airport warns that its TSA queues can take three hours to clear), as it scrambles to train more staff. In the meantime, whole airports' worth of people are missing their flights, sending the airport managers and airlines into rare public displays of temper against the agency, calling the lines "unacceptable" (American Airlines), a "fiasco" (Brent D. Cagle, interim director of aviation for Charlotte Douglas International Airport) and accusing the agency of lying when it cites crowds as the reason for lines (Denver Airport).

The agency still hopes that more people will sign up for Precheck, which turns travel into a profit center for the agency, rather than a cost center. A cynic might say that this summer's "fiascos" are an attempt to squeeze user fees out of American travelers, but whether or not the lines are a deliberate strategy is largely irrelevant, as it will certainly have the effect of pushing more fliers into the Precheck program.

David Graeber remarked on the bizarre phenomenon of lengthening official lines in his brilliant essay The Utopia of Rules: for decades during the Cold War, long official lines were the symbol of the Soviet Union's oppressive, incompetent bureaucracy. With the fall of the USSR, the lines have moved west, getting longer and longer, being joined by official forms and systems that disproportionately target the poor and vulnerable, while elites are exempt or exempt themselves by paying professionals.

1 comment:

Leslie Armstrong said...

This has always ticked me off. I remember the first time I was put in the 'walk-though' line it was awesome. For some reason, the next time I flew, the same thing happened.....and I was handed a little post card saying I could sign up and pay for the privilege. Well, I didn't...and for a couple years afterwards, the same thing was happening. And then it stopped this year.

So, what's the deal? I thought it was stupid since it was supposed to be that we were checking for 'terrorists' and bombs, etc. It begs the question, if I (which I am not) or someone else had 'devious' plans, wouldn't buying a 'pass' just someone through easily?

Last time I flew, I got a complete pat down. I took the Greyhound bus from CA to NC this last time (a very interesting adventure) just to avoid the lousy airport. Years ago, flying was fun.