Is the End Near for the TSA? Don’t Bet on It.

Transportation Security Administration

Recently, you cannot go anywhere on the web without seeing a news story related to the TSA, and all the news is bad. The Transportation Safety Administration, one of the most loathed agencies in the U.S. government, is facing an ever-increasing din of negative publicity in the media, harsh criticism from lawmakers, and an astounding backlash from the public; the agency has rightfully earned such scorn, due to its inability to reduce long lines at major airports or to prove that its existence increases passenger safety, but if you think this may result in the eventual demise of this hated institution, do not start celebrating just yet.

What seemed a good idea in the wake of the September 2001 attacks, has now lost nearly all credibility with the public and many in government. The agency has repeatedly demonstrated that it has not made the public safer with its numerous and well publicized failures to detect contraband items in tests. Furthermore, it has grown into an unwieldy bureaucratic fiefdom of the Department of Homeland Security, that refuses to accept responsibility for its shortcomings and poor management.

While the law that created the TSA was specifically written to include the possibility of airports using private companies (there are only fifteen airports nationwide that have private companies), the TSA has naturally been resistant to allow airports to switch. It is clear why they would do this, it would prove the TSA is unnecessary. The law requires that private security companies comply with TSA security procedures, that they have equivalent staffing, and pay in relation to the TSA. What this means, is that even if airports were to switch to private companies, not much would be likely to change because of these requirements.

The recent criticism by members of Congress, while unprecedented in it harshness, has still not resulted in major reforms. The new head of the TSA, Peter Neffenger, fired the Head of Security Operations, Kelly Hoggan, a man who was paid over $90K in bonuses while presiding over the current crisis as well as the debacle related to the failure of 67 of 70 secret tests where guns, knives and other contraband was not detected in carry on luggage. The surprising thing about this firing is that it is the first time the TSA has actually sacked anybody in upper management since the agency was created fifteen years ago.

The public outcry against the TSA has only grown from year to year, and this year it has reached a fever pitch due to the inordinately long waiting lines at major airports. Congress and the TSA are pointing fingers at each other, but this has not solved the problem. The TSA claims the fault lies with Congress for slashing the TSA’s frontline workforce by roughly 5000 people. The Congress has pushed back insisting that TSA has mismanaged staffing so that their budget would be restored. Clearly, there are not enough people in government willing to eliminate the TSA, but that is eventually what needs to happen. The careerist bureaucrats will resist this at every turn and as always resort to fear-mongering the public to accept it. But it is clear from the record of other countries who have private airport security screeners(France, Italy. Germany), that the days of the TSA are numbered; it is not clear, however, how long it will take before this hated agency reaches its end.

What is the worst seat on every flight?

Middle Seat Hell

The middle seat of course!  Everyone hates the middle seat because it offers none of the freedoms of the isle seat, nor does it provide a place to lay your head when you’re tired like the window seat.  Now that airlines are taking steps to make sure all flight are left as full as possible, avoiding the middle seat is likely to cost you.  According to MARTHA C. WHITE  of the New York Times, airlines are filling flights to fuller capacity and increasing the price to select seats.  For example, Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, raised the price for early boarding from $12.50 to $15.00.  The legacy carriers are not including seat assignments in their lowest fare.  Some passengers have even taken extreme measures to avoid the middle seat, including purchasing an isle or window seat and a middle seat.  On legacy carriers this is often cheaper than first of business class.  Other’s have tried anything from bargaining to feigning medical conditions.  Personally I was simply asked to switch with nothing in return.  The problem was it was a flight from Europe to the United States and I paid 35 Euros for my isle seat so I declined.  My recommendation, if you do have a good seat, don’t give it up for nothing in return.  Even if the person does have their wife or girlfriend sitting next to you, ask for compensation.  Why should you take the middle seat and be miserable for the entire flight with nothing in trade.  Make them buy you a drink or three.   It’s clear that passengers are either going to have to plan ahead or purchase seat assignments to avoid the worst seats on the flight.  Showing up at the last minute to a prime time flight and expecting to avoid the middle seat is foolish and we don’t recommend it.

Airlines offering first class more likely to have Air Rage problems

Did you know that airlines which offer first class flights are 3.84 times more likely to have problems with air rage?  Who’d have thought that cramming folks into seats like canned sardines while rich blowhards get luxury beds on long haul flights might tend to tick people off just a little bit.  Sounds intuitive, but here we have some scientific evidence1. Researchers at the University of Toronto studied thousands of documented air rage incidents, anything from cursing at flight attendants to tampering with smoke detectors in the restrooms to smoke, to refusing to sit down and found that all had a common theme.  Namely the presence of a first class cabin. The incidents were further aggravated when economy class passengers were forced to board by passing through the first class cabin. When Economy class passengers are forced to pass through the first class cabin, the risk of air rage incidents increased a further 2.18 times2. An interesting finding was that the incidence was not purely out of envy on the part of economy class passengers. According to Dr. Katherine DeCelles, the awareness of the higher social status of first class passengers actually encourages some first class passengers to treat economy class passengers in an anti-social manner3 and display attitudes of entitlement. This provocative behavior increases the likelihood of conflict.

Air Rage
Fasten Restraints

What would be some possible solutions to reduce air rage incidents? If the findings, which are being published in the national academy of sciences prove to be correct, a possible solution would be to de-emphasize the disparity between first and economy classes. Having a duel boarding, where the economy class passengers don’t pass through first class would relieve the congestion and wouldn’t serve as a constant reminder to passengers of the inequality of passenger statuses. For more information on this study please check the published paper here.