It’s been a trying few weeks for air travel. TSA conducted its own “red team” exercise in Newark where a fake bomb was carried through two layers of screening and to the boarding gate. That is alarming to airline consumers. Kudos are earned by TSA testing its own readiness. Razzes are earned for failing the test. Earlier, Homeland Security warned of sequester-driven slowdowns in passenger access to air flights as TSA staff levels are adjusted. We hope that’s not their explanation for the failure. Something more constructive would be welcomed.
Last week, on a one-way trip from Sydney Australia to Tampa Florida, I went through 10 separate bag check or recovery-security-inspection- interview gates. Each had its own customer storage area marked by a post and tape maze, and a squad of line monitors making sure no one tried to evade the scrutiny or cut in line. Starting in Sydney there was a ticketing counter, a separate gate for checking baggage, an Aussie federal gate to declare what was being taken from Australia and a separate security inspection gate to enter the international terminal. Upon landing in Dallas Texas there was a wait at a baggage claim carousel inside the international terminal, then a very long walk to a US Immigration interview, then a separate US Customs gate, then a recheck of baggage, then access to the main terminal and a security inspection to enter the domestic flights concourses to catch a flight to Tampa.
I will not pretend to have analyzed the fine points of setting up an efficient exercise of security, immigration, customs and baggage handling, but 10 gates seems excessive for a two leg flight. It has the odor of “unwillingness to share” and to perform multiple functions at some gates.
In an era of sequester-driven reduced staffing, it seems wise to look ahead. We should ignore the traditional ownership of some “jobs” by different federal agencies. We should embrace the bigger picture of government mission: efficiency and effectiveness in secure air travel for consumers, regardless of which work-crew provides the headcount to do it.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who follows public policy from a consumer’s perspective.