A kinder, gentler TSA

Tue, Apr 1, 2008 (2:07 a.m.)

In an effort to improve screening at airport checkpoints, the Transportation Security Administration is trying something different: mood lighting.

TSA officials are testing a new checkpoint that will include mauve lighting, “spa-like and soothing” New Age music and smiling workers. USA Today reported Monday that TSA Administrator Kip Hawley wants the changes to “calm the passenger.”

The thinking goes like this: If passengers are calm as they move through security, it will be easy to pick out people with odd and suspicious behavior.

“Calm allows things to stand out more,” Hawley said. “It creates a better environment to observe hostile intent.”

It seems more than a little silly to think that the key to keeping the nation’s airports secure is a little soft lighting and music to relax people. If that is the case, perhaps the TSA could light some candles and serve some herbal tea as well.

If TSA officials really want to keep people calm, they would work on speeding up the lines and making it easier to go through a checkpoint.

The TSA needs to hire more screeners, but that is not part of the plan. Anyone who has been through an airport checkpoint knows that TSA employees are often rushing through the screenings, under the crush of a logjam of passengers. That may be why government auditors continue to get through checkpoints with illegal materials, including bomb-making parts.

Hawley says with the makeover plan, TSA employees will have more time to observe passengers and catch suspicious behavior. That sounds great, but USA Today notes that the TSA has about 1,200 screeners who specialize in observation and pick out people for questioning or pat-down searches — spread over 70 airports across the nation. That is an average of roughly 17 per airport, which hardly sounds like a sufficient number to do the job.

However, instead of training more screeners, the TSA is hoping a little redecorating will do the job.

That is not a calming thought.

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