When you go to the airport, there are two things you want: To be on-time for your flight and to make it to your destination safely – it's not an outrageous request.
So why have so many travelers recently found themselves stuck in lines at major airports across the country? Flyers are frustrated – and rightly so. During the busy summer travel months lines will likely grow even longer due to reckless budget cuts, caps on TSA officers, and TSA’s refusal to fully staff airports.
At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the fastest growing airport in the nation, key officials are now threatening to outsource the security of its passengers to "speed up" the process. Will hiring low-paid rent-a-cops really improve speed without sacrificing safety?
As we've seen at other airports who have outsourced their security to for-profit companies, the answer seems to be 'no.'
When it comes to moving travelers through the screening process, there are simply too few boots on the ground. But we've known that for a while.
Beginning in fiscal year 2012, Congress–deciding to ignore the basic rules of supply and demand – began to cap the number of Transportation Security Officers at 45,000.
But even with the arbitrary cap, TSA has only about 42,000 officers on the job right now. The White House requested funding in the 2017 budget to hire an additional 470 officers, and TSA has increased the request to 1,000 new officers in response to complaints about long lines. But neither number works. TSA needs a lot more if the agency is to accomplish its mission of making air travel safe while also ensuring passengers don't have to wait.
“The problem is simply that TSA hasn’t hired enough officers for the record number of passengers that large airports are seeing,” said Hydrick Thomas, AFGE TSA Council President. “The only safe way to shorten wait times is to hire more Transportation Security Officers. It’s as simple as that.”
There’s a good reason the majority of airports don’t want to go back to the old way airport security was conducted.If you were a screener before theterrorist attackson September 11, 2001 there were three things you could count on:
It was obviously not the best way to build a professional, focused workforce that monitored security and protected the flying public. After the Transportation Security Administration was created in 2002, only 22 of 450 airports went private.
Since then, three Montana airports that had been privatized were rebid a year later because the original contractor was unable to adequately perform. A fourth airport has requested that private screeners be replaced with federal TSA officers.
That brings us back to Seattle-Tacoma. The head of the airport has publicly discussed replacing TSA officers with private security contractors because of ridiculously long lines and TSA’s refusal to staff up. Sea-Tac is the 13th busiest airport in the country and the fastest growing, with passenger volume up 13 percent last year.
“The frustration of passengers at Sea-Tac is understandable. They are forced to wait an hour to get through security at peak times, all while looking at empty security lanes that are closed because there’s no staff to run them,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “This situation isn’t good for the passengers or the employees, and it’s high time that TSA request the resources it needs to get more officers on the ground at Sea-Tac and elsewhere.”
How long will we have to wait before Congress and TSA to recommit to providing a safe and efficient airport screening process? Better pack your travel neck pillow – it could be a while.