Brown: TSA has met the enemy — and it is us

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Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator Peter Neffenger, right, earlier this month at a news conference | AP photo

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The Transportation Security Administration plans to facethe news media Thursday morning at Chicago’s Midway Airport, recent scene of spectacularly long lines of travellers waiting to get through TSA checkpoints.

The agency has taken the unusual step of advising reporters to bring a stopwatch.

“To time how long it takes to get through security from start to finish?” you might reasonably ask.

No, you silly goose.

That would take too long. Wayyyy too long.

OPINION

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Instead, TSA is planning a demonstration of how much longer it takes for its security screeners to process passengers who screw up and attempt to bring prohibited items through the checkpoints, such as water bottles and knives, or who forget to take off their belts or remove their laptops from their carry-ons.

That’s right.

The TSA seems to be preparing to again scapegoat the flying public for the agency’s own failure to anticipate and adequately staff for a seasonal surge in airline passengers, many of whom are leisure travellers carrying on their luggage to avoid fees for checked bags, which further complicates the screening process.

And after some 14 years of handling security at our nation’s airports, TSA is apparently still caught by surprise on the realities of dealing with the public.

Which is?

Some people are dumb. Some are just poorly informed. Others find the whole airport process to be intimidating, causing them to freeze up and suffer brain cramps. And nearly all of them are interested in saving a buck where they can, which doesn’t include spending $85 to qualify for the TSA’s Pre-Check program.

Guess what? That’s America. That’s humanity.

TSA needs to deal with it, just like every other business or government agency that serves the public deals with it.

Should passengers be better prepared?

Sure, they should. I realize many frequent fliers share the frustration of TSA that too many people still don’t understand the basics.

Should the airlines do more to remind passengers of how to get through security smoothly?

Of course. I don’t understand why there isn’t a reminder about the rules printed on every boarding pass.

But in the end, TSA has to be prepared to deal with the public as it is and respond accordingly.

That’s TSA’s job: to play its part in a safe — and efficient — air travel system.

Efficiency doesn’t require sacrificing safety, but it does require being able to adapt to real world customer relations needs.

I don’t have any issue with TSA workers, not even the surly ones. Seems like a lousy job. I’d be surly, too, after a while.

My favorite TSA stories involve flying with my son when he was a music student. His instrument: the tuba.

I could devote a whole column to the joys of flying with the tuba. (Teaser: the tuba must ride in the passenger section and requires its own ticket.)

But our best story involves the time TSA agents, for whom the tuba was a constant source of consternation and bewilderment, demanded that my son play the instrument. My son, on his way to an audition and happy to get in some practice, decided to perform a short concert of his audition excerpts.

Naturally, on his next trip (I think this was at LAX), the TSA was still baffled about what to do with the tuba.

In Wednesday’s column, I said heads should roll at TSA for the mess, although maybe Sen. Mark Kirk was more sensible in setting a Memorial Day deadline to fix the problems before TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger gets canned.

On Wednesday, aldermen suggested the city privatize airport screening.

I’m sure air travellers everywhere were reassured by the prospect of Chicago politicians controlling more jobs and contracts.

I’m even more sure those travellers will be thrilled to learn TSA is blaming passengersfor the fiasco.

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