New TSA Regulations Are Arbitrary and Capricious

The January 2, 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Times contained an op-ed piece by David Steinberg (not the comedian, but a screenwriter from Santa Monica).  The editorial beautifully capsulizes the irrationality of the Transportation Security Agency’s response to the recent attempted bombing of a Delta airliner bound for the United States from Amsterdam in which the TSA instituted regulations during an overnight session (when participants were apparently not fully awake).  Those regulations, governing incoming flights to the U.S. from certain foreign airports, include requiring that passengers remain locked in their seats during the last hour of flight, and removal of all pillows and blankets to overhead bins during the same period. 

In his editorial, Mr. Steinberg recounts his family’s odyssey home from a vacation in Aruba the day after the attempted bombing.  Their adventure included: (1) the baggage handler, designated as “frisker,” becoming embarrassed as he patted down Mr. Steinberg’s four year old son; (2) the same “frisker” apparently recognizing the absurdity of his act, gratefully passing on the frisk of Mr. Steinberg’s two year old daughter; and (3) Mr. Steinberg’s two year old screaming “bloody murder” as the flight attendant yanked the pillow from under her head.

Honestly, when does enough arbitrary and capricious regulation become enough?  First, the government mandates that passengers have to practically disrobe to get on a plane.  Now the government wants to regulate when passengers can go to the bathroom once they get there.  And for all that nonsense, the attempted bomber got on the plane to the United States, with explosives, not in his shoes, but in his underwear!  Does that mean passengers will now have to take off their underwear and put it through the scanner?

 

The answer is now, and has always been, the same: (1) better information coordination between responsible agencies; (2) full body scanners that take off our underwear for us; and (3) criminal (not racial) profiling.

The last two are controversial.  With respect to full body scanners, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups have taken the position that scanners are impermissibly intrusive.  However, the level of their intrusion should be weighed against existing regulations that require removal of shoes, belts and coats in public, and ultimately allow pat downs of innocent citizens, not by trained law enforcement, but by “baggage handlers” as in Mr. Steinberg’s case.

The last, profiling, may be the most difficult of all, because it smacks of the “bad old days” when law enforcement impermissibly profiled on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sometimes gender.  But that is not the kind of profiling being suggested here.  Criminal profiling is different in that it brings together many factors in a person’s past and present, including criminal history, recent travel, employment and, if relevant, ethnicity.  While we abhor profiling in its usual incarnation, it too must be weighed against the victimization of innocent travelers by ill considered, intrusive, and ultimately useless regulation.

In the end, Mr. Steinberg said it best - “How long are we going to tolerate increasingly preposterous and obviously useless rules in the name of security? . . . What if it takes six hours to get from the curb to the plane because next year’s lunatic tries to break the plane’s window with his bare skull and so the TSA decides every man, woman and child needs to be outfitted with padded headgear?  There’s got to be a better way.  A system that keeps us safe without impinging on the civil liberties we cherish.  A system whereby suspicious individuals get scrutinized, and everyone else gets to sleep on their own pillows.”

 

GAO Testifies That The FAA's Congestion Management Program Will Have Limited Effect on Reducing Delays

During July, the Government Accounting Office issued several reports regarding various aviation topics.  One of the topics not covered was the East Coast Airspace Redesign, which was supposed to be issued at the end of July, but now probably will not be issued until the end of August.

Of particular interest was the issuance, on July 15, 2008, of the testimony of Ms. Susan Fleming, the GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure, National Airspace System: DOT and FAA Actions Will Likely Have a Limited Effect on Reducing Delays during Summer 2008 Travel Season given to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security.  Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in flight delays and cancellations, such that a delay at O'Hare or Hartsfield would have a ripple effect across the National Airspace System. The DOT estimated that more than one in four flights either arrived late or was canceled in 2007, making it one of the worst years for delays in the last decade. As a result of the East Coast Airspace Redesign, the delays and cancellations evident at the three New York metropolitan commercial passenger airports--Newark Liberty International (Newark), John F. Kennedy International (JFK), and LaGuardia caused the FAA to propose and promulgate several actions in attempt to reduce congestion and delays. 

Ms. Fleming's testimony addresses (1) the trends in the extent and principal sources of flight delays and cancellations over the last 10 years, (2) the status of federal government actions to reduce flight delays and cancellations, and (3) the extent to which these actions may reduce delays and cancellations for the summer 2008 travel season. This statement is based on an analysis of DOT data on airline on-time performance, a review of relevant documents and reports, and interviews with officials from DOT, FAA, airport operators, and airlines, as well as aviation industry experts and associations. DOT and FAA provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

Of particular interest is the fact that Ms. Fleming's testimony states that "to reduce delays and congestion beginning in summer 2008, DOT and FAA are implementing several actions that for the purposes of this review GAO is characterizing as capacity-enhancing initiatives and demand management policies." Some of these actions are already in effect, such as 11 of the 17 short-term initiatives designed to improve capacity at the airport or system level and the hourly schedule caps on operations at the New York area airports.