The toughest job in transportation

Jim-Cameron-talking-transportationWho do you think has the toughest job in transportation? Airline pilots? Long-haul truck drivers? Metro-North conductors? To my thinking, the toughest job is being an airport TSA agent.

Forget the recent furor over revised Transportation Security Administration rules soon to allow small knives in carry-on luggage. The plastic knives the flight attendants distribute in snack-packs in-flight are already sharp enough to slit a throat. By not worrying about every pen-knife and nail clipper, TSA agents should have more time to concentrate on truly lethal weapons.

A far bigger threat to aviation security is liquid explosives and non-metal knives. Ceramic knives are undetectable on magnetometers, which is why the TSA brought in those full-body scanners we love so much.

But I think a bigger threat to aviation safety is the public’s anger at the TSA agents who are just doing their job. After a thorough TSA screening at an airport last month, I saw an angry passenger literally curse at the agent. That passenger wasn’t pulled aside and given a retaliatory body cavity search. To her credit, the agent kept her cool and didn’t even get into a verbal fight. Could you be so thick-skinned?

It’s been 13 years since 9/11. Have we forgotten what can happen when determined, armed terrorists take over a plane? The TSA screens 1.8 million passengers a day. If just one of those fliers got an undetected weapon onto a plane and blew it up, imagine the uproar.

Remember the holy triad of service: Fast, good and cheap. You can achieve any two of those, but not all three. Clearly, the top priority is “good” security. So, in this era of sequestration, we’re unlikely to see quality compromised for speed or lower cost.

If you want to fly, put up and shut up: Put up with the long lines while the agents do their jobs properly to keep you safe and keep your mouth shut.

What do all these TSA inspections do, aside from create long lines and frustrated fliers? They turn up an amazing amount of weapons. The TSA’s weekly blog makes for fascinating reading.

In one recent week alone the TSA intercepted 32 firearms, 27 of them loaded, and 10 stun guns. There were clips of ammo, brass knuckles and (no surprise) sheer stupidity: A passenger flying out of San Juan told the ticket agent that her bag contained a bomb and she was going to blow up the plane. After an inspection by the TSA, her bag didn’t have a bomb. But as a result of her threat, the ticket counter, checkpoint and terminal were closed for nearly an hour, inconveniencing thousands. And there were, as the TSA blog put it, “consequences” for the flier.

Holiday travel is stressful enough without compounding things by arguing with those just trying to keep you safe.

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected] For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.

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