Why Airports Shouldn’t Sue The TSA

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An exit security lane at BWI Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

After the horror of the 9/11 attacks, it was decided that airlines could no longer handle the job of aviation security, so Congress created the Transportation Security Administration. The agency was first part of the Department of Transportation, but was moved over the new newly created, massive Department of Homeland Security.

TSA mattered to airports because their transportation security officers took over all checkpoint and baggage screening at airport entrances and exits. My hometown airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, was one of the first to have TSA screeners take over.

It was a chaotic time, because airports had to rebuild security checkpoints quickly and come up with space for TSA management and workers — at little or no cost. There were the inevitable culture clashes and power struggles as the new agency continued to create itself and airports were forced to make the adjustments.

So fast forward to October 2013, when TSA suddenly announced that it would no longer staff airport security exits as of Jan. 1, a service they’ve been offering since their beginning. The agency, which claims airports should handle the task,  says the move will save it almost $90 million a year.

Airports disagree, so they are suing to block implementation of the policy. The American Association of Airport Executives argues that TSA collects a security fee from passengers to handle security duties, which they say includes covering exit lanes.

Although TSA should not have abruptly pulled the plug on a service it has been offering since the beginning of its existence, my question is why do we actually need humans at the exit lanes? I see TSA screeners sitting there just staring into space. Why not just add unmanned electronic exit gates? This has or is being done at airports including Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Seattle.

In a perfect world, TSA would give airports more time and the funding to install the electronic exit gates. But I guess that’s just wishful thinking…

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