The airline industry’s angst against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) long wait times at security checkpoints is a monster of their own making. TSA is an offspring of the monolithic Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In predictable knee jerk response to the 9/11 attacks, Congress spent billions of dollars creating another bureaucracy that neither makes Americans safer nor our security architecture more effective. In fact the establishment of DHS diluted our security. The 9/11 Commission Report contains several smoking guns pointing to decisions by federal politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists that enabled the 9/11 attacks to occur. One of the most damning is the airline industry requesting the State Department (which issues student visas –“7As”- overseas) to coerce the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) into a non-enforcement policy (one of many) on expired foreign student visas (it was known literally as “DON’T F… WITH THE 7As!” – emphasis theirs).
For decades immigration inspectors at the more than 300 air and land ports of entry watched helplessly as foreign “students” with expired visas grinned confidently past inspectors to disappear into the interior of the United States never having actually attended – or marginally attended- any educational institution. Why? By federal law these out-of-status travelers were supposed to be denied entry and put on the next plane back to their home of origin. The air carrier pays for that seat – or, more correctly, they lose that seat to a non-paying traveler. Thousands of expired visa foreign “students” denied reentry annually would have cut deeply into the airline industry’s bottom line – profit. The immigration inspector at the Miami airport who put his job on the line by insisting a Middle Eastern, out-of-status “student” be denied entry prevented the 20th 9/11 hijacker from entering the United States. As we now know, all the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. on student visas. If not for airline industry pressure on the INS (“America’s First Line of Defense”) a gaping hole in America’s perimeter would have been closed.
As part of the Homeland Security hydra the TSA was ostensibly created to enhance security at America’s airports. It also conveniently ballooned the unionized federal bureaucracy – a vote buying sop giving us the feckless organization we have today. What many taxpayers do not know is that TSA airport security is “voluntary”. When Congress passed the Homeland Security bill in 2002 it included the Screening Partnership Program allowing airports to contract with private security firms provided they met federal standards. Initially the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued licenses to 5 airports opting for private security (San Francisco being the largest). No sooner had the stark difference in customer service and security efficiency from private firms been proven than the FAA stopped issuing licenses. At about the same time Congress began cutting the TSA budget covering both TSA staff and private contractors. Guess who got paid and who didn’t. Due to public pressure Congress recently told the TSA to start issuing airport private security licenses and to have their certification completed within 12 months. But a major roadblock is the cost analysis required by the TSA – much like the laboriously time-consuming environmental impact statements of the EPA. Airports are neither allowed to participate in the contract bidding process nor have any control over the operation of the contract. Many are fearful they will incur the wrath of the federal government and jeopardize FAA-issued operating licenses by applying for privatization. The primary culprits in the student visa non-enforcement policy – American, Delta, and United- are “cooperating” with the TSA to reduce wait times by adding more TSA inspectors (like putting new wine in old bottles) refusing to side with airport managements’ growing putsch for privatization.
The reason may be the airline industry was already bailed out at least once by the federal government (meaning by you the taxpayer) in the early days of the industry and continues currying favor should conditions require another in the future. In the 1950s World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient Eddie Rickenbacker was the sole airline CEO (Eastern Airlines) to reject a government bailout…and made his airline profitable within a year through personal expertise, exemplary leadership, and the trust of his employees.
It is said when you point the accusatory finger at someone there are always three fingers pointing back at you. This applies to the airline industry in spades.