Airport, holidays and TSA

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

This holiday season is the first for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s new international terminal. It’s a time when a complex operation — some 58,000 people work there — becomes even more complicated. Today, the airport’s general manager writes about holiday operations but rejects the idea, put forth by our second columnist, that the world’s busiest airport should eliminate its TSA government-run security screening in favor of its own private operation, something other U.S. airports have done with success.

Commenting is open below Baruch Feigenbaum’s column.

Holidays here, feds staying

By Louis Miller

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest passenger airport with more than 92 million travelers per year, and the winter holidays are an especially fast-paced time of year for our more than 58,000 employees.

This is our first holiday season at the new Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal, which opened in May. With the elimination of the baggage recheck process for Atlanta-bound international travelers, and with five security recheck lanes for domestic connecting passengers and eight security checkpoint lanes for international departing passengers in addition to the two parking structures with more than 3,500 parking spaces, the international terminal will offer a smooth experience for our global travelers.

The international terminal was not only built with customer service in mind. Sustainability was another priority in the terminal design as it was constructed with recycled and/or regionally produced materials. In fact, we are proud to have recently received Gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Earning LEED Gold certification is a vivid example of our goal to minimize our impact on the environment. Another green feature is the terminal’s low-flow restroom fixtures which, along with highly efficient cooling and heating systems, cut water usage, saving more than 40,000 gallons annually.

Hartsfield-Jackson is an airport community comprised of the airlines, our concessionaires, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and many more who work together to enhance our customers’ travelling experience.

Some examples of this work are behind the scenes. Along a network of screening belts under the main terminal, TSA officers examine checked bags — on average, about 30,000 bags a day. And though there are some who propose that airports contract private screening companies, we believe the TSA does an excellent job at Hartsfield-Jackson, and we see no benefit in replacing federal employees with private screeners.

Other professionals working beyond public view are air traffic controllers 398 feet above the airport in the tower, guiding aircraft into and out of the Atlanta skies – more than 900,000 flights every year.

On any given day, about 250,000 travelers pass through Hartsfield-Jackson, and we are certain there will be millions beginning, ending or continuing their journeys home through Hartsfield-Jackson in the coming season.

Whether it’s the holiday season or during normal daily operations, we work to deliver world-class customer service.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show that nearly 611,000 passengers were processed through the CBP during the 2011 holiday season. We expect similar numbers this holiday season.

If your travels home involve leaving the United States, or if you are welcoming someone home to the United States, you will be served by the more than 1,000 employees directly and indirectly involved in operating the international terminal.

The international terminal will help travelers heading home to nearly 80 destinations in more than 50 countries.

We’ll even help you stay connected in the international terminal with 54 power posts conveniently positioned among the seats at the gates. Each power post has six 110-volt AC outlets and two USB connections. You can recharge your laptop, smartphone and other electronic devices.

As you embark on your holiday travels, check our website at www.atlanta-airport.com for information about parking space availability, security wait times and arrival and departure times. Season’s greetings from the entire airport team.

Louis Miller is general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Airport should ditch agency

By Baruch Feigenbaum

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, has been honored for its efficiency. However, there’s one thing many travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson would like to see improved: airport security.

In the wake of 9/11, then-President George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In doing so, they mistakenly made TSA both the provider of airport screening and the aviation security regulator. This conflict of interest makes the TSA answerable to no one.

“Security screeners at two of the nation’s busiest airports failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents posing as passengers in more than 60 percent of tests last year, according to a classified report,” USA Today reported in 2007.

ABC News reported another classified report found screeners in Newark failed to spot bombs in 20 out of 22 tests.

And it’s not just passenger and baggage screening that needs to be improved. Over the past 10 years, there have been 1,300 instances of people trespassing in supposedly secure airport areas. Hartsfield-Jackson is not immune. Last month, a woman threw a bag over the security fence to a man standing next to a luggage cart. This unscreened bag could have easily been placed on a plane. Last year, a whistle blower was able to sneak unscreened food and drinks from outside the airport onto a plane.

TSA isn’t held accountable for these security failures, despite spending $3 billion of taxpayers’ money each year. A large part of TSA is simply security theater: take off your shoes, remove your laptop and no liquids over 3.4 ounces. It’s the illusion of security.

The most effective way to improve the screening quality at Hartsfield-Jackson is to let the airport directly manage the entire security process. After 9/11, five airports were allowed to use private screeners instead of TSA screeners. At one of those airports, San Francisco International (SFO), screening costs 40 percent less per capita than TSA screening at Los Angeles International (LAX). SFO screeners also process 65 percent more passengers than LAX screeners. Estimates show Atlanta could reduce costs by 42 percent and be 65 percent more efficient by replacing TSA screeners with private screeners.

Additional U.S. airports are being allowed to use private screeners, and 16 airports now do so. Hartsfield-Jackson should follow suit. (There’s an application process to go through to prove you are hiring qualified screeners and saving money.) The responsibility for screening baggage and passengers would be shifted from TSA to the airport. This makes the entire security system — passenger screening, perimeter security, employee screening, etc. — seamless.

Hartsfield-Jackson would hire, train and staff screeners, working with certified security companies. It would comply with all TSA regulations. And by removing its conflict of interest, which currently encourages it to cover up mistakes and security weaknesses, TSA could focus on its oversight role of finding and fixing security flaws at airports.

In Europe, that’s how it is done. Airport operators handle airport security. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) visited countries that use private screeners, including France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. GAO found they had better overall security systems and more substantial training requirements for screeners. According to the GAO, France requires 60 hours of training, while TSA trains screeners for just 12 hours.

The U.S. approach to airport security, created in the aftermath of 9/11, is deeply flawed. San Francisco is demonstrating that airports can provide better security and experiences for air travelers while improving efficiency. Hartsfield-Jackson can do better than the TSA. It’s time for the airport to opt out of TSA screening.

Baruch Feigenbaum in a transportation policy expert with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

6 comments Add your comment

Vtfishguy2002

December 14th, 2012
7:25 pm

I flew out of Manchester and Detroit a month after 9/11 when private firms were running security and it was a joke, the Keystone Kops were running security. At that time, Arlenbright Security was running security at most of the major airports, with a 2500 percent annual turnover and officers were leaving to go work at fast food places for better pay and benefits. Very unprofessional and appeared untrained and inadequate to the task. TSA has problems but it is a vast improvement over the disaster that airport security was prior to 9/11. I understand that 90% of the existing screeners could not pass the qualifications necessary to become TSA officers, and that is pretty telling in itself. Better quality? More likely a conversion to private security would be another race to the bottom.

Village Idiot

December 14th, 2012
1:04 pm

As a former airline employee who was employed during the years of no security, the Sky Marshals providing security, the private firms, then the TSA, I have observed that although I agree that much of the security procedures are theater and illusion, the private firms were the ones that let the most restricted items through. Lowly paid, untrained (I observed the video training that lasted one hour), we airport workers considered the private security firms a joke. It is true that you get what you pay for. If SFO screeners only found 2 of 22 fake bombs, that is two more than I ever saw a private security firm find. What needs to be done is review the standards and procedures within the TSA, understand that they have a job to do, and even if there are bad apples in the bunch, they are in the distinct minority. TSA needs to be placed under a higher level of legal supervision, Congress needs to revisit the Patriot Act and the other laws depriving US Citizens of their rights, and the Department of Homeland Security needs to understand the fourth amendment to the Constitution. But having federally authorized and trained officers has made it more difficult for terrorists to plan actions against the aviation industry. I do not think children and adolescents or even adults should be searched intimately, but I remember a bomb plot against a European Carrier many years ago where the terrorist packed his wife’s carry on bag that held their babys needed things with a bomb and sent them off to “visit his mother”. It was discovered during the normal routing security search in Dublin by official screeners. I also remember highjackers back in the late 60’s and early 70’s hiding their weapons in their baby’s diaper, and too many Customs Officers have found drugs smuggled in babies diapers. We must find a middle ground, which will be based on training and good judgement on the part of travelers and TSA Officers.

Sommer Gentry

December 13th, 2012
9:59 pm

Dear SAWB,

I can explain to you why I belittle security personnel: because these lowlifes have demonstrated their lack of moral values by taking cash to place their hands on the genitalia of minor children. The TSA is sexually assaulting passengers, exposing people to carcinogenic X-rays, and creating pornographic naked images of women and girls for men to view in the pornography booth. Those of us with a conscience will fight until the TSA is defeated. These monsters have no right to abuse our bodies, to harass and bully innocent people, to defile the Constitution with their warrantless searches. Anyone who works for the TSA is an enabler of sexual violence, and deserves jail time.

panhead20

December 13th, 2012
8:02 pm

The frequency of attempted terrorist attacks in the United States are something less than 1 per year ( or 1 in 10 years based on recent history) yet we are spending in excess of $8 billion dollars each year on TSA security during a time when our tax dollars need to be conserved. Not only are we spending excessive amounts of tax dollars on TSA but TSA is destructive of our very basic freedoms.

I believe that we in fact do need security but do not believe that TSA’s style of security is the solution. There is no need to physically assault people in order to travel. There is no need to harass people in order to travel. There is no reason for TSA to treat citizens and guest to this country as criminals or terrorist in order to travel.

T – Terrorists
S – Searching
A – Americans

TSORon

December 13th, 2012
6:28 pm

Just some facts for Mr. Feigenbaum, facts that he seems to have missed completely.
Initial TSO Training requires (ie. Mandatory) 40 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of On The Job Training (TSA MANAGEMENT DIRECTIVE No. 1900.8), before they can be certified as Screeners. To actually get the certification there is are several tests that they must pass. Add to that an annual recurring training requirement and annual mandatory skills assessments, and you get nearly 300 hours of training in the first year of a TSO’s career.

Many screeners opt for additional training to expand their skill set to meet the requirements of other areas of TSA screening at the average airport. Cross Training, Dual Function Screener training, NDF (National Deployment Force) training, and a host of additional duty positions that all require training of some kind. We are also required to undergo annual Administrative Training in subjects such as Civil Rights, Information Technology Security, and Ethics, just to name a few.

There are also the unannounced tests of our skills, conducted both by local personnel and national teams, tests and subsequent training by our local explosives experts (FBI or Military trained specialists). Training is a major portion of what the average TSO does on a weekly basis.

All of these things that we to do enhance our skills and knowledge would be less likely for a private security company to fund. Add to that the likely-hood that the airport or an airline could manipulate security procedures to meet their own agenda of moving passengers from point A to point B as efficiently as possible by cutting corners in the security area, or to save money in what is already a financially fragile industry, and you get less security rather than more.

Mr. Feigenbaum also mentions several incidents that are outside of TSA control, such as the bag thrown over a fence. Contract Screeners would have made absolutely no difference in such a case as they are also restricted to certain areas of authority just as are TSO’s. Security for areas of airports outside of the checkpoints and baggage screening areas are the responsibility of the local airport and police, not the TSA.

Mr. Feigenbaum misses a great deal in his assessment of the TSA, its capabilities, and its responsibilities.

SAWB

December 13th, 2012
2:51 pm

It always has confused me why we as a society seem to belittle and underpay security personnel. If we believe security is necessary why not compensate the employees better and offer more respect. As for outsourcing these functions at Hartsfield I would think a private firm could provide these services more efficiently, but again you get what you pay for.