Recent mishaps exemplify the reason airline security should be handle by the airlines, not the government

Recently, a Muslim by the name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried setting off a bomb on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Well, since this went down on Christmas, there’s been all sorts of blowback on different intelligence and security agencies in the federal government. It’s been said that screening wasn’t good enough, amongst other things. In fact, the CEO of Delta Airlines (who now owns Northwest – the actual operator of the flight), Richard Anderson, said the government needs to step things up.

Make sure you read that link, because in it you’ll see that a corporate security consultant had this to say:

“Partially, he’s right,” Stewart said about Anderson. “The government dropped the ball big time” in not canceling Abdulmutallab’s visa after his father reported him to U.S. consulate officials in Nigeria, Stewart said.

But, he added, “It’s not just the government’s fault. The airlines are also responsible for security.”

In reality, yes, the airlines should be responsible for security (and I’ll get to that in a minute), but can you blame them for not doing more when the government has already thrown its greasy paws in the game? Really, what more can the airlines do given the current situation?

This is a prime example to go along with what I wrote about previously where I mentioned that government regulation is a self-fulfilling prophecy of harm. People, mostly through ignorance, think that if the government is involved, all will be good and safe. Sorry kids, that’s not how it works.

If the government had their hands off the issue of airline security, and individual airlines were responsible, I guarantee things would be safer.

“How the hell are things going to be safer?!? Government can’t get it right, so how will the private sector?” is what all the statists will clamor. After all, government knows best. Right…

It’s pretty simple – market forces will make airlines do a better job. People will refuse to go to an airline if they are known to have horrid security. When the TSA or government in general botches things up because they have no clue what the hell they’re doing, it just makes the industry as a whole look bad because, as I mentioned, people as a whole seem to have this idea that if the government can’t do it right, no one can.

Other reasons TSA and the DHS should be done away with

I figure since I’m talking about the issue of keeping security in the hands of airlines, I might as well throw a few jabs in at the TSA and DHS.

For starters, I have first hand experience working with TSA. I’ve tossed bags and worked the counter for Air Wisconsin Airlines up in Traverse City for a couple of summers. Many of the people that work for TSA are decent, but there are some total blow hard douchebags. Problem is, it’s these d-bags that can make both traveling and working at the airport a pain in the ass. I’d tell you a story about how one of these guys told the on-duty operations guy (the guy responsible for the airport at the time) that he couldn’t go into an area for a certain reason, but I really don’t feel like dealing with some bullshit subpoena from TSA. Here are some of the stupid things TSA has done in light of the bombing attempt on Christmas.

Here’s another gem that TSA has imposed: Employees still have to go through screening if they want to get on a flight, nor can they just bypass the checkpoint if they are just working. Basically at TVC, all the employees have SIDA badges which indicates that they’re authorized unescorted access to the secure area. The badge also serves as a “key” so that we can get through the doors to the secure areas. Obviously, we have to go through a background check (apparently TSA and/or corporate security wasn’t smart enough to realize the last time around that I had a Secret security clearance) to get the access and work there. Despite the fact that they trust us with access to the aircraft during our regular work, they don’t trust us if we’re traveling?

Then there is a reason for travelers themselves that TSA should be eliminated, at least at airports where they shut the checkpoint down: At TVC, TSA shuts down the checkpoint around 2100 or so if I recall. This is after the last scheduled departure. Well, if the weather sucks on the downline segment, the flight may be delayed due to flow control. In other cases, we’ve had a diversion or two, where aircraft going from say, Canada to Chicago needed to stop in TVC due to Wx concerns. Either way, people getting off the plane (if it will be a considerable delay with no cancelation) can’t go outside of the secure area because the checkpoint is closed down. If airlines handled security themselves, they may train agents to conduct checks themselves and operate the equipment so that in these situations, people can leave the area and get back in.

4 comments for “Recent mishaps exemplify the reason airline security should be handle by the airlines, not the government

  1. January 3, 2010 at 11:13 am

    The problem, as I see it, is twofold:

    1. airlines would have to be privy to information about potential terrorists and the government is not inclined to share such information among its own agencies much less a corporation.

    2. failure to detect a terrorist which led to the destruction of an airplane or casualties among passengers would surely bankrupt an airline in the subsequent litigation.

    As long as the government tells companies that they cannot use every method of screening available… including profiling… and then opens these companies up to complete blame for any terrorist action, there is little likelihood that the airlines will want such responsibility.

    There is, of course, no absolutely foolproof method of screening for terrorists, but the process can be improved. One method might be a certification/identification card that is issued to U.S. citizens only . A holographic image and tamper-proof electronic data embedded into a card could serve as pre-screening. This would allow U.S. citizens to go through U.S.-only security gates in which faster, less intrusive methods to screen would be used. All other passengers would be sent through a more rigorous check.

    This, of course, is not politically correct, even if it is reasonable.

  2. January 3, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Mr. Hall,

    Thanks for the reply. Let me see if I can address your concerns – at least as to how I might see the airline doing it or how I might do it if I was in their position.

    1. As it is, the government already shares the information via the no fly list. If someone was flagged, I had to call corporate security to address the issue. False positives are nothing new – even federal air marshals have been known to pop up on the list. The fact is I think this list is useless in a lot of cases.

    Best way to handle that is just through better screening – which I think would involve not restricting pat downs. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like security can’t give a good pat down, so it sounds like they’re useless at this point. If it comes to the point where you believe a pat down is warranted, it doesn’t do any good if you can’t run a “credit card” check.

    In addition, I believe that if security were left up to the airlines, they would probably use a contracted company. Probably be cheaper that way to ensure they have people who know what they’re doing.

    2. In regards to lawsuits for failure to detect a terrorist, I think that would be a simple issue of making a statement in the Contract of Carriage that they can’t be sued. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if some crackheaded judge says the clause is invalid.

    In regards to a company being allowed to profile, I think that should be their right. In fact, that would basically give the ACLU the big middle finger since the government isn’t doing it. If they don’t like how a company does things, they can just fly with Haji air.

    In regards to the ID card thing, not so sure about that. Jose Padilla was a terrorist who was also a citizen.

  3. January 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm


    You are probably correct that no effort can be 100% effective. When I said the government would not be likely to share the information needed, I was referring to the kind of information that goes beyond the simple no-fly list. This would include the associated information that should make present screening more effective, but still lets terrorists slip through the cracks.

    A couple years ago while flying out of San Francisco, they had an express system [the name of which I can’t recall] that allowed business and frequent flyers to by-pass the long lines. In essence, they were pre-screened. It would seem reasonable that those who agreed to a full background check should be allowed that type of preferred security arrangement. Obviously, there is always the issue of faulty background checks.

    So, I do agree with you that better screening is the key… through more effective sharing of critical information and through a better pre-screening process that would allow resources to be used for more in-depth onsite screening of those people who are neither citizens nor fitting the profile of a “normal” traveler.

    Regardless, flying is becoming a greater hassle which, in a way, is already a victory for our enemies.

    • January 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      Bruce, I see what you’re saying now.

      In regards to pre-screening, one thing I’m surprised they don’t do is have a service members security clearance embedded on their CAC. Because what I’m thinking for the military types, like myself, who have a clearance is basically have a card reader, they slide it in, it verifies who they are and their security clearance, then bam, good to go.

      I would imagine that if they’re gonna give someone a security clearance, they could trust them getting onto an aircraft without much look.

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