TSA Proposal Suggests Eliminating Security At 34% Of US Airports

Filed Under: Security/TSA

The TSA is considering eliminating security at 34% of US airports. No, this isn’t clickbait. Let’s look at what’s apparently under consideration.

How the TSA is thinking of eliminating security at many US airports

CNN has obtained internal documents indicating that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security screening at about 150 of the nation’s 440 airports.

The intent here is to streamline the security process. Security screening would be cut at all small and many medium-size airports that serve aircraft with 60 or fewer seats.

According to this proposal, passengers traveling from smaller airports would have their belongings and luggage screened upon arrival rather than before departure. Presumably this would be similar to arriving on an international flight, where you have to exit the terminal and then go back through security to catch your connecting flight.

This proposal would impact about 10,000 passengers per day, which amounts to about 0.5% of the people who fly out of US airports every day. Those people are screened by 1,299 TSA employees, which represents a pretty bad ratio in terms of efficiency. So while this represents a small percentage of passengers, it would impact a much bigger percentage of airports.

The TSA says that bigger airports have a greater capacity and more advanced security measures than smaller airports, so passengers would be screened before any connecting flights. The TSA also says that this could save $115 million annually, which frankly doesn’t sound like that much to me when you consider that the federal air marshal program costs the government nearly a billion dollars annually.

The documents suggest that implementing this could bring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” That’s the understatement of the year.

Sources suggest that this isn’t the first time this proposal is being discussed. Apparently it was also being discussed back in 2011, but was tabled, and now the idea is resurfacing.

What I make of this proposal

I’m in disbelief that this proposal is even being discussed.

Aviation continues to be a huge target for terrorism, and it’s not just a widebody jet between New York and London that’s the target.

If terrorists know that they can get on a 50 seat plane without any security checks, you can bet they’d plot some things, as the impact of this type of terrorism would be catastrophic. Seriously, it blows my mind that this is being discussed.

While I think this proposal is ridiculous, I think the much bigger issue is how incompetent the TSA is. In tests, the TSA continues to miss a vast majority of weapons that are brought through security. In the past they’d consistently miss 95% of prohibited items in tests. Recently they improved, and started only missing 80% of prohibited items

The TSA is little more than a security theater. In fairness, I think in some ways the theater works, and surely sometimes works as a deterrent. This move would even eliminate that theater.

What do you make of the TSA potentially eliminating security screening at 140 US airports?

  1. You say that this would all but lead to a catastrophic terrorist attack, due to lack of security. In the next paragraph, you say that TSA is completely incompetent and that the security is just theater. So…why are there no terrorist attacks?

  2. Airports can already opt out of TSA and use private sector screening staff, a la pre-9/11. It seems to me like that’s the route to encourage for the smallest airports. Staff can have security screening along with other duties at the airport, vs. being feds that can only do screening work because of federal rules about conflicting outside employment (rules that make a lot of sense in most contexts).

  3. Please. A terrorist today could get on a train or bus and blow that up, and it would cause the same (if not more) damage.

  4. The TSA in Santa Fe NM has NOTHING to do,,,,, except harass passengers.
    Shut them down. Worthless .

  5. lol did you edit this at all?

    “If terrorists know that they can get on a 50 seat plane without any security checks, you can bet they’d plot some things, as the impact of this type of terrorism would be catastrophic. Seriously, it blows my mind that this is being being discussed.”

    “The TSA is little more than a security theater. This move would certainly eliminate that theater.”

    Mutually exclusive maybe? lol

  6. Lucky, you are being overdramatic. This sounds like a great plan to me. As someone else said, the smaller airports would just provide their own security.

  7. As you say, aircraft are a very attractive target for terrorists. Yet, successful terrorist attacks on planes are very, very rare. My conclusion is that airport security can’t be as incompetent as you claim it is.

  8. ” the impact of this type of terrorism would be catastrophic”

    For a 50 seat plane? Uh, a Greyhound bus carries more people, never mind a train.

  9. IMHO the events of 9/11 will never happen again. Not because we spend billions of dollars and millions of wasted hours with TSA. Rather because by the fourth plane we (passengers) knew we had to fight back. While they tragically crashed in PA the terrorists didn’t get their target. Today I believe passengers would act so quickly the terrorists would be unlikely to have time to breach the hardened cockpit door. It’s our lives on the line and I don’t think the huge costs of TSA does much to safeguard me. We will act if need be.

  10. Yeah, they do this in NZ, but NZ is basically Mars in terms of how out of the way it is (I say this as a Kiwi).

  11. @Bill: what exactly do you want to do when a bomb blows a big whole into the plane at 30,000 feet?

  12. I was going to comment on the post, but frankly the replies rile me more.

    Regarding the post, I’ll just say “random pre-check” was when I lost faith in the TSA having sufficient logic, much less the duty to execute as promised per the terms of the program and its promoted use.

    Regarding some of the comments, I do think TSA is a barrier to threat. While some threats are not being detected as they should, I think without them, a more targeted and massive destruction occurrence would be far easier. And, yes, I think a plane has significantly more overall damage potential than a train or bus…even at sub 60 seats. And lastly, while I do hope that passengers would react to a terrorist attack on par with 9/11, I by no means feel this has relevance or means to justify allowing that to be the defense strategy!

  13. Not a horrible idea. Resources are totally mis-allocated. I regularly fly out of a small local airport (BQK) that will often have EIGHT TSA agents screening passengers at one gate that serves a few regional jets. In addition, the security is usually tighter than NY, SF or LA. I often have to take all electronics, toiletries out of all bags before scanning, something that never happens in ATL, LGA, Chicago, etc.

  14. The bigger question is how many attacks have the TSA ever stopped. I suspect it’s zero or close to.

  15. I agree with Bill.

    We all know what terrorists want to do with airplanes.
    And thus we will all attack any person who tries to hijack the plane.

    You take a hostage? The hostage needs to die, cause we won’t let you near the cockpit.

    Get near the cockpit? Bum rush the terrorist. Some will die, but not all

    Get control of the plane? Air Force will just shoot the plane down

    I’m not going to listen to some terrorist just so they can ram me into some building

  16. Claus,

    No question that there will be incidents (blown up planes)

    But the likelihood of a 9-11 style incident are lower because all passengers know they will die the second the terrorist gets into the cockpit

  17. In the 1980’s, I took a helicopter from a major US heliport to the airport. There was no security until after I arrived at the airport. This proposal is along the same lines.

    I don’t discount the TSA proposal but think that they should consider cheaper, joke security for the smaller airports, not no security. There is no way the TSA can afford having those CT scanners at every airport. Airports like Knoxville, TN and Amarillo, TX would then become the weak spots.

    Instead, the airports with “joke security” could be re-screened at the major airports. The joke security airports would just have lower paid screeners opening purses and briefcases, looking for handguns. Or waving the metal wand.

  18. Let’s ignore the security implications of this for a minute and think about the logistics.

    This sounds like it would need a major redesign of large airports. The unscreened arriving passengers would have to disembark in a segregated wing that is effectively landside. Then the planes would need to be moved to an airside gate for loading. That sounds like a pretty inefficient and expensive use of gate space.

    Or they could rebuild entire commuter wings made of 2-level swing gates where non-screened arriving passengers go to a separate level that leads to the groundside while screened arrivals and departing passengers are airside. Also expensive, especially when you consider how cheap and crowded commuter wings are in many large airports.

    Either way I can’t see the major airports wanting to completely rebuild their commuter wings for this proposed change.

  19. “If terrorists know that they can get on a 50 seat plane without any security checks, you can bet they’d plot some things, as the impact of this type of terrorism would be catastrophic.”

    What is your basis for this claim? Currently there are no regular security checks on most (all?) subway lines in the US. One single car of a NYC subway train during rush hour can easily carry three times the number of passengers as a 50 seat plane. Why do you think this would be any different?

  20. I think this entire idea is stupid, the tsa was poorly trained from the start, the idea here would be to make them more competent and able to detect weapons, rather than all this theatre. In Australia they have security and instead of having all this equipment, they just know how to screen, that is what America needs, not more to less tsa screeners or checkpoints.

    although this is the Trump administration so I suspect that none of this will happen and instead well get Trump brand security

  21. Foreign countries doesn’t use tsa in their countries and they just use regular employees and they are doing great

  22. Good idea to save money, when the place lands escort them out of the sterile area. Or for the paranoid among us let private contractors do the screening at smaller airports.

  23. As an old guy who has lived in Florida since Ponce de Leon showed up I remember the way hijackings “used to be”. We take a detour to Cuba, spend a few hours and come home. Reality changed and in a matter of hours so did our response. Sure Claus a bomb could blow up a plane. See Lockerbie. TSA wasn’t created then. While tragic to be sure it doesn’t justify the costs and time wasted to feel safer even if you’re not. I’m a risk/reward person. Sure, I could die in a plane with a terrorist. I still fly. I’m much more likely to get t-boned at an intersection by an uninsured driver on my way to the airport. I still go to the airport and I don’t expect a police officer at every intersection just in case. My risk calculus. The only “safe” society is a totalitarian society. Freedom brings risks.

  24. Used to often go Carlsbad to LAX in twin prop United Express. Knew all 3 TSA people.
    Up to when they got rid of props and couldn’t land their new jets.
    But having to go thru security thru LAX ? Yech.
    Terrorists could still hijack a small plane and bring down a A380.

  25. Great idea. Except, why limit it to smaller airports? Just get rid of the TSA at ALL airports, then you’re on to something.

    No, I’m not kidding. Everyone would be exactly as safe as they are now.

  26. About halfway through I had to stop reading and scroll to the top to make sure I hadn’t gotten on Gary Leff’s blog by accident. I mean no disrespect, but what do you really know about this topic? I mean you fly, as we all do, but was your college major in security or anything related? Just trying to see if you are speaking from a knowledge base or just spouting opinion.

  27. This sounds like a potential win-win. Take those TSA agents and move them to the busy airports (like LAX) so instead of waiting in line and looking at 6 closed lines and 1 open line, they can finally open more lines!

  28. Unlikely this will ever happen in a widespread way because the government is so risk adverse. They will never ever take away security because they fear being blamed if anything goes wrong.

    Having said that, if you go fly JetsuiteX, you already get this treatment. No security at all.

  29. ridiculous. huge risk to our entire airport network. not just the regional airports.

    what happens when the US is attacked by 50 seat planes?

    In my little city (with only 50 seaters) they fly TO big airports (PHL, ORD, DTW).

    What happens if someone crashes/lands on top of an active taxiway with widebody flights fully fueled and queued to take off? This almost happened on a recent Air Canada flight to SFO (pilot error) and it was seconds away from being the world’s worst airline disaster in history.

    Would the general public get on a plane knowing the seatmates or a group of them were NOT screened in any way?

    Also, think back to EgyptAir 2 years ago. An explosive in a fake SODA can brought down the plane.

    Here is a huge smuggling risk for weapons or explosives. I am sure that when these 50 seat airplanes fly into a bigger airport/city they will get a check done, but what about the entire beverage carts, the lavatory compartments, beverage carts, behind air conditoning panels, under every seat cushion, in every life jacket container, etc. The next leg the airplane flies, if to a bigger city, will allow any of hidden items to be carried into the sterile airport area by the same or different passenger. Ilicit items can be placed risk free until they have a full database of what materials are on what plane. NOT good for our national security.

  30. This used to occur in the U.S. in the early 2000s. I remember flying from a small airport in upper Michigan on the old Mesaba (NWA) Saab 340s into MSP. You would go through a little security checkpoint at the airport but it was deemed “not enough” back in those days so you would go through a more thorough checkpoint upon landing at MSP. It was all very organized.

    It now sees 2 CRJ-200s a day and it’s absolutely pathetic to see how they have 6 TSA employees for a 50-passenger flight. It worked fantastically back in the old days, so I’d be interested to see if it still would work today.

  31. Whatever the merits, the govt is doing all this to pay for the tax cuts that made the rich, filthy rich and blew up the deficit/ debt.

    Any attempt at budget balancing should involve human sacrifice of white Republican males to the gods of fiscal austerity. A guillotine will do and will be more fun to watch than a military parade.

    Eff trump!

  32. s will go nowhere, but I am in agreement with TSA for once. Small airports are low priority targets for terrorists. A study has shown that the TSA kills more people (through increased miles on the road) then it saves.

    I think a good compromise might be to allow rent-a-cops / local sheriffs to do the screening. Will they be highly effective no, but is TSA highly effective no. Pax would still get to act in the security theater. They still would not enter the secure area of the real airport. I even have a feeling that the average off-duty rural sheriff deputy collecting overtime would take his screening duty seriously.

  33. What short memories we all have. Didn’t some of the 9/11 bombers depart from Bangor? Back then all security was private. They were minimum wage jobs and had 100% turnover each year.

    I’m apparently the only flyer in America that believes it’s in our national interest to protect the skies from terrorism. I’ve flown millions of miles since the TSA came about and I’ve never felt that the inconvenience wasn’t worth it.

  34. Some of these comments mystify me. Can you fly a greyhound bus or a train into a sports stadium filled with people? I don’t think so.

  35. The ROI for the TSA must be incredibly low. I think most of us would happily give up TSA. My home airport (BHM) is very inefficient with an incredible low risk. I would not feel a bit unsafer flying without TSA there.

  36. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to propose these airports hire private security and remove the TSA. Should obviously still have all the requisite background checks for employees but that’s not nothing in terms of savings.

  37. Something not adding up on the math here. If the tsa agents are scrapped its a saving equivalent to c$80k per agent per year. If you divide $1B by $80 k that gives you over a million air martials….. now I know it’s nit as simple as this but even so how is the air martial scheme justified at $1B ??

  38. All I know is that having a precheck line in Rapid City was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Luckily, they were smart enough to staff the same TSA agent for both precheck and the regular line. Either way, I’m not sure any terrorist wants to fly out of Rapid City and it’s 30 passenger prop planes that mostly fly to SLC or MSP. So, while it’s scary because we’re used to it, I’m not sure it’s any real risk.

    That said, TSA is a jobs program and those jobs lost will hurt the local community

  39. The reason there hasn’t been another attack isn’t because of TSA. If someone wanted to do something TSA isn’t the highest wall they need to surmount.

  40. Let me be more accurate with how it works in NZ: Only domestic flightson propeller aircraft are excluded from security screening. Air NZ has many Q300 and ATR72 on their fleet… So if you’re flying domestic on an A320 or 737 jet, you will be screened. Maybe there is something about the difference between propellers and jets that makes the propellers less “fragile”.

    I’m mostly pro on this TSA proposal, but one point is making me think: What is different in the US compared to other countries like NZ, is that anyone can have a gun and take that with himself! And at this point I’m not skeptical beacuse of terrorists but because of passengers who may overreact in an argument with each other and make use of their gun(s) – endangering all other passengers when shooting holes into the aircraft’s hull for example!

  41. What is missing from this discussion is the point that nobody can get into the cockpit nowadays because it is locked. Remember the Germanwings crash. It’s almost impossible to breach.
    So, a 9-11 style hijacking is probably not going to happen. Given this, a 50-seat plane is indeed no more at risk than a bus.
    I support this plan — sure, it may make connections a bit harder — airlines would have to factor this in to their minimum-connecting times. But there is no question it would be more efficient.
    It would also enable the TSA to invest in more advanced equipment at bigger airports.

  42. If I understand this correctly:

    I leave from “small” airport, no security screening.
    I arrive at my connecting airport, and get screened?

    If so, then with connection times of 30-40 minutes or less, sometimes, I’d be surprised if I could get through screening and still make my flight (unless they’re going to massively up the staff, in which case, it would probably be a break-even or worse for the TSA)?

  43. I don’t think that there is any real tangible risk of air terror anymore. We are just wasting money and time with the TSA. This is where going back in time actually makes sense.

  44. I often go out of my little local airport; I like that because i can get in line 45 minutes before departure and not pay parking charges. We are airborne quickly. If I have to get to the other end and spend a lot of time in line for security I would have to have a lot longer layover, which is hard given the banking that is done by many airlines at hubs. I’d rather have a private security screening operation anyway not TSA.

  45. Australia does this for planes with MTOW 20T (up to around 30 seats). New Zealand also does this for bigger planes, as do places like Tahiti

    Although that said Australia is currently in the process of changing to require smaller planes to be screened. This is in response to about 4 people being killed in Australia from terrorism in the last 30 odd years, and a bombing plot which targeted an international flight out of Sydney (ie would have been totally unaffected by any increase in screening in tiny airports in the middle of nowhere). So a tiny percentage of people who have nothing better to worry about will feel better. Lots of small towns will likely lose their only air service or have it increased in price markedly. And the terrorists (if they even exist!) will have won without even needing to make a move

    We’re terrorising ourselves here, people!!

  46. I think it is a huge convenience. Last week I was in Iceland and I flew a domestic flight from AEY to RKV on a 37-seat Dash 8 Q200 and the airport didn’t have any sort of security check either. This allowed for the possibility to arrive 10min before departure just like at an FBO terminal. The increase of risk doesn’t bother me that much because such small planes are a comparatively bad target for a terrorist attack and terrorists could have way easier access to more crowded places.

  47. This is the TSA positioning itself for a budget increase. By suggesting they can’t afford this $115M, they’re hoping that congress will increase their funding by that amount.

  48. Although this sounds scary, I have left items in my carry-on that shouldn’t be allowed and TSA has missed all of them but 1 bottle of water. On my way to Spain in June, TSA agents at LAX somehow missed the cell phone I had forgotten that I stuck in my bra (I thought I put it in my backpack.) I was even hand searched and they STILL missed it. Maybe it won’t be so scary after all.

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