Wednesday, July 23, 2008

airport abuse

CBS 2 has an article about complaints about airport screeners (link from Instapundit). They describe what sound like some pretty abusive incidents. However, the TSA only answers with this:
A spokesman said that out of 2 billion passengers screened nationwide since 9-11, there have been only 110,000 abuse complaints.
What does that mean? 110,000 complaints sounds like a hell of a lot of complaints. Sure, it's a small fraction of the total screened, but what is a reasonable number for things like this? Keep in mind that most of those screened just take off their shoes and belt and walk though the metal detector. What percent of those taken aside for special attention complain? What percentage of complaints do police from interactions with the public? What percentage do private security guards get? Is the TSA number high or low with respect to these similar professions? And are there certain screeners who get a lot more complaints than others?

And of course those who face only minor abuse won't bother to complain because we all know that such complaints will be ignored. I once had a Swiss Army knife taken from me. The knife blade was only an inch long and it was utterly useless as a weapon. And it had some sentimental value to me --but that didn't matter, I was forced to give it up anyway. But I didn't fill out a complaint form because I knew that it would do no good whatsoever. It can be assumed that most of these complaints were by people who felt that their own experiences were unusually abusive --bad enough to be worth trying to do something about.

And of these complaints, what percentage of them were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainers? If it's 0, and I suspect it is, then this would mean that all 110,000 complainers have been lying or over-reacting. So, what's more probable: that there are 110,000 people who falsely claimed to have suffered unusual levels of abuse from airport screeners, or that some airport screeners are abusing people?

Let me try to imagine myself as the sort of pervert who would get a thrill out of feeling up random women (this requires less imagination than you might think). Let me imagine further that I'm poorly educated, so that I can't get a good-enough job to pay strippers to let me feel them up. Then what kind of job might I look for? Obviously, I would want to be a male cheerleader (and people think George Bush is dumb). But let us suppose also that I'm too masculine to wear tights (another one I can easily imagine) and that I'm not particularly concerned whether these random women are amenable to the feeling up. Then what job should I go for? I'd say a TSA screener is just the job I want.

Now, I've probably just described a couple of million American men. What are the odds that none of them have managed to get jobs as TSA screeners? My concern is that the TSA does not take this possibility seriously, and that they don't take seriously the other character flaws that may lead people to want to be screeners, or that screeners just might randomly have: irrational hostility to certain people, a Napoleon complex, vindictiveness --there are a lot of flawed people who would be abusive in a roll like that of a TSA screener but I get the impression that the TSA is far more concerned with suppressing any uprising of sentiment against them and their jobs than they are at protecting the passengers from abuse. And so far, the TSA has done nothing --nothing at all-- to relieve this fear.

This attitude of the TSA has cost the airlines several thousand dollars of my money over the last few years. I've skipped trips that I normally would have taken, and driven when I normally would have flown, just because airport security has become so obnoxious. And I can't be that unusual. Why isn't the air industry concerned about this?

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