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Airport Security

TSA Considers Excluding Smaller Airports from Security Screenings

CNN reports that the TSA is contemplating eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the US, according to internal documents from a TSA working group. The agency currently screens passengers at 440 airports.

According to the report, “passengers and luggage arriving from these smaller airports would be screened when they arrive at major airports for connecting flights instead of the current practice of joining the already screened population at the larger airport. The high-volume airports have greater capacities and more advanced security measures than smaller locations, the documents say.”

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The documents say the move could save $115 million, which the agency could use to increase security measures at larger airports. They also acknowledge there would be a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” In other words, yes, this change could lead to a dangerous situation.

What Is TSA Thinking?

Let’s pause here for a second: The TSA wants to do what??? 

This is the same agency that has forced us to remove our shoes before flying for over a decade. That limits the quantity of jams and jellies people can bring in their carry-ons. The same agency that (maybe illegally) tracks unsuspecting, non-threatening U.S. citizens. And now it’s considering … less security? More specifically, getting rid of it completely, at one third of its airports? In order to get to those larger airports, would passengers then be boarding a plane totally unscreened?

In a statement, the agency deflected from the report without denying it outright:

There has been no decision to eliminate passenger screening at any federalized U.S. airport. TSA remains committed to its core mission to secure the Homeland by screening more than 2.5 million airline passengers per day. Every year as part of the federal budget process TSA is asked to discuss potential operational efficiencies—this year is no different. Any potential operational changes to better allocate limited taxpayer resources are simply part of predecisional discussions and deliberations and would not take place without a risk assessment to ensure the security of the aviation system.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello expanded on this, telling CNN: “This is not a new issue. The regulations which established TSA does not require screening below a certain level, so every year is ‘the year’ that TSA will reconsider screening.”

But according to CNN, “two TSA senior officials said the level of activity around the proposal this year—the formation of a working group to conduct a risk and cost analysis—mean this is more than an annual exercise.”

Will This Happen?

So yes, it does seem that the TSA is actually considering this. But while we don’t know how serious the idea is within the agency, it seems unthinkable—at least to most reasonable people—that the TSA would actually stop screenings altogether at certain airports. As CNN notes: “The concept of rolling back security at regional airports recalls the coordinated attacks that brought the TSA into existence.”

The proposal suggests that terrorists would be less likely to use smaller aircraft in some kind of attack. But it seems obvious that someone could use a small airplane to inflict damage, or exploit the complete lack of security to bring weapons onboard.

In short, this idea defies logic, and hopefully will never see the light of day. Airport security is an all or nothing game, and the TSA is better off focusing on technology that maintains the current baseline of safety while decreasing the inconvenience imposed on travelers.

Readers, do you think it’s a good idea to eliminate screening at small airports?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the About.com Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

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