TSA vs Privatized Screening

The issue with privatized screening is very interesting and very misunderstood by the public. Pre 9/11, the screening was given to private companies who were contracted by the airlines at the lowest bidder. The standards were “upheld” by the FAA and those standards were far below the international standard for screeners in terms of qualifications, performance and training.

Post 9/11, the TSA took over screening at most, but not all, U.S. airports. There were 5 airports that continued to use private screening companies under a model known as the Screening Partnership Program,  more commonly known as “opt-out.” Those 5 airports continue to use private companies to this day and an additional 12 airports have opted out of TSA screeners since 2005. The reason most given for airports saying goodbye to TSA is customer service and waiting times.

This issue is coming back to the forefront today as TSA is on it’s 10th or 12th iteration of the Screener Allocation Model (SAM), which is their attempt at matching airport passenger flows with the amount of screeners that are assigned. However, the industry is seeing the failure of TSA in many areas to do this matching, whereas the private airports seem to have it down. Many of us in the industry expect to see even more airports opting out of TSA screeners in favor of private companies in the near future.

As for whether private companies are better or worse, it’s hard to tell, but here is some information to help consumers figure out if they are “safer.”

  1. Much of the world uses private screeners at their airports including Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, and at London’s Heathrow airport. However, pre and post 9/11 these screeners were held to much higher standards than in the U.S. Since Israel is often pushed up as the “model” for airport security, I think it’s interesting to know that they rely on private screeners at the checkpoints.
  2. The GAO reports that in classified testing, the detection rate is about the same for TSA and private screeners.
  3. The “contract” model has changed. The airlines no longer have a say. If an airport goes private, TSA puts out an RFP and makes the selection. The screening company must then meet or exceed the TSA screening standards and the contract is managed by the TSA.
  4. Post 9/11, failed screening was pointed to as the reason 9/11 happened. There is debate on this as the items that the hijackers apparently used were allowed on aircraft pre 9/11. However, there is some debate about whether the hijackers used tear gas, which was not approved to be on a U.S. aircraft at the time. Regardless, many in the U.S. felt that screening was in need of a long overdue overhaul, and thus, wrapped up those changes in the post 9/11 legislation.

To read more on a related article, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11632944)

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