Meanwhile, our alleged public servants notoriously fail every test of their abilities to find weapons and explosives, whether those tests are conducted by the TSA itself, other governmental agencies, or even college kids (remember Nathaniel Heatwole? He smuggled box-cutters, razor blades, and fake explosives past screeners onto six planes in 2003, then notified the TSA of "recent security breaches." The agency ignored him until maintenance crews found his caches).
Nonetheless, a few passengers--increasingly few, to be sure--insist they want the TSA pawing us before we board "their" flights. They are fond of posing a thought-game that goes something like this: Imagine two planes leaving for the same destination parked at two gates. Inside the terminal, a line leads to each plane. One queue passes through the TSA's checkpoint; the other goes directly to the gate--no search, no showing ID, nothing. Which do you choose?
Surprisingly, the TSA's scarce fans don't understand that this is almost precisely the scenario that should prevail. And if the airline itself rather than the TSA manages the checkpoint, the situation is perfect.
Security is a feature of many products, not just seats on airlines. For most of those products, entrepreneurs offer us varying levels of protection so that we can choose the one with which we're most comfortable. Purchasing a new PC? You, not Bill Gates--and certainly not a bureaucrat--decide which antivirus program will guard it. You may patronize a bank based partly on the location and safety of its ATMs. Burglar alarms for homes and automobiles provide everything from simple audible alerts to elaborate lock-down-and-disable systems.
Why can't aviation function the same way? Paranoid Airlines might promise its customers that every passenger and all the crew are strip-searched, then marched naked onto the plane to ensure no one smuggles a pair of fingernail clippers aboard. On the other hand, John Wayne Skies invites patrons to bring their Bowie knives with them, or even hands out box-cutters at the gate to discourage any would-be terrorists.
Aviation would present as many variations on security as any other industry, with passengers selecting what most pleases them. Rather than federal bureaucrats decreeing this aspect of our travels, we would choose for ourselves, just as we do in other areas.
Yep, this is unprecedented. Airlines have never been in complete control of their own security--which is largely why the terrorists succeeded on 9/11.
Politicians, not experts in aviation or its security, exploited a rash of skyjackings in the 1960s to put the notoriously inept Federal Aviation Administration in charge of security. Based on political considerations rather than research, the FAA introduced one absurdity after another, such as disarming passengers so they're defenseless against attackers; establishing checkpoints that did little beyond delay and inconvenience folks; dictating silly questions ("Did you pack your own bags?") on the presumption that though terrorists kill, they don't lie. This is what comes of entrusting safety to bureaucrats rather than to companies with multibillion-dollar inventories, highly trained employees and reputations at stake.
All the TSA did was bring that behind-the-wings control into the open--and add sexual assault to the FAA's incompetence.
Only the market, not politicians and bureaucrats, can protect aviation and satisfy passengers.