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TSA must cut lines at New York airports or be replaced

QUEENS, NY - JANUARY 20: Transportation Security Administration

QUEENS, NY - JANUARY 20: Transportation Security Administration K9 handler Melissa Ramos and her explosive detection dog Willie perform a demonstration at LaGuardia Airport on January 20, 2016 in the Queens Borough of New York City. Three explosive detection dogs, handled by TSA agents, performed an exercise during which they scanned passengers until finding a decoy placed in a passenger's bag. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images/Bryan Thomas

The inability of the Transportation Security Administration to effectively and efficiently screen travelers at New York’s major airports leaves little choice but to demand that the work be done by private business.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which operates LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports — officially complained to Washington last week about what most of us have been yelling about for years. The overall airport experience is dreadful, swinging from farce to intimidation as screeners miss too many prohibited items and long lines with waits of more than 20 to 25 minutes result in missed flights.

The letter from the authority said that between March 15 and April 15 there were 250 instances of people waiting more than 20 minutes at JFK. In the same period in 2015, there were only 10 such instances. And it’s not much better at the other two airports.

Nearly 15 years after 9/11, we must seriously consider whether the Port Authority should revert to the way screening was done before the terrorist attacks. The Federal Aviation Administration set the standards, and the bi-state agency hired security firms to do the work. That’s already the norm in more than a dozen big U.S. cities, Canada and most of Europe.

Federalizing the process after 9/11 meant more bureaucracy. The TSA needs congressional approval to pay for the new screeners and the overtime needed during busy summer months. Congress didn’t respond until last week, permitting the TSA to shift money between its accounts, and that action came only after travel groups asked passengers to tweet pictures of long screening lines.

In the short run, the lines still might be long. But passengers can help, too, by heeding the rules about what’s allowed on board, which personal items need to be placed in the box for imaging and how to take advantage of prescreening programs.

This summer will be the test. If the TSA can’t reduce passenger clearance time, it should take a hike.


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