Exempt from TSA: The VIP Airport Treatment Ted Cruz Wants for Politicians To Cost Up To $500 Million Per Year

Ted Cruz’s amendment to exempt top politicians from standard airport security made it into the Senate’s final FAA reauthorization bill.

Members of Congress, Cabinet Secretaries, and federal judges who have received any threats (and they almost all receive threats at some point) are to receive an escort for their entire journey through commercial airports and won’t be required to go through normal screening – instead receiving private screening.

TSA has estimated the cost of letting politicians, their families, and two accompanying staff members opt out is public security and providing them VIP secure escort throughout their airport experience:

  • $11 – $55 million per year if undertaken by TSA
  • $112 – $527 million per year if undertaken by federal air marshals

Airports and airport police say that the requirement to afford private screenings and escorts to politicians distracts them from airport security and safety duties.

In the past, Senator Cruz has shown up late for the airport and missed his flight, without special services, declaring “don’t you know who I am?”

Famously, Senate Cruz flew to Cancun when his home state’s power grid failed and residents experienced widespread outages for days (people died). The photographs of him were a huge political blunder. Avoiding public areas of airports would keep him out of the spotlight when he flies.

Ted Cruz at Mexican immigration

Cruz says that politicians (and other high ranking officials) need this for security, but:

  • airports are generally more secure than other public spaces where our betters spend time
  • there’s no meaningful history of attacks taking place in airports, where myriad law enforcement agencies already have a strong presence and where members of the public go through security searches themselves

Commercial airports are among the last places where politicians need greater protection – protection that isn’t provided to ordinary citizens under active threat.

Politicians need to eat their own dog food. Until they stand in long security lines, go through the shoe carnival, and have their water bottles confiscated they’re not in a position to exercise their oversight obligations of the federal Transportation Security Agency. And since airports in the U.S. are generally owned by governments, and receive federal funding, they should experience those airports the same way their constituents do.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Stir up people with hate and you get violence back. Anyway it isn’t their money.

  2. So let me see if I have this correct; politicians don’t want to do what they force the flying public to have to do.

  3. Spot on, Gary, “Politicians need to eat their own dog food”. Really getting tired of this: The TSA thing is pretty benign compared to the Exemption from Obamacare and FISA, but all of it is outrageous. Knew we could count on @Drrichard stirring up hate as always, that’s getting tiresome too.

  4. Leave Señior Cruz alone. Houston to Cancun is about as far as NYC to Atlanta.

    I’m all for keeping US congress safe when traveling on both sides of the aisle. Half a billion is nothing .

  5. It is true that Ted Cruz proposed this but the blood is on all other senators’ hands if they vote for it.

  6. Oh right I’m stirring up hate; “Very good people” at Charlottesville gave a pass to the neo-Nazis. “Mexican rapists” was a lovely way to begin a campaign, and “Chinese flu” did wonders for Asian-American relations. Oh, and telling the Brown shirt wannabees, “stand around”. There are of course many other highlights here, but hey I’m just reporting what a thug in the White House tapped into, with his stooges in Congress making even worse. And then they are surprised when those who can’t control themselves or think rationally, and have easy access to guns, take that as permission to get really nasty.

  7. TSA will probably go along with the special screening but they will refuse to accompany the politicians or their families through the entire airport process. That is why the higher up to $500M costs are likely.

  8. Gary.. as I tried to share before; no need for TSA ‘escorts’. Just embrace the BigBear.ai system that Pangiam (they acquired) is rolling out NOW in New York, Atlanta, Detroit and LAX. It’s Delta ‘Digital ID’ and it combines with BigBear’s new algorithm for scanning TSA carry-on’s so as to avoid any agent routinely even looking at the CT / X-ray screens. It’s also in pilot testing at AMS (presumably for KLM / Delta there). So no need to treat Senators ‘special’; treat all of us ‘special’ with rapid screening and boarding (Al Roker of NBC’s Today show demonstrated how he got through security and boarded Delta in less than 2 minutes using the BigBear / Delta Digital ID system. Check on it.

  9. @drrichard … There was a New Yorker cartoon from 1957 . A British sahib with a white pith helmet on safari , encountered a witch doctor with a tall mask , a spear , and a leg bone club , with a cauldron of boiling bugs and rats , and the sahib greeted the witch doctor : “”Pleased to meet you … I am a doctor also ” . Today the watch doctor would be an illegal alien sneaking across the English channel , and the sahib would be a border guard welcoming him with a free lunch .

  10. I honestly don’t have a problem with this regardless of the politician’s party. I’m not a fan of AOC or Bernie (or really Cruz) but IMHO high profile individuals that may be the target of threats or protests should get special security clearance and protection. This is a minor rounding error in the overall budget and there are plenty of other places that could be easily cut if necessary to cover it.

    I expect this will have wide bipartisan support.

  11. We need a new law that prohibits any politician from being exempt from any law or mandate.

  12. @AC: Meh, there’s 100 US Senators and 430-435 US Representatives at any given time, we have spares. One Senator going though an airport doesn’t need any protection. (If we’re really worried about the security of our politicians, things like Senator vs Senator baseball games would seem to be a much larger issue.)

  13. Politicians deserve more scrutiny not less. At the Capitol many are defying the security lines there as well. Maker of laws seem to be the biggest breaker of the laws.

  14. Enough with the “Rules for thee, but not for me”, mentality. Security is for everyone and Ted Cruz and all the rest of them are no different. I might go with let him go to the front of the line but no exemptions for anyone. Let him hire a private plane or do what everyone else has to do.

  15. How many rich blokes have paid “hush” money over the centuries ? Answer : millions .

    How many have been prosecuted for doing so ? Answer : only one – Trump .

    Why only this one ? Answer : because he vows to stop an illegal alien invasion . Sad .

  16. Cruz is just mad he never made it to the Supreme Court where you don’t have to fly commercial anymore (as long as you’re a “conservative” anyway.)

  17. FAMs should be retired. they’re not doing anything productive and pax still don’t ignore the threat if one approaches the cockpit door.

    And a snowflake like Ted would want some stupidly expensive program to hold his hand when he flies to Cancun to avoid power outages.

  18. Gary, I’ll say it again: You’ve built a sensational Travel Blog, and @Drrichard is destroying it with unmitigated hate. Please provide a way to either censor him or allow us to mute him.

  19. By insisting on more security in the airport, Senator Cruz is implicitly saying that his views are not shared by a majority of the public. If they were, people would gladly give him their places in line. Maybe the 2020 election was rigged to show Republicans as stronger than they really are–and Trump is mad because his people didn’t cheat enough.

  20. Gary, when was the last time any congress person was attacked in an airport or the surrounding environment?

  21. The funny thing is, as a former 20yr TSA leader, I can tell you that the airlines themselves have VIP programs that our “famously popular” senator can use. TSA even has a program in place called TSA cares where they already do exactly what he is asking for. It does not need to be a law. In essence, the airlines at any time can escort a VIP “though” security and stay with them until they board. They even have private rooms in the various clubs to host these folks to keep them out of view. The TSA provides private screening (for anyone that asks) to keep the “camera’s at bay and I have personally been part of this in the past. Ironic that they provide this service for famous writers, singers, athletes, and actors, not politicians I suppose. lol For TSA cares, I have been part of that as well and regardless of who you are, you can be escorted from your car, through ticketing, security, even grab a snack, all the way to the plane where they will wait and make sure the plane departs before they end the escort. This is usually reserved for persons with special needs but there are no prerequisites and anyone can contact them and get this very treatment. I would challenge our website host to try it sometime and write about it.

  22. @Pakmann2k … +1 . Yep … no need for a special law … they already do it in USA . Whilst exiting Israel , Everyone , no matter who they are , is invited to answer a few questions … as it ought to be . Israel has the right idea about many subjects .

  23. @parkman good info. And yeah this doesn’t need to be codified into law for lawmakers. Of all the places to be worried about personal safety an airport checkpoint is near the bottom of the list. This is about his own wanting to skip the line not his safety.

    Seems there’s no specific rule on what kind of assistance is needed via TSA Cares. Here’s the question on the form…

    * Describe the type of screening assistance you need at the checkpoint. If the request is for a child, please provide their age. See below for examples of information to include:

    I have difficulty following instructions due to a disability or medical condition
    I have mobility limitations including difficulty standing, walking or lifting my arms
    I use mobility aids or support devices
    I have internal/external devices or other concerns that may affect my ability to use screening technology
    I am traveling with medically necessary liquids, gels, aerosols over 3.4oz
    I am traveling with a child who has a disability, medical condition, or is transgender
    I am traveling with a service animal
    I have difficulty understanding and communicating in English
    I am traveling with religious or cultural items
    I wear religious headwear or clothing
    I am a Tribal traveler with cultural, sacred, spiritual items and/or ceremonial regalia and headdress.
    I have concerns regarding screening for transgender and gender diverse individuals
    I am traveling with crematory ashes

  24. Despicable man! Spineless, sorry excuse of a human being! His humiliating actions since he has been in the Congress were appalling! And now this? When will the people of Texas finally fire him? Please show some decency and get rid of him this November! And Texans! Unrelated to this subject, but please, get rid of your attorney general Dan Paxton also. He is even more disgusting!
    Hey Gary, as a resident of Texas, as a father, husband, how can you justify your representatives of such? Not everything in life is about money, power! I do not know how you vote, of course. But I have my predictions about the way you swing politically! Isn’t it time to say no to these guys from the very top to the local level?

  25. I hope Colin Alred pummels Cruz relentlessly over this. Nothing could be better for the state of Texas than to vote this d*uchebag out of office.

  26. @Pakmann2k: There’s a reason the program is full of celebrities and no politicians: Congresscritters may not accept a service like TSA Cares, or any other favorable treatment from the airline not available to a similarly situated person who is not a Congresscritter, for the same reason they can’t accept 1st class seats they didn’t pay for / get through the same frequent flyer program everyone else has access to.

  27. @Mets Fan I thought the myth about Congress being exempt from Obamacare died a long time ago. Not only is that not true, the law explicitly states that members of Congress and their staff *must* buy a plan on an exchange.

  28. @Alien – Trump is not on trial for paying hush money (which is not a crime), he’s on trial for falsifying business records in connection with the payment. That became a felony because it was done in conjunction with the illegal use of campaign funds.

  29. @Christopher Raehl I don’t know, I was simply addressing the myth of them being exempt from the law. They’re subject to the same laws, so I suspect the answer to your question would be the same regardless of who it was asked of.

  30. Reduce the House and Senator’s payroll by the cost and then let’s see what is left over to pay for this.

    There are more important things in the country to pay for then Ted to get VIP treatment at the airport.

  31. Isn’t this the same guy that wants to make life miserable for everyone by turning our kids’ schools into fully armed militarised zones, with checkpoints and all?

    But but then that’s too inconvenient for him, So he wants our taxes to go up to pay for this?

    Seriously, vote him out ASAP.

  32. How come your article didn’t include how much it costs Nancy Pelosi or many other politicians, that fly private? What does that cost the taxpayer?? But of course, your left wing bias is evident in the article.

  33. Everyone needs to go through the same TSA procedures. How else will they know what the average person goes through?

Comments are closed.