Orlando’s Airport Considers Kicking Out the TSA

Orlando International Airport is considering moving to private screeners in place of the TSA. The TSA will hold briefings today saying “that TSA screeners have performed well, received high marks from travelers” and that poor performance is the airport’s fault for not giving them enough room to work.

“We need the airport to provide space for 19 additional lanes to process people in an even more timely manner,” said Jerry Henderson, a TSA federal security director. “But even working with this extreme deficit in space, TSA’s operation at Orlando International is the most efficient TSA screening operation in the nation.”

Remember though that TSA performance is awful. The TSA has failed to meaningfully detect dangerous items going through the checkpoint for years. Their 95% failure rate isn’t new. Ten years ago it was a 91% failure rate. So the TSA isn’t getting better.

TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Tocqueville)

But thanks to the Screening Partnership Program — which the TSA and its union has fought to keep limited — we have evidence of exactly how private screening under current rules (which should themselves be improved) work. San Francisco and Kansas City airports have had private screeners since the creation of TSA.

A TSA commissioned study found that private screening in US airports was “as good as or better than” TSA screening. A 2011 Congressional study compared screeners at SFO (private) with those at LAX (TSA).

Comparing private screening at SFO with TSA screening at LAX, they found that because the private SFO screeners process 65% more passengers per screener than TSA screeners at LAX, switching to private screening at LAX would require 867 fewer screeners there, at annual savings of $33 million. This study also found the screener attrition rate to be 60% greater at LAX (13.8%) than at SFO (8.7%), which also drives up costs (and may slow down lanes as newbies learn the ropes after training).

Screening companies have more staff flexibility – can staff up for peak periods “rather than having too many full-timers with nothing to do at non-peak times.” They can “match screener staffing levels to passenger traffic levels, both seasonally and during each day’s peaks and valleys.”

Efficiency arguments aside we need this for accountability. It’s important to separate safety regulation from screening. The TSA shouldn’t be supervising itself. They should be focused on setting standards and monitoring compliance, and shouldn’t be certifying and monitoring themselves. TSA as its own regulator creates conflict and it creates poor performance.

And by the way all screening in Canada is done by government-certified screening companies while most large airports in Europe have government-certified screening companies manning their checkpoints. It’s how screening is done.

There’s plenty of evidence that:

  • The TSA performs badly, has for years, and is not getting any better.
  • Separating oversight from provision of services is better for security, efficiency, and customer service.
  • And all we have to do to see it — not just in other elements of government activity but even directly in screening — is look at airports that have screening companies, here in the U.S., in Canada, and in Europe.

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. Good riddance to the TSA at MCO. I have significant family ties to the Central Florida area and fly into/out of MCO often. It’s down right terrible. I firmly believe a huge part of the problem are the travelers at MCO (in addition to the terrible TSA employees) who are never prepared to go through screening, have a huge family with four strollers, are elderly, or just clearly not used to TSA procedures. Even with pre-check, it is by far the consistently worst TSA experiences I have.

    For example, a few months ago I flew to/from MCO. I was leaving from Airside 3 (Gates 30-59) and wanted to go to the Club MCO at Airside 2 (Gates 1-29). You pass through security and then select either Airside 2 or 3 trains. Well, they are working on a train replacement, no big deal. So I go to the lounge, take the train back to the post security area to hop on the other Airside 3 train, well low and behold, I was almost arrested by TSA because they have these stupid barriers up (for no reason) and I hoped on the train through the exit side instead of the enter side. I’m not explaining this well, but there is literally no reason for the TSA to block this access. Instead of allowing me to stay on the train, granted having waited 20 mins in pre check already, they escorted me out and I had to go through security again – for no reason. Thankfully, Priority Pass has note on their website to this effect now (alerting pax that you can’t access unlike the usual procedures).

    Sorry for the long rant, but I’m with MCO on this one — get rid of the TSA.

  2. I’ve flown out of MCO 3 times and it was hands down the longest lines I’ve ever experienced. It’s something I think about before planning another trip to MCO are those long lines.
    TSA usually has people standing around doing nothing. They’ll have only 1 line open when they could have 3 lines open. They seem to like to have as many lines closed as possible.

  3. I asked TSA and MCO about the inability to go between the two sets of airside gates. Here’s the explanation they gave me via Twitter. https://goo.gl/xGhaCz
    “During int’l flight arrivals at gates 1-29, it’s possible that you will have to pass through security again. This is a precaution that is to prevent ability for nonscreened int’l arrivals from accessing secure areas. Thanks for understanding & sorry for the inconvenience.”

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the TSA checkpoint in Orlando. The airport and TSA seem to have this back and forth every few years. In the past they’ve decided that it would be too expensive to not use the TSA screeners. We’ll see what happens this time.

  4. I’ll echo the other commenters – MCO is the worst in the US that I regularly fly out of. I can’t totally blame TSA, as the airport just does NOT have room for the security lines there – they’d have to tear down a lot of restaurants and shops to expand as much as they really need; and the percentage of family/inexperienced travelers there may be the highest in the country, based on my anecdotal observations. Given that, TSA is not good here – i had the same issues with changing from one train to another as A mentions above – no reason at all for the barriers, but they made me completely exit security and come back through a 45 minute line in order to go to the other half of B side. God forbid anyone transited through MCO and needed to go from B to A terminals – as far as I know there’s no way to do it without going back through screening which certainly doesn’t serve the traveling public well. Come on, MCO, start trying to make the passenger experience there good enough that people won’t want to avoid you!

  5. I’ve missed my flight because of TSA because I was traveling with kids and they had to check every bottled fluid (toddler juice) I was carrying :/ … So, this is a great step in the right direction.

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