Yesterday I went to the airport, dreading the choice between a full-body scan or a full-body pat-down. I arrived more than two hours early. I was expecting long lines, large crowds, and a testy atmosphere; neither passengers nor TSA employees seem to enjoy the new security procedures.
After checking in with my airline, I walked down to the dreaded security line, ticket and driver’s license in hand. The line was suprisingly short. DC is a transient city. About 40 percent of the region’s population is originally from somewhere else. That means more people fly out for the holidays than in other areas. But security was a breeze! What was going on?
As it turns out, just for that busy day, the TSA decided to revert back to the old shoes-and-metal-detectors policy at many airports. No scanners. No pat-downs. At least not that day. After I went through the metal detector, put my shoes back on, and found a seat near my gate, I saw on the news that this was happening nationwide.
Not every airport eased up. Some people still had to choose between the two indignities. But the planned opt-out protests seemed to fizzle out, mainly because most people didn’t have to.
The TSA did the right thing. It doesn’t need the scanners. It doesn’t need the pat-downs. Unfortunately, it did the right thing for the wrong reasons.
If scanners and pat-downs really are about safety, TSA would have stuck to its guns. No, they are about security theater. And PR is one of the most important aspects of this theatrical production.
The opt-out protests were a PR disaster waiting to happen. How many John Tyners would be born that day? Better to not even give them the chance. Then reinstate the scanners when popular fury dies down.
It worked. This morning’s headlines are screaming about TSA protests fizzling, or disappointing, and the like. That’s because TSA took away the opportunity for anything to be protested.
Worth noting: even without the scanners and pat-downs, there were no terrorist attacks. This is because terrorism is rare. I look forward to the day when we have an adult security policy that reflects that reality.
Now we shall see if I have to endure the scanner-or-pat-down Hobson’s choice on my return flight.