Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 13, 2004

Security Lines Shorter at ABQ?

SANTA FE – There may be hope that the Transportation Security Administration is cleaning up its act at the Albuquerque airport.
On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest air travel day of the year, TSA reports that no person had to wait longer than eight minutes and that the average wait was 2.5 minutes. That is much better than the 90-minute waits, and sometimes longer, many of us have had to endure on normal air traffic days.
TSA attributed the improvement to eleven management personnel working the lines and the addition of one extra lane. That’s a pretty big improvement for such a small tweak. Possibly the fact that cameras from Albuquerque television stations were on hand to film the expected disaster had something to do with the improvement.
Now that the TV cameras are gone, have the snake lines all over the upper and lower concourse also disappeared? Several readers have reported that the posts and ribbons weren’t present the last time they were through the airport.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman tells me he had a meeting with TSA officials in Washington a week after Thanksgiving and was assured the problems had been ironed out and that things are going very smoothly. The senator says that when he went through the airport after Thanksgiving, there were no lines.
TSA officials told Bingaman there is now new management in Albuquerque and that seems to have made all the difference.
A few months ago, Bingaman was caught in one of those 90-minute lines, after which he fired off a stormy letter to Washington TSA officials. Evidently the problem was solved just before the Thanksgiving crush and 15 additional screeners will be hired and trained before the Christmas season.
But just in case, TSA is recommending that passengers continue to allow 90 minutes to get through security. That sounds ominous. Maybe they still aren’t completely confident they have their problems solved. If you have a problem, please let this column know. You can also contact Sen. Bingaman’s regional office nearest you.
Obviously there have been times since TSA took over airport security that the wait at Albuquerque has not been bad. Bob Trapp, owner and publisher of the Rio Grande Sun in Espanola, says he has never had a problem in Albuquerque and named a few other airports around the country that are much worse.
My guess is that all airports have long waits at one time or another. The quality of management and employees is likely not to be too different anywhere. Poor training also is a problem. When employees aren’t sure how to handle an unusual situation, they likely will overreact because it has been drummed into their heads that anyone may be a terrorist. And they can’t profile.
The government’s strategy must be that harassing the taxpayers will make us feel our government is keeping us safe. The reality is that no amount of harassment or vigilance will prevent future terrorist acts. Some risks come with living in a free and open environment and they aren’t very big.
There is an extremely small risk that you may be the one affected, but we face many greater risks every day. For example, if you decide to avoid the long security lines and drive to your destination instead, your life is in much more danger than if you get on the plane.
The media is also at fault because threats of tragedy are big news. An “investigative” report on an Albuquerque TV station attempted to shock us with the news that Mesa Airlines, a small regional carrier, was not screening its passengers in Albuquerque.
TSA responded that because the threat level is so small, the screening isn’t warranted. Finally, a realistic assessment by TSA. But the Albuquerque TV station treated it as a horrible scandal it had uncovered and promised to stay on top of it.


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