WASHINGTON – Random security screening of people about to board planes could be phased out next year as Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy tries to make air travel less burdensome.
As better-paid, better-trained federal workers take over at airport security checkpoints, there is less need for an additional layer of security at the gate, TSA officials say. The deadline for all commercial airports to have federal screeners is Nov. 19.
Once all the federal screeners are in place, Loy wants to start phasing out the random searches on an airport-by-airport basis, TSA spokesman Robert Johnson said Monday.
Paul Hudson, executive director of the advocacy group Aviation Consumer Action Project, said he's alarmed by what Loy is proposing.
"The best security involves multiple layers, where you have backups and backups to backups,'' Hudson said. If the random gate screening is eliminated, "you're saying there's only one check and that's at the main security gate.''
A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, said the random checks are unnecessary.
"Random gate screening doesn't really add any additional measure of security,'' Michael Wascom said via cell phone from Tampa International Airport, where he was about to be screened at the gate. He said more sophisticated passenger and baggage screening makes random gate screening unnecessary.
Loy, who became head of the TSA after his predecessor was accused of ignoring passenger convenience, said he wants to balance security with customer service. He has already gotten rid of the requirement that passengers be asked questions about whether they have kept a close eye on their baggage. He has also decided to allow passengers to carry drinks through security checkpoints. He calls the random gate screenings "hassle checks.''
The TSA won't say how passengers are singled out for the random checks, citing security concerns. Hudson, a member of the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Security Advisory Committee, said 5 percent to 10 percent of an aircraft's passengers are screened through profiling and random checks.