Last updated: 09:12 AM ET, Tue May 10 2016

Port Authority Threatens To Replace TSA

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | May 10, 2016

Port Authority Threatens To Replace TSA

PHOTO: Lines winding toward security at JFK airport. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is threatening to replace the TSA at New York City’s main airports if the security agency fails to reduce wait times. 

The organization that oversees LaGuardia, Newark and JFK airports sent a strongly worded letter to the TSA. In the note, it complains about long checkpoint wait times leading to missed flights for passengers or causing delays for airlines. The Port Authority then says that it could replace the federal aviation security agency with private contractors if things do not improve: “We can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of the TSA passenger services.”  

The TSA, for its part, has said that it is trying to overcome staffing and budget problems. The current issues stem from an ill-timed downsizing move that was a response to budget cuts. The agency has also attempted to get more people to sign up for its PreCheck program by hiring a third party to complete the application process and conduct the requisite face-to-face interviews. Even with these changes, not enough people have signed up for the program. 

READ MORE: Will TSA PreCheck's Underwhelming Popularity Lead to Airport Congestion Nightmares?

A change to private screeners would be not be unprecedented. San Francisco International has, along with a number of smaller airports, already made the move to government-approved private security firms. 

What is the difference between the TSA and a private contractor? Both public and private security screeners have to follow government-mandated procedures. The difference is that private contractors would actually be able to operate for less money than the TSA. 

One would hope that private firms would also offer a friendlier face to fliers. Though they are highly specialized, such firms could be replaced by an airport if they inspire too many complaints from passengers. Training or hiring screeners with basic customer service skills would be a way to keep the complaints to a minimum. 

The Port Authority is not the only one threatening to go private with its security. Hartsfield Jackson has been giving similar ultimatums. The bad news for people who think privatizing security is a good idea is that the Atlanta airport has not yet acted on this threat. In fact, it is now trying to install new screening equipment at one of its checkpoints to deal with the coming summertime rush, and it has said that it might hire contractors to help the understaffed TSA.   

READ MORE: TSA Working to Shorten Wait Times At Airports 

Airlines, for their part, are lobbying for a change. The latest effort is a campaign launched at This site encourages passengers to vent their frustrations on social media and to warn others of excessive wait times at airports.  

Efforts like this could create more calls for privatization, but either New York or Atlanta would have to follow through with their threats to remove the TSA before other major airports decide it is time to dump the agency. 

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