David Cogswell | June 16, 2015 2:45 PM ET
Airline Security, a Great American Tradition
You always have to take polls and surveys with a large grain of salt. Even with the best intentions, statistics can be very misleading.
The Travel Leaders Group recently published the results of a poll that said that 88.4 percent of respondents indicated they are “satisfied or remain neutral on the current security measures at airports across the country.”
Wow! That really aroused my curiosity. Eighty-eight percent is a huge majority. Hardly anything is ever agreed upon by 88 percent of the American public. But according to this poll of a sample of 3,371 Americans, that vast majority is “satisfied or neutral” about airline security measures.
According to Travel Leaders, "Americans are quite content with today’s airport security," evoking images of vast multitudes of happy, satisfied people.
This comes on the heels of reports that in 95 percent of their attempts, “undercover agents were able to smuggle fake explosives and other banned items and weapons past TSA screeners,” according to a report by TravelPulse’s Rich Thomaselli.
Ninety-five percent is another very high percentage! To quote George Harrison’s song “Taxman,” “that’s one for you 19 for me.”
That is pretty much striking out. Nineteen times out of 20, the TSA missed the weapons and explosives being smuggled onto aircraft. That is almost the same as total ineffectiveness. How amateurish can a terrorist, criminal or just plain lunatic be and still get a bomb or weapon through that kind of screening?
In another report within a week of the other we saw that “Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report found that the TSA failed to identify 73 aviation employees with links to terrorism who have active clearance badges.”
I guess that shouldn’t trouble us too much. What kinds of “links to terrorism” are we talking about anyway? According to The Huffington Post you can be placed on a terrorist watch list by posting something rancorous on Facebook.
According to the Huffington Post, "In 2013 alone, 468,749 watch-list nominations were submitted to the National Counterterrorism Center. It rejected only 1 percent of the recommendations." More than 1.5 million have been added to the list in the last five years.
There are so many questions. We of course have no idea how many of the respondents to the Travel Leaders poll had heard the news about the near total ineffectiveness of the security screening system.
The story was well covered, but in these days in which we are all awash in a constant flood of media messages and images, there is far too much for any one person to keep up with. It could well be that most of the people surveyed had not heard the reports that discredited the TSA’s efforts to improve security on airplanes.
If they did, or to whatever extent they did hear those reports, it raises other questions.
Actually the figure of 88.4 percent who were “satisfied or neutral” breaks down into two separate categories: 65.8 percent who were “satisfied” and 22.6 percent who were “neither satisfied nor unsatisfied.”
Being satisfied is very different from being neutral.
“Neutral” in a poll means very little in itself. Neutral means no opinion. Every poll has its neutrals, its “don’t know” or “don’t care” people. America is full of apathetic people who “don’t know” or “don’t care” about these or other issues.
“Neutral” is about the same as “no answer.” Duds. These are people we called who had nothing to contribute to our study.
Still, to see even 65.8 percent saying they were satisfied with airline security is rather amazing. If they did know that the TSA has been shown by the government itself to be almost completely ineffective in carrying out its mandate, then we would have to look beyond that to find the source of satisfaction of travelers.
Could that mean that travelers have become fond of the airline security ritual itself?
Do they now just enjoy the experience of going through the security checkpoints, taking off their coats and belts and shoes, taking their laptops out of their bags and placing them in the trays, taking everything out of their pockets, walking into the scanner and holding their hands up above their heads in a gesture of submission, those silent, intimate moments undressing with people you don’t know, then getting through to the other side and being able to dress again? Perhaps this ritual itself has become a pleasant, comforting routine for travelers.
Maybe they like giving up their bottle of tequila and their nail clippers. Maybe they think those items will go to someone who really needs them, like one of the TSA workers who makes $25,518 a year to take on the responsibility of keeping America’s skies safe.
Maybe the respondents who answered that they were satisfied just meant, “it could be worse.” Or maybe they meant to say, “Please, don’t increase it. Just leave it alone. We’re used to it now.”
After all it has been worse. Right after 9/11 when the new security rules were first put into effect, it added hours to travel times. That time has been reduced a great deal. Maybe those who say they are satisfied are just happy that it’s less of a hassle than it used to be.
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