Phoenix airport threatens to kick out TSA, hire private (unaccountable) contractors

The administrators of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport are apparently considering getting rid of the TSA and replacing them with private contractors, similar to the setup at San Francisco International Airport.

The frustration with the TSA comes as the agency has been allowing security lines to grow to three hours long, with no end in sight, apparently in a political game to secure more funding and drive more fliers to sign up for Precheck, which helps fund the agency's operations.

The breaking point was a TSA technical error that caused 3,000 checked bags to be stuck at PHX last Thursday, with airline ground crews complaining that the TSA had "No Plan B" for technical failures.

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The TSA loses 100 screeners a week to attrition, and it's easy to see why. It's harder to imagine a job that would demoralize someone faster.

If Phoenix switches to private screeners, the situation won't necessarily be any better. Private screeners like the ones at SFO lack even the minimal accountability of the TSA, falling outside some Freedom of Information boundaries. I had a brand new camera smashed by a private screener at an SFO checkpoint and discovered that they were fully immunized from any liability for mishandling passenger property.

"We write in the wake of reports of staggeringly long lines expected this summer at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoints in airports across the country," wrote Sen. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut.

"We call on airlines to take a smart, common sense step to help thwart this growing problem: stop charging checked bag fees during the coming summer months, the busiest travel season of the year," they wrote.

Since checked baggage fees were a response to the burgeoning fuel costs of 2008, the senators argued, the current decline in oil prices should allow airlines to safely drop them now. The senators wrote that while this would not be a "panacea," it might temporarily ease the strain on airports as passengers would be de-incentivized to overpack large carry-ons that extend the wait times at security checkpoints.

Is Phoenix airport opting out of the TSA? [Lucy Schouten/Christian Science Monitor]

(Image: TSA are you f***ing kidding me? , Sean H)