You’d better allow extra time at the airport.
In this morning’s news, we are told that our TSA screeners will be lavishing extra attention on a long list of items that have nothing in common except batteries. In fact, be prepared to drag everything battery powered out of your carry on bag: not just the laptop computer, but also the camera, the flash for your camera, CD player, cell phone, any radio more complicated than AM/FM, and even the remote key-fob for your car. In short, every single person in the security line will have at least one thing that requires additional scrutiny by your friendly screener. What a fabulous opportunity for thievery! A cornucopia of electronic gadgets, some of them quite pricey, temporarily separated from the direct scrutiny of a traveler who is really more concerned with getting his shoes back on. Lets not forget that although your friendly TSA screener is now a federal employee, he is not required to pass a civil service exam. Indeed, he is not even required to have a high school diploma. Furthermore, “airports wouldn’t put up with waits that last more than 10 minutes, the standard the government has set for its screeners.” So, the screener, who may or may not actually be able to read the manual of any of the devices in question (even if you happened to carry such paperwork), will be rapidly sorting through vast piles of gizmos with the goal of sorting you into the “get out of my way now” line to the terminal and the “wait here for in depth screening by someone who will assume you are a terrorist until you prove otherwise” line. He does not care when your flight takes off. He does not care that you are clearly on your way to an important meeting, or clearly on the way to see your grandchildren. He does not care that the gadget he is mangling or outright confiscating is perfectly normal and perhaps required for your livelihood. Screening silliness has spawned a plethora of anecdotes and websites.
Business travelers should not put up with this. Indeed, they can’t afford to put up with it. A 3 hour flight already means losing an executive all day. And what if his luggage is lost, or destroyed during the “inspection” process? What if his company issued laptop computer is stolen while in the security line? What if the revolutionary device he was going to demonstrate to his important client is confiscated? What if he is arrested for questioning let alone protesting any of the indignities he suffers at the hands of the TSA? Businesses will be doing a lot more teleconferencing, driving to relatively close locations, and chartering private flights to more remote locations.
That leaves the leisure traveler as effectively the sole market for commercial air travel. They don’t pay full price for flights. They plan months ahead and scan for ultra-cheap flights, bringing down per-seat revenue in the process. Not being frequent fliers, they are more likely to not understand screening rules, to accidentally attempt to bring banned items on flights, and more likely to raise a stink (and get arrested) when such items are confiscated. The leisure traveler may start to think the cross-country road trips of their youth are more appealing than ever. The more wealthy leisure traveler may consider charter flights, just like he takes for work. Some very small very wealthy minority may even decide to learn to fly small airplanes themselves.
Both scenarios bode ill for commercial air travel as we know it. Even the former CEO of American Airlines said the industry is in big trouble “if the system we end up with is so onerous and so difficult that air travel, while obviously more secure, becomes more trouble for the average person than it is worth.” The airlines are already in financial trouble. The “jobless recovery” is not resulting in increased demand for air travel. More smaller planes in the air is not safer than fewer large planes in the air. The only good news is that any effort to create a national air transit carrier will be met with derision.