In Which I Defend the TSA from Unfair Criticisms


Texas — A new letter from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) admits that illegal aliens were being allowed to board planes using Notice to Appear forms they received after entering the U.S. illegally. The revelation directly contradicts a TSA statement last month denying such allegations to various media outlets, including Breitbart News.

First, this is as much of a non-story as there could possibly be if you claim to care about airport security. A National government-issued ID has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping terrorists off of planes.

The strongest argument for an ID is:

  • The no-fly list is important
  • If we don’t know who people are, folks on the no-fly list could use a different name to circumvent it.

Of course the no fly list has over a million people on it. The late Senator Ted Kennedy was on it. Here’s how it works. Its procedures are likely unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, it turns out that there’s really not much in the way of deviation from standard procedure going on here.

Anyone can fly without ID. The TSA has procedures in place for people without ID, such as people who forgot their ID or from whom it was stolen.

They just want to know the passenger isn’t on the list of people that have been (properly or improperly, it’s often indistinguishable which is which) deemed a risk to fly. And they do that in the case of people who don’t carry paperwork attesting to their legal presence in the U.S.

Because, freedom. Such as it is, and what is left of it, when it comes to air travel. The US is one of only 3 countries without departure immigration, for instance. While we are coming dangerously close to having to show our papers to move around designated areas, we aren’t exactly there. Complaints that illegal immigrants aren’t having their legal status checked whenever coming into contact with bureaucrats is misplaced.

The TSA is actually harmful, not merely ineffective. So relaxing requirements should be deemed a good thing!

And here they’re just following procedure — procedures you wouldn’t want them not to have.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yup…thank goodness they have procedures in place for those of us who have lost their driver’s license (stolen in Chicago) and don’t have a passport (stolen in Greece). The driver’s license incident just involved an enhanced security check at the airport. The passport was a little tricky as the US Embassy was closed for a Greek holiday (isn’t that supposed to be US soil?) and it was going to be 3-4 days before they could see me. It took some doing, but I finally convinced them they didn’t want a 65 year old woman with no credit cards or money pan-handling at the airport!

  2. @aviators99 – well, it’s true that it’s almost always “not the crime but the coverup” .. although the initial story was most definitely that this was happening. And PR folks get the story wrong more often than you’d think with the airlines, it shouldn’t happen, but happens with government agencies too.

  3. I suspect you don’t live in Texas and have ZERO understanding of the situation at the border. Illegal immigrants are a problem in itself. taxpayers flying them all over the US is another problem. TSA letting them fly without proper documentation is one issue, but lying about it just the icing on the cake.
    Letting foreigners fly without documents across the US is just an insult to anybody who lost anybody in 9/11. Making an exception for US citizens who forgot their docs is one thing. Having a policy to allow Osama Bin Laden’s son to fly to NYC without ID and on tax payer dollars is a big story.

  4. @Timmer1001 Whatever your view on immigration policy, it is not a deviation from standard practice for people without government-issued ID to be able to fly.

  5. In the UK there’s no ID requirement when flying on non low cost carriers either – e.g fly BA or Virgin Little Red and all you need is your boarding pass, nothing else for security or at the gate 🙂 The LCCs ask for some form if photo ID (although work ID is often deemed sufficient), it seems due to revenue protection.

  6. I can agree there needs to be procedures in place for those that lose ID but the method for illegal aliens seems weak to me. We really don’t know who these folks are and they have already shown that they don’t obey our laws by entering the country illegally.

  7. Are you aware that that piece of paper given to the illegals by border patrol can be forged to change the name/dob/gender, etc??? Where I am trying to get is, a person that is wanted can easily pretend to be an illegal and that’s it, he/she’s gone…

  8. @Ame – They’re not being invited to board on the basis of the paper alone, and aren’t receiving treatment different than anyone else without ID. And as I say, the ID requirement in any case contributes very little if anything at all to aviation safety.

    Folks concerned with this issue tend to really be talking about their concerns over immigration. Those are fine conversations to have, but shouldn’t be confused with airport security.

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