TSA’s Plan to Screen Passengers on Arrival Was Actually a Good Idea

The TSA considered ending security screening at some of the smallest airports but lawmakers killed the idea.

  • No one is going to bother wasting a terrorist act on a 19 seat plane out of a market with zero media.
  • A hijacked 30 seat plane isn’t the same risk to infrastructure that a Boeing 757 is.

So TSA would screen passengers at their connecting point — where they already had resources in place. There’s a limit to how much TSA can do, so it’s always best to deploy resources against bigger threats.

But just like when TSA wanted to permit knives and golf clubs through security so they could focus on guns and explosives, Congress demanded more security theater and less security.

Though this is just now getting play, it isn’t a new story.

Six months ago it was under discussion for Klamath Falls, Oregon.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., upon the request of local leaders, is in ongoing discussions with Transportation Security Administration officials in an effort to return full-service security screening to the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport and ensure PenAir can offer commercial air service as planned to local passengers in 2016.

TSA has proposed that Klamath area passengers board the SAAB 340 — a 30-seater aircraft — in Klamath Falls and utilize passenger and baggage screening on arrival in Portland International Airport.

This just resurrects something that’s been quite common in aviation, in the US and abroad.

  • At least into the 1980s commuter airlines flying intra-California didn’t have security screening at all at least flying between small airports like Santa Rosa and San Luis Obispo.

  • Departing Bora Bora for Tahiti I didn’t go through any screening. I’d have to pick up my bags and go through screening if I was going to connect to an international flight, however.

  • To this day many domestic New Zealand flights, operated by turboprops, do not have security screening.

  • And of course you don’t get screened when flying private.

How you do it is simple. Passengers do not go through security at the small airport. On arrival they get bused to the main terminal, outside security, so if they’ve got a connection they have to clear security before taking another flight.

You save setting up a full TSA infrastructure when you aren’t going to screen even 200 passengers a week.

Sometimes TSA really does try to do the right thing and even then aren’t allowed to do it. This actually does make sense, but it would never make the light of day in the rush to grandstand. The narrative isn’t great for TSA which is why it was killed quickly. But from a relative risk standpoint, and focusing on real threats, it’s not the dumbest idea they’ve had for sure.

Playmobil Airport Security Playset — Traditional Metal Detector

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Gary, that Playmobil Airport Security Playset is hilarious. Maybe sprinkle some white powder on the outside of the (red) luggage for increased realism?

  2. Gary, you have an excellent point. I know this is not PC to say, but I am going to say it anyway. There are many tiny airports that have a certain passenger market that anyone with an appearance outside of the norm–ie. potential terrorist material–is going to raise such suspicion among locals who do fly those small, regional planes–that every move, gesture, and word would be monitored with extreme caution. Not only that, but I believe a potential terrorist knows this and would want to blend in with the other pax on the plane–hence choose a flight where she/he would go under the radar.

    As an example,, I am thinking of flights to small outposts in Alaska, towns in northern New Hampshire, and areas of the upper midwest, such as Wyoming and Idaho.

  3. Andrew,

    Nah. A 30 seat turboprop would do little to no significant damage to a nuclear plant. Plants are built to withstand hits from commercial jetliners so a smaller plane would inflict minimal damage. There is some discussion that nuclear plants have been targets of terrorist planning but it was ultimately decide that the targets were too hard.

  4. I disagree. You’re focusing on the impact in terms of ability to do structural damage or number of people killed. Much of the impact and goal of terrorism is to create a sense of terror, even among those who aren’t really in much danger. That would probably be achieved if terrorists blew up a few flights, even if “only” 19 people would be killed. It would increase people’s fear of flying and sense that a terrorist attack is always potentially about to happen.
    A better question to me is why these airports (or any) can’t hire some alternative to the TSA to provide security if the TSA won’t provide it.

  5. How can you get into the head of a terrorist and determine that a 30 seat plane isn’t an attractive target? They go for soft targets. And how about the random crazy shooter? Is the cost avoidance a trade off for a low body count? It’s not broken, so don’t “fix” it! The TSA is currently working these flights. For once Congress did the right thing.

  6. Gary, you blog frequently about the “security theater” of TSA. The evidence that what the TSA does is theater is strong…95% fail rate. Do you propose, then, no TSA? Or do you have proposals for what TSA can do? Along with the rest of the country, I hate standing in security lines (when my PreCheck isn’t available). But I also hate the thought of dying b/c some whacko wanted to takeover my plane. To me, complaining about the TSA without offering solutions is your right as an American, but not helpful in the slightest. If you’ve provided a proposal to replace/reorganize/alter the TSA and I missed it my apologies.

  7. @Ben reinforced cockpit doors and a changed attitude of passengers so the default is not to be docile onboard a plane under attack are the two things that have been most important to change security. beyond that tsa isn’t an improvement – and in many ways is worse than – the security that came before it.

  8. Several years ago — but after 9/11 — I did fly an inter-island scheduled, commercial turbo-prop flight in Hawaii from small terminals without a security screening. Do those flights now have screening?

  9. So people get “bused outside of security”.. then have to go through security at the hub. Great in theory, terrible in practice. How would airlines sell connecting tickets? By 2x or 3x’ing the MCT? It has nothing to do with ‘what people look like’ or ‘whether a smaller plan can do as much damage’. It has to do with simple logistics. It wouldn’t save money, the money saved from XYZ’s airport would have to go to the hub’s airport for the additional logistics required.

    Also, hasn’t anyone been through a hub’s security? It’s insane. PreCheck at EWR can take 30+ mins.

  10. The other problem is that people flying many of these smaller market flights are continuing on through hub airports with short connection times. A small delay on the way out would probably cause many more people to miss flights as they would be subjected to waiting and getting screened upon landing and cannot rush to their connecting gate.

  11. Some airports in MN (and I am sure other places) actually had such screening years ago. We boarded the flight with no screening whatsoever in the smaller airport then upon arrival in MSP we were screened. Actually I like the idea of screening in the smaller airports. The agents only work part-time when the flights depart, it makes for easier and quicker screening and saves time in the larger airport.

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