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There has to be a better way - 2 + 2 = 5 for very large values of 2
January 22nd, 2011
08:41 am

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There has to be a better way
Standing in the security line at Orlando, at maximum stress level, I repeated in my mind, “there has to be a better way”. You know what I mean. Airports currently combine the worst of humanity mixed with the worst of inane bureaucracy. Stand in line to check your bags. Stand in line to be searched. Don’t stop to load or offload. Hoist your carry on. Push forward. Screaming kids, tired adults, unhelpful security, fees, crowded conditions, uncertainty over the flight, time constraints. It’s stressful, partially due to the waiting aspect, partially due to the ever-changing regulations, and always due to the behavior of passengers and employees.
We’ve gotten to the point as a society that airports are one of the most stressful places to be at, and while traveling is always stressful, we’re making it worse than it needs to be.
Each new rule leads to justified complaining, but the rules don’t seem to be checked for effectiveness. Every person wants to be first on, first off, no one wants to wait. Security is frequently rude, passengers are frequently rude, it’s a volatile mix. All of the fuss about back scatter scanning makes me hope that those people don’t fly, just to cut down on the congestion, but it’s not going to happen. It just gets slower and slower, more invasive, and more expensive. We need to simplify. We’re dealing with patchwork of regulations that are updated in a completely reactionary process without revisiting whether they are relevant. The security procedures are increasingly being questioned as not actually helping security. And again, we, as Americans, are greedy, impatient and lazy. But we’re also incredibly innovative and can use that impatience to our advantage. We hate lines. We can fix this.
I’ve got a couple of ideas. It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start.

1) I don’t care that it’s a states rights issue. We’re a single country, we need to have a single format picture ID. If that ID is going to be a drivers license, then it needs to be basically the same for all states, and it needs to be able to be scanned with access to all state police information. If I get pulled over in Wisconsin, and have an outstanding warrant in Alabama, the cops need that information. If I’m flying from Chicago to Baltimore, the TSA needs to know if I’m a flight risk, if I have prior arrests for violence, anything that could be a red flag should be easily accessible. It is in most cases, but the system isn’t fully standardized (to the best of my knowledge). The current look at it and glance at the passenger procedure is barely good enough to allow people into a bar.
In conjunction with that, outdated laws such as Illinois “hey we just gave you a speeding ticket so we’re going to take your license” procedure needs to be stopped. Now. It didn’t make sense a decade ago (and longer than that really), it’s completely asinine now. A drivers license if the primary method of ID, so to take it away does nothing but harm.
2) We need the airlines to enforce carry on rules. I mean this. Every airline I’ve ever flown on has this little box either by the initial check in line or by the boarding area. If your bag fits in, it’s a carry on. If it doesn’t, check it. How many people walk in with a giant duffel bag or one of the extra thick carry on size bags that don’t actually fit, but they’re going to be carted on and shoved in that overhead bin by people that don’t care. By people who feel it’s their right to take it with them. These are bags that cause injury to flight attendants and other passengers who get hit with them as they’re being hoisted up and down.
In all of my flights, I have only seen someone stopped once to check if their bag fit. It didn’t, and they had to check it.
Let me suggest a solution, everybody puts their carry on bag in the box at the gate. You’re already standing in line, so no real time is added, and after the first couple of times, it’ll be routine, too. If it fits, fine, carry on. If it doesn’t, $50 to take it on, or you go back and check it. The airline doesn’t check it, you do, which of course means you would miss the flight. Airlines make more money initially, and I promise you, those bags will stop being used almost immediately.
We all know that this is a byproduct of both airlines charging for checking bags (which is another issue altogether, and why I try to fly Southwest exclusively), the possibility of lost bags, and people simply thinking that whatever they’re doing is so important they can’t wait the 30 minutes for the bags to be unloaded. Not much I can do about the any of these other than say in my experience, by the time I get off the plane and make my way to baggage claim, I usually only have to wait a couple of minutes. Not much time is saved, so just relax and check your stuff.
3) How many people are employed as “security” whose job is simply to stand around and not help? I mean it, in most industries it’s vital that your job is “value added”, that you do something that helps the process along. The “security” people that are standing outside in the loading and offloading areas don’t help with traffic, they just harass offloaders to hurry up and shoo away anyone picking up. Direct traffic. Help with vehicles maneuvering. If there are 3 lanes of people dropping off, then the first lane is blocked in, help get them out and move everyone else forward. The key is, be helpful. The flip side is as customers we need to try to be speedy. We can’t chit-chat anymore. Get your bags out and move. If you have a cab, have the money ready. If you’re being picked up, know where you’re going.
The other ones are the people sitting at desks checking your ID and boarding pass. This is a job for a computer. Scan the ID (see suggestion 1), scan the boarding pass, use face recognition software, call it good. If there are any issues, you have someone to physically verify it, but I would venture that 90%+ of people would match and pass though to the next phase of security with no issues. The lines alone at these two stops suggest that the people are desperately needed in other areas.
4) The TSA must have compiled the information of how long it takes a typical person to get through security. If they don’t, they can get it. They also have to have the information of how many flights are leaving at any particular time. Based on that, they should be able to tailor the amount of people and lanes of inspectors / scanners / checkers they need to keep things moving. Saturday afternoon at Midway coming back from Orlando, no wait. Friday before leaving to Orlando, 15 minute wait. The last time I was at O’Hare, 30 minutes easy.
Look, not to be morbid, but there are currently 2 pretty easy security risks are the airport. The first is the loading and offloading areas. The current procedure is “don’t stop, keep moving”, which implies that a terrorist is too dumb to cause harm while driving, that they need to stop, get out, then cause a problem. The second is the area before your carry on bag is scanned. When we were going to Orlando, there were hundreds of people crammed into a very small area waiting in lines. We are sitting targets packed in like sardines, and if something ever happens there, what will the response be? Honestly?
We need to find a way to move people away from those jam ups in a more efficient way so they are not a target. Any process engineer or 6 sigma black belt should be able to point out the bottle necks in the process within minutes of looking at it. Fix it. If it means that capital needs to be spent and shifts need to be reassigned along with other duties during slow times (and it will), fine, do it. This is what security really means, not just lip service to one area that leaves another more vulnerable.
Of course, going to private contractors with government oversight would likely help this process, government workers have no incentive to increase efficiency. If they were actually judged on effectiveness and rewarded / fired based on criteria, it might help, but that’s sadly not going to change right now.
5) This is a big one. We, as Americans, need to understand that flying is not a right. It’s a privilege. We should expect to pay for it, and we should expect to be constrained by rules. That being said, we are all in this together. If an airline treats you poorly, don’t fly with them. If enough people are frustrated, they will have to react. Understand what your responsibilities are as a customer, understand that you taking an oversized bag makes it more difficult for other people to use of the overhead bins. Understand that your crying child impacts everyone. If you aren’t sure of security regulations, for example what to do with your laptop, ask for help, and apologize to people around you if you cause a delay due to your actions. That water bottle you forgot about in your bag, guess what, it’s in your bag. It’s your responsibility. Don’t argue with the TSA people, they’re just doing their job. As much as they frequently aren’t pleasant doing it, it is their job to be inflexible. I have, and I think most people have, far more tolerance for people who apologize when they make a mistake than those who argue and act defensive.
Understand that it’s a line, you can’t just move up the side of it, you have to wait like everyone else. If you’re flying with an airline with assigned seats, when they call for boarding group A, if you’re not in A, sit your ass down. Don’t crowd the area so when they finally get to C you’ve already pushed your way to the front. And when the plane lands, stay seated. You can get up as it’s closer to your rows turn to leave, but you can’t just stand up and try to push forward. The airport has become the DMV, only with more people, which is not a good thing.

We’re all in this together.

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