TSA celebrates 20th anniversary with new challenge: unruly passengers
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which celebrates its 20th anniversary next month, faces a new challenge with the recent increase in the number of unruly air passengers.
TSA chief David Pekoske said in an interview with The Hill that the agency is stepping up efforts to reduce the spike in disruption on planes and at airports as more Americans return to travel and as the United States prepares to welcome international travelers again. .
“We see this in the screen checkpoints, we see it in the flights, and you have seen passenger recordings of instances that have occurred in the flights. These are of great concern to both the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and TSA and we’ve worked very closely together, used every one of our authorities and every tool at our disposal to try to ideally reduce these disruptions to zero, ”Pekoske said.
“As a passenger, I don’t want anyone to act on a flight I’m on, and I can understand why all other passengers feel the same,” he added.
The FAA says there have been nearly 4,500 reports of unruly passengers and 3,274 mask-related incidents reported in the past year. TSA intervenes when an unruly passenger threatens the safety of an aircraft, for example by loading the cockpit door.
A JetBlue passenger recently attempted to storm the cockpit and attacked a flight attendant in the process. Separately, an American Airlines passenger exited the emergency hatch last month and climbed onto the wing of the plane while on the tarmac at Miami International Airport.
The increase in such incidents has come mainly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as airports and airlines enforce mask warrants and many Americans resume air travel for the first time since the coronavirus took hold. in March 2020.
The mask’s federal mandate for all transportation services has been in place since February and has since been extended to January. President BidenJoe BidenUS & Israeli Security Officials Talk Iran & Palestinians In Washington Over Money – Presented By NRHC – Biden Plays Hard With Debt Limit With The Long, Winding Road Of Bill McConnell Highway MORE announced last month that the TSA would double fines for passengers who refuse to wear masks.
“I would say there are harsh environments almost all over the country, it seems. We also read about them in the grocery lines for example and things like that, ”Pekoske said when asked for his response to people who don’t feel safe flying right now with the tense environments. observed in airplanes and at airports.
He said boarding agents are essential in identifying problems before the plane leaves the airport.
“Now we’re doing a really good job of identifying people who might be causing a problem on a plane and not letting them on board, so that they feel the results of their actions the same way, but they do. exactly what it takes. A problem on the ground is far better than a problem in the air, ”said Pekoske.
“I think the employees and workers, government and non-government, in aviation systems deserve a lot of credit for ensuring that we have had a safe and secure summer,” he added.
Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Pekoske said the TSA was announcing that “if you conduct yourself in this manner, there are penalties and responsibilities accordingly.”
In September, two Senate Democrats urged the Justice Department and the FAA to do more to prosecute unruly air passengers and said civil fines alone “are not a sufficient deterrent.”
Pekoske said the TSA would like to be part of the discussions if there is legislation on the matter.
“In the meantime, we will do everything we can within the existing tools at our disposal to try to better control this behavior,” he said. “I just think it’s extremely important for us to keep keeping up the pressure to get people to behave in a way that we expect of them.”
Law enforcement efforts by the federal government have yielded little results in the payment of fines. Data provided to The Hill in July revealed that only two people had agreed to pay fines to the TSA among more than 2,400 incidents of non-compliance with the federal mask mandate at this point.
Pekoske, during testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee last week ahead of the agency’s 20th anniversary to review progress over the past two decades, said the agency was seeking to speed up the selection process in coming years.
With 20 years of experience, the agency is preparing to accelerate security at U.S. airports over the next five years, Pekoske said.
“In just about every major element of our screening process, technological improvements are in place, will be in place soon, or will be in place in three to five years, which will significantly improve safety and significantly improve the passenger experience. ,” he said.
So-called trusted travelers, that is, people with global entry and pre-screening at airports, typically wait five minutes or less during screening. The TSA thinks it could reduce that time further, Pekoske said, and then it could focus on passengers who may need additional security.
“The idea here is that we want to focus our resources on the passengers we don’t know much about or the passengers about whom we know something that concerns us a bit. For the vast majority of people we know well enough to know we have no worries, [we will] continue to speed up this screening process while maintaining our overall security standards, ”he said.
Pekoske has been the head of the TSA since he was unanimously confirmed for a five-year term by the Senate in August 2017. He said upcoming changes for air travel include checking for identity to eliminate boarding passes, new X-ray technology so people don’t have to get items out of their carry-on baggage and improved security machines.
“I would say what passengers will notice the most over the next three to seven years, say, to fall in between in that time frame, is that they will see constantly improving technology across the board. system. It starts when we verify their identity, ”he said.
He said that overall, the challenges ahead are no different from those the TSA has faced since its inception in November 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks. He was integrated into the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003.
“The bottom line for TSA to continue to do, and to do exceptionally well as we have done, is to ensure that we are responsive to the threat as it evolves,” he said. “And that requires good intelligence information and built-in agility within the agency to respond to what this new information shows, in terms of changes we might need to make to our procedures or changes we might need to make to. our technological base. “