I remember when the security checkpoints at Bradley were a gantlet (or gauntlet, but gantlet is preferred) of surly, sarcastic and impatient guards shouting inconsistent orders at harried passengers. Unprofessional doesn’t begin to describe the attitude. Say what you will about the TSA, I think it’s a major improvement.
When the Transportation Security Administration took over the checkpoints at Bradley, the husband and I noticed the change immediately. We were addressed politely and professionally. When things got hectic, there were jokes and smiles instead of shouting and angry commands.
At the same time, we could tell that we and our luggage were being scrutinized more closely. Our carry-on bags were checked more often – after permission was carefully asked – and the screeners spoke to us quietly and directly, looking right at us. If I were a terrorist, I’d much rather take my chances on the disorganized mess created by the private security companies that used to run things.
I know that there were some pleasant people working for the private contractors. But I also know that they were poorly paid and poorly trained, compared with the TSA. We could argue all day and night about the merits of private contractors versus government agencies, but you would never convince me that a government agency is under the same pressure to put profit before performance.
Sure, it’s bad news for the TSA that eight of its employees have been arrested and charged with stealing from luggage at LAX. But some contractors were arrested, too, and the arrests were made at least in part because other TSA employees reported the thefts.
I still want to keep my eye on my carry-on luggage when it’s going through security, although I’m more worried about other passengers grabbing my stuff than a TSA employee doing it. Either way, the TSA has been more professional about keeping the bag in my sight than the private guards ever were.
Back after 9/11, right afterward, before the TSA was created and deployed, the private security companies were still staffing checkpoints under the eye of nervous National Guard soldiers, some of them teenagers, carrying loaded automatic rifles. That’s when I was scared. I’m still amazed that some drunk or stupid passenger didn’t get shot by mistake.
There were stories then, too, of male screeners groping women. The husband and I had a protocol when traveling with our then-teenaged daughter. One of us would pass through the metal detector first, then the kid, then the other one of us. No way would I have the kid being "patted down" on one side of security with both of us on the other.
The TSA isn’t perfect, but I don’t worry about that stuff very much any more. (Well, I’m not crazy about the backscatter X-ray, but that’s another matter.) I know that I still read complaints about problems at checkpoints on message boards, and I’m sure there’s room for improvement. But I’d rather run through a TSA checkpoint 10 times than go back through once under the old system.