KCI provides a good model for better national airport security

Some passengers say Kansas City International Airport offers a better-than-usual experience when it comes to security lines.
Some passengers say Kansas City International Airport offers a better-than-usual experience when it comes to security lines. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

Travelers flying out of Kansas City International Airport might be forgiven if they let out a quiet sigh of satisfaction as they pass through security. Sure, getting past the inspectors is a bit of a hassle, but at least security lines move at a reasonable pace here.

Unfortunately, nearly every vacation or business trip that starts at KCI involves a return flight from an airport, where things don’t run as smoothly.

Travelers across America are getting stuck in long lines at security checkpoints. At some airports, passengers wait hours to get through security. Tens of thousands of people have missed flights, and thousands more have had their bags miss flights.

Airlines blame the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA blames passengers and Congress. Republicans blame President Barack Obama. Democrats blame airlines and Republicans. Travelers blame whoever is handy and preventing them from making their flight.

Yet at KCI, lines remain fairly bearable because the airport has private security screeners rather than relying on the TSA.

There’s plenty of blame to share for what’s going wrong with air travel in 2016, but the culpability is not equal.

Sure, passengers could do a better job emptying their pockets, emptying water bottles and taking their shoes off quickly.

Airlines could reconsider checked baggage fees that encourage people to cram their clothes into a smaller suitcase and take it through security. If carriers improve their luggage handling and arrival success, they might just persuade passengers to check bags.

Those changes might help, but systemic problems would remain. The TSA, Congress and the White House all have bungled airport security, creating a perfect storm as record numbers of people want to fly.

▪ Under Republican leadership, Congress has failed to provide TSA with the funding it needs. Passengers pay a per-trip security fee that adds up to billions of dollars. Most of that money doesn’t actually go to security, though. Congressional budget hawks divert it to paying down the national debt.

▪ Financial chicanery is not the only problem. The TSA and Obama administration were fine with some cuts just a year ago. They willingly reduced the number of screeners by 12 percent because they thought a lot of people would sign up for the PreCheck program.

They were wrong.

Sign-ups have fallen far short of estimates. It turns out that people aren’t willing to pay $85, submit their fingerprints to the federal government and consent to a background check. And who can blame them? The government hasn’t exactly instilled confidence in its ability to protect and willingness not to exploit people’s personal information lately.

▪ TSA screeners are underfunded, disliked by travelers and responsible for protecting thousands of lives every day. It’s no wonder that their morale is dangerously low.

This isn’t new. It’s just that everything has come to a head, and people are asking what Congress, the TSA and the White House have done to fix the problem.

“Congress will not sit back as the situation gets worse,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, pledged. That was just a few days before Congress headed home for its Memorial Day recess having done nothing.

It’s not as if the solutions are elusive. Restore the funding and consider the KCI model of private screeners in more places to ease the load on TSA.

What is hard to find is political will and leadership. Meanwhile, the lines grow longer, and the temper of traveling voters grows hotter in an election year.