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The Formation of the TSA and the Effect on Air Travel Term Paper

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Updated: Apr 24th, 2019


The famous terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11 of the year 2001 in the US was a key event that heighted the security awareness concerning the susceptibility of the transport modes especially the air travel. As a result, airport security came out as a very significant aspect of the overall discussion of global security as specifically the US homeland security. Millions of cargos reach various places through aircrafts every day.

Without air travel, the world might come to a halt. The aviation security addresses all the potential threats like unlawful acts affecting civil air transport. The September 11 attacks resulted to a huge loss in all aspects: loss of lives, crushed economy and transportation threat. This paper offers a perspective of the formation of the transport Security Administration (TSA), as well as its impact on Air travel. It also highlights the evolution of TSA in conjunction with the laws that empower it to function effectively.

Evolution and Impact

Air Security before TSA

Before the formation of TSA, private security contractors were the only managers of air travel security. The performance of these contractors was doubtable long before the 9/11 attack, which saw 19 hijackers get on board with knives and box cutters seizing control of the plane to cause the fateful tragedy.

In only two months, TSA came into being to allow the government to have more oversight on national security after the incidence (U.S. General Accounting Office 3). The federal government also listed all the items that were henceforth not worth carrying with planes. Before then, the private security contractors would bid on the security jobs at airports and then conduct the screening to detect threats once given the job. In 1980s, these private contractors introduced dogs because of increased drug trafficking.

This heightened the war on drugs. However, the private security systems had many loopholes. For instance, they were to make a 100% check of cargo on passenger planes according to the US policy (U.S. General Accounting Office 3). The belly cargo on the same plane, however, did not undergo major screening.

Before the famous 9/11 incidence, the United States of America had a relaxed and reckless security process. The security personnel only relied on simple means of questioning and looking for security threats. The ticket agents would only ask the passengers for the tickets. They would interrogate whether the passenger packed the bag him/herself or whether the passenger had obtained any item form a stranger or not (U.S. General Accounting Office 3). After that, the passenger would go through the metal detector machine after emptying their pockets. They placed keys, coins, pens and probably a pocketknife on a tray, which goes through the screening machine.

Simply put, the main tools for security detection were X-ray machines and metal detectors for domestic flights. Only the international flights luggage was x-rayed. Otherwise, the rest of the luggage once inspected was not to go through the X-ray machines (U.S. General Accounting Office 3).

In addition, meals served on the planes had a metal dinner knife accompanying them. However, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers was a shock, exposing the security loopholes in the then existing system (Sweet 34). There, the US congress had to intervene very urgently, and, consequently, issue an order to the Transport Security Administration to enhance the security screening to check luggage and even conduct impromptu searches.

The terrorist attack caused few critical changes (Sweet 34). The security system then ruled that it was necessary to ban all items that could serve as weapons. Consequently, it banned box cutters, pointed knives, screwdrivers and other cutting tools on both local flights and international flights. Security was intensified. By the end of 2002, X-ray machine screened all bags checked at the 450 Nation’s airports for explosives.

In 2004, another progressive law came requiring that passenger jackets, even those without metals, to go through an X-ray machine (ATSA 1). Some passengers would undergo a random secondary screening. The new measures permitted the security officers to conduct pat-down searches on the passenger whenever necessary based on the observed opinion (Sweet 34). This search was only for the passengers selected for the secondary screening.

It was to boost the checkpoint screening. The TSA approved the procedures as part of its effort to enhance and expand the technology use for screening for explosives across the country (ATSA 1). Even though it was not obligatory to remove shoes during these checks, passengers could remove shoes for x-ray screening especially when they trigger magnetometers because of steel shanks.

Formation of TSA

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) is the United State’s Official security agency handling the security system in all ports. It enforces transport security laws. This agency saw its dawn following the passing of the Transport and Aviation Security law by the congress in 2001.

This followed the incidence when the US’s security exposed itself to be in jeopardy following the attack on Twin Towers (ATSA 1). On November 2001, the congress responded urgently to security breach by establishing the law that created the Transportation Security Administration. At the time of its formation, the TSA was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transport. Later on in March of 2003, the agency moved to the docket of Homeland security (Sweet 42).

The US internal security enhanced its security by tightening the transport system laws. This was an issue of great urgency since 2001. The law enacted by Congress is famously known as the ATSA, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001. Following its formation, the roles and responsibilities of TSA were making sure that all the transport modes were secure from any potential terrorist threat.

While still under the department of transport, TSA continued strengthening its procedures and administrative strategies (ATSA 1). It also organized its structure and laws to deal with the long-term challenges of improving security measures to a level that does not inhibit commerce and convenient travel, or even not to hamper with other important missions by the same agency.

On 25 November 2002, the congress passed another law, which saw the TSA transferred from the Transport department to the Department of Homeland security. It still assumed the overall responsibility it had under the transport department (U.S. General Accounting Office 4).

TSA now works to ensure travel security in every transport mode. Because people consider airport transport security as the most risky and a target by terrorists for attacks (ATSA 1), TSA focuses on air travel. The security system was tightened because the attack on the US was something unanticipated, though it happened.

The event proved that terrorists were ready to go any length to fight the US and cause deaths of innocent citizens (Sweet 56). The act gave the agency the power to oversee all transportation security details. Because of its risky and vulnerability state, TSA focuses on the aviation security. It remains responsible for security in all other modes of transport like maritime, rail, and highway among others. The act also gave the agency powers to hire and organize federal passenger screeners (U.S. General Accounting Office 4).

Since the creation of TSA, security has improved a great deal. Before its employment into the airport security, the TSA had to conduct a backround search for criminal record of the potential employee. This measure is applicable to all the employees at the airport, as well as the police officers. The cockpits have undergone fortification, as luggage undergo double-checking (ATSA 1). Today, there is a full-body search.

However, this has inspired controversy because it is demeaning when the security people take, store, and use a nude picture of the traveler. Besides, refusal to that can cause the person to face a pat-down search. This allows the security personnel to pat down the passenger’s buttocks, inner thighs and even breasts using its hands (U.S. General Accounting Office 4).

The other important act related to the TSA security system is the Patriot Act of 2002. The 107th congress introduced several legislations following the attacks. Together with the ATSA, there was also the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. This law required the State department and the Department of immigration to share visa information and immigration data between the two institutions (ATSA 1).

The patriotic act gave America the opportunities for sharing information. This forms the basic instruments that the government can use to connect the dots, identify American air travel risks, and appreciate liberty. After the loss of many lives at the world trade center, it is evident that prevention is necessary and effective. The Patriot Act gives Americans the technology necessary for anticipating, adapting and outthinking the terrorists (ATSA 1).

How TSA Accomplishes its Mission

Grants: As the terrorist threat continues to increase, the need to offer safer public transport has also increased. TSA offers security grants to all the modes of transport. The grants help in maintaining the high-end security processes with efficiency, thus, reducing the risk considerably.

Law enforcement: The basic mission entails protecting air passengers and the aircraft crew. Under the entity of the TSA, the federal air Marshals work as the main law enforcers extending their services to the homeland security. They also work in liaison with other law enforcement bodies. The federal air marshal crew is committed and properly trained. It has a great potential of keeping the aviation travel safe and secure.

There is a department of specially trained personnel often deployed on board in each aircraft (U.S. General Accounting Office 5). They offer security protection to the passengers and crew. In order to detect some dangerous things that passengers can hide such as baggage, TSA has a program of training canine dogs for detecting explosive. Besides, TSA trains most of the crewmembers in self-defense and panic management skills (U.S. General Accounting Office 5).

Layers of Security: As national security is of greatest significance, there are several lines of security measures run by TSA. Transport security officers work at front end in the airport checkpoints.

This forms merely one of the security lines. The measures are also very rigid: able to block potential threat (U.S. General Accounting Office 6). As there are several lines of security, safeguarding experiences some reinforcement forming a formidable structure. Gathering of intelligence and analyses, checking travelers, and random canine searches are examples of these convoluted security systems.

Security Screening Partnership Program: TSA has introduced a program where the security screeners can request private contractors to conduct screening under the watch of the federal authorities (U.S. General Accounting Office 5). This is the Opt-Out or simply the screening partnership. This breaks the monotony of TSA security doing the same thing repeatedly, as they can lose some clues because of routine. This also exploits new TSA technology combined with private sector knowledge.

Screening: each year, over 600 million passengers use air travel with millions of bags. It is the role of TSA to screen all these passengers with their luggage. Since all the local and international passengers are screened when they use the US airports, the screening manages to avert any threat of terrorist activity (U.S. General Accounting Office 6).

Changes that TSA has effected

After its (TSA) formation in 2001, the threat of terrorism became more real than ever. The US government conducted a number of changes in its air travel system, especially the processes of screening passengers and their baggage.

For instance, the aircrafts instructed all their passengers to report to the airport two hours in advance of the departure time of the local or domestic flight. After going through the security checkpoints, the passengers are normally selected at random for the additional screening (U.S. General Accounting Office 7). This secondary screening includes searching their luggage, and carry-on items in the boarding area.

In December 2001, there was an incidence where one of the passengers tried exploding a bomb from his shoe while on the plane. This caused panic. Since then, security screeners have asked passengers to take off their shoes for screening at the checkpoints (Fredrickson, and Laporte 33). Numerous changes have taken place.

They are already evident in the preceding paragraphs. This part focuses on two major changes that are pertinent in security screening changes effected since 2001. These two items include the federalization of the passenger screening processes and the second screening of checked luggage for explosives (Fredrickson, and Laporte 33). Essentially, these two changes are the most notable of the changes in regulatory policy that came after 9/11. The goal is to improve airline security for safe travel and commerce.

Federalization of Passenger Screening

Transport Security Administration officially took the mantle of handling the airport security in February 2002. When TSA took over, it maintained the private security screeners from the previous contractors.

Nonetheless, after seven months, TSA hired its own employees who began conducting these screening activities immediately (Fredrickson, and Laporte 33). The changes began taking effect in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on 30 April 2002, reaching a conclusion on 19 November 2002 having covered all the US commercial airports.

TSA instituted three main changes to attempt to improve the effectiveness of security screening practices. The first measure was to increase the staff so that waiting time could register a reduction since this screening process caused congestion. Before these changes, the US airports had only employed 16,200 private security personnel for screening (Fredrickson, and Laporte 33).

All these screeners only screened passengers. After initiating the changes after the formation of TSA, over 56,000 new screeners were employed to screen both passengers and luggage. The second change made was the increasing of the compensation for the screeners.

Regardless of the changes instituted by the new agency, the operation of this new system encountered many problems in the resource allocation in the TSA’s operations of screening the passengers and baggage. Previously, TSA allocated screeners in various airports based on the volume of travelers that each airport handled, as well as the number of screening lines (Fredrickson, and Laporte 35).

This queuing led to thousands of passengers standing around in the main connecting airports. The passengers did not go through the screening lines fast enough because of the shortage on screeners in some airports.

Other screeners were idling. In reaction to the concerns about imbalance and the overstaffing issue, TSA had to reduce its screeners to only 45,300 by the beginning of 2004. Nonetheless, the reduced workforce and the problems of hiring other screeners have resulted to understaffing causing airport to have long waiting queues, flight delays and even some passengers missing their flights.

Baggage Screening

Contrary to the process of screening passengers before the 9/11 incidence, there was no clearly designed system for screening luggage. Because of these problems, only about 5% of the luggages carried on the planes were screened. The creation of TSA brought about critical changes where screening took place in two stages. Effective from 16 January 2002, all airlines had to adopt positive bag matching where each luggage checked was matched to a passenger boarding the plane. To screen-check luggage for explosives, the following methods came in handy:

  1. the explosive Detection Systems EDS,
  2. explosive trace detection – ETD
  3. bomb-sniffing canines and
  4. physical search of the luggage

The size of the EDS machines is comparable to an SUV size. It can process 150-200 bags per hour. However, its probability of generating false positive is about 30% of the screened bags. The ETD machines are smaller. They are labor intensive because the screeners have to place a swab from every bag in another machine that conducts the analysis.

The congress mandated the TSA to install the EDS machines in every commercial airport in the US by the end of the year 2002. Most of the airports could not manage installing these machines by the deadline. However, they had the permission to use the alternative methods of screening. However, in January 2003, about 90% of checked baggage was checked through an electronic checking system, not the manual process. The remaining percentage was checked by matching passenger lists, sniffer dogs or by hand searching.

Today, the TSA baggage screening process occurs in three different ways. Most of the checkpoints have a design that lets passengers to check in first, proceed to the ticket counter and then pick up their baggage from the screening area after passing through the EDS machines.

In many of the other airport checkpoints, the passengers take their baggage for screening before proceeding to the ticket counter to check-in (Fredrickson, and Laporte 35). In every case, when the electronic screening technology indicates explosives or other prohibited substances, the luggage goes through manual screening.

This takes more time. Many people have recently complained that it took a lot of time, even destroying passengers’ properties. With whichever system, the luggage screening procedure needs extra time and the effort of the passenger’s part (Fredrickson, and Laporte 36).

Very few airports have the ‘in-line EDS’ in place or already installed. This does not require extra time neither does it cause much inconvenience to passengers. With the in-line EDS, the passengers take minimal time because they need to simply walk in and hand over their ticket and luggage to the airline agents, as it is already checked when the agents pass it through the EDS machine.

The passenger does not see when the checking of the luggage is dome. He/she proceeds to the passenger screening area and wait for a short while to pick his/her luggage (Lawrence 19). TSA had already distributed over one thousand and one hundred EDS’ machines in the main checkpoints across the country and over 7,200 ETD machines in major airports.

The Impact of the Security Checks on Travel

The effects that the new laws brought in by the formation of the famous TSA are numerous. The impact that the security process has had on air travel demand is vague. On one side, the stringent measures implemented have made air travel very inconvenient because of the queues and checks that some people deem very intrusive.

However, some people claim that there is safety in air travel and that it is very satisfying when traveling on a plane with an assured safety (Lawrence 21). The terror attack on the US in 2001 resulted to the worst inconvenience where the passengers have to report two hours before time of departure even for the local or domestic flight. In the same line, the random searchers often carried out by the security personnel on selected travelers and their baggage is unfair.

Some critics view the banning of certain items on the place like nail clippers, which are seemingly harmless as exaggerated measures (Lawrence 25). The overall repeated scrutiny reduces the convenience of taking a flight since the bad people or terrorists form only a very small fraction for travelers- in fact negligible. These arguments by some people have been countered with the idea that anyone feeling that the inconvenience is too much to bear must be blind, and must have not learnt valuable lessons from the twin tower attacks.

Increased security checks could be inconvenient. However, they are for a worthy cause because people’s lives and property damage that can come from reckless security checks could be dire. Millions worth property could be damaged with hundred losing their lives. Airliners also complain that the delays in security check has cost them millions of money especially for the lost ticket revenue since business people can opt to forego the check and stay home (Fredrickson, and Laporte 42).

On the opposite side, it is possible that the passengers are overjoyed by the security measures. A number of studies conducted since the initiation of TSA indicate that passengers are willing to endure more time or higher ticket prices to feel safe after the security scrutiny. Furthermore, there are studies, which have supported the TSA claim that security measures put in place since 2001 have increased the passengers confidence in taking flights.

They consider them safer than before. With the increased confidence in the domestic and international airline’s security, the demand for air travel will gradually grow (Fredrickson, and Laporte 42). Addressing the issues more specifically at the screening of the luggage, the ex-Ante implications are vague.

When the safety of the passengers is increased, the demand air travel will increase. Nonetheless, by demanding extra time, input of the passengers, and increasing the chances of loosing items or damaging some properties, the baggage screening cuts down the demand for air travel, as it is inconvenient.

The impact of luggage screening changes with the size of the airport. When the passengers are many, congestion results and their luggage are numerous also. The reports from the capacity of the machines to handle numerous bags are not encouraging. These machines often fail to cope with the flow of the baggage in most big airports.

On the other hand, the large airports are more flexible. They have the resources for minimizing passenger disruptions. Looking at the busiest airports, the TSA screening is ambiguous. TSA is considered more rigorous than the previous private contractor system (Fredrickson, and Laporte 41). These processes need more time and are inconvenient for passengers to go through at the checkpoints.

On the other hand, with the enhanced screener quality and the more staff employed by TSA, the issue of nuisance may have been greatly resolved. Moreover, there are some evidences showing that the idea of federalized airport security search has boosted passengers’ confidence in the air security. A considerable number of travelers prefer the TSA screeners instead of the private contractor screeners. It is agreeable that current passengers feel safer when taking flight across America or even outside America.

Challenges Facing TSA

Several effects that TSA has had in Air travel have sparked a great deal of criticism. One is the idea of profiling the clients. This remains a subject of discussion with majority of public opinions claiming that profiling of air travel is unethical and that it violates their privacy rights.

Many who held such views before the 9/11 have since changed their minds on it (Lawrence 23). People have applied several other approaches like matching the luggage to a watch list that bears the list of passengers.

There has also been the use of computers in computer-assisted pre-screening. However, it was shut down because of intrusion of privacy. Airlines have even come up with No-fly list, which prohibits certain individual from travelling by air. However, the problems have been that, different people have similar names.

They can be denied flight inappropriately. Senator Ted Kennedy has suffered this problem once (Lawrence 23). There are some cases when the TSA could have the right name on the No-fly list but end up with the wrong person. This is an abuse of the human rights by being intrusive and causing public humiliation.

Privacy issues: most of the travelers are unhappy with the screening process. Sometimes the TSA personnel conduct very aggressive searches on certain individuals. In 2004, the new TSA policy for random searches on selected individual, in some cases leading to pat-down in full public view, has been very inappropriate. Some female clients often burst into tears following thorough frisking.

Customers could have already initiated lawsuits against this if TSA was a private body rather than a federal agency. This has made the agency unaccountable to the people (Lawrence 23).

Long queues: Because of the long process of screening, it requires early arrival at the checkpoints. This results to long waiting lines, as people undergo the screening together with their baggage. For advance checks, the passenger has to apply if she/he is a frequent flyer. He/she pays a fee for that in advance.

This individual then fills an application form and gives biometric data including iris identification and fingerprints. The person’s information then undergoes crosschecking with the federal law enforcement and intelligent database. This process is like dealing with a suspect already. At the end of the day, they are waiting on the queue. Trying to avoid it is similarly hectic (Lawrence 23).


Overall, the big question still remains, is America safer today? The ability of the Transport Security Administration systems to prevent crucial crimes of terror in the air travel industry has been better than the period before 9/11. Therefore, the position of the American air travel security, as it stands today, is that the country is much more secure and safer than it was before the 9/11 incidence.

Following the millions and millions of expenditure on the new technology, policies and processes of bettering security, the country is more secure (Lawrence 23).

Today, the US has better intelligence, better technology, better coordination, and improved communication. The airports are prepared to alert the travelers of any threats while at the same time prepared to deal with the threat. However, this does not take away the main vulnerabilities, especially the cargo, mass transit and general aviation (Lawrence 23). Therefore, there is the need for risk analysis to address these vulnerabilities.

Works Cited

ATSA. Aviation and Transportation Security Act, Pub. L. 107–71, 115 Stat. 597. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Fredrickson, George and Todd Laporte. “Airport Security, High Reliability, and the Problem of Rationality.” Public Administration Review 62.1(2002): 33-43.

Lawrence, Harry. Aviation and the Role of Government. Orlando: Barnes and Noble, 2003. Print.

Sweet, Katherine. Terrorism and Airport Security. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. Print.

U.S. General Accounting Office. Aviation Security – – Transportation Security Administration Faces Immediate and Long-Term Challenges, GAO-02-971T. Washington, D.C.: Word Press, 2002. Print.

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