Pilots, as I reported here yesterday and indicated in a newspaper column a week ago, are getting a special screening exemption at the airport checkpoints.
This new move by the TSA addresses an absurdity: Till now, on-duty pilots who are going through the checkpoints to take control of an airliner have been subjected to asinine inspections of their persons and possessions. As pilot after pilot has said ad infinitum for 10 years, Yo, I don't need a steak knife to commandeer an airplane and crash it into the Empire State Building.
The pilots new ability to bypass TSA checkpoints is predicated on verified identification -- a biometric system that proves the pilot is who he or she claims to be, and a secondary system, linked to airline operations, that says he or she is about to fly a plane.
But once again illustrating Bill Moyers' joke that reporters are paid to explain things they don't understand, we have today some reports wondering why flight attendants aren't being given the same security bypass as pilots.
Because they don't have control of the airplane, is why.
Patricia A. Friend, the head of the big flight attendants' union, the Association of Flight Attendants, has been pressing for the same security exemption for flight attendants that pilots are getting. "There is no reasonable explanation why this highly vetted group of aviation employees continues to be exposed to lengthy airport security lines which may affect their ability to report to the aircraft on time," Friend said in a press release. She likes to make announcements on paper, but is hard to come by when you're looking for an actual answer to a question.
But yes, there is a reasonable explanation why this highly vetted group doesn't get the same exemption as pilots. We'll take it slowly for the slow among the media: A pilot can crash the plane at will. Flight attendants cannot crash anything but the drinks cart.
Flight attendants already get special treatment at security, in that they usually have access to special priority crew lanes. Meanwhile, I am well aware of the complaints of many flight attendants that they seem to be singled out for an extra degree of security hassle by some of the checkpoint humps.
That needs to stop.
Nevertheless, flight attendants, it seems to me, are the best possible argument for a new program based on the "trusted traveler" concept, limply mandated by Congress years ago and basically laughed at by the TSA over the years.
A trusted traveler program, based on verified ID and a reliable background check for members, would solve many of the chronic and ridiculous security-hassle problems at the checkpoints for frequent fliers who enroll, and who would be given special lanes with expedited security. The idea is that not every traveler is a terrorist.
It's a part of this risk management that the TSA talks about. Risk management, rather than pawing through everybody's carry-on looking for butter-knives. But so far, intelligent risk management is just talk at the TSA.
We even had the outlines of a trusted traveler program once. It was called Clear, and the TSA killed it dead.
(Yes, I know a Clear program has been weakly revived. It, too, is so far essentially nothing more than a Disney World-type front-of-the-line ticket.)