- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2003

There are surprises in life, but two of them are not Thanksgiving and Christmas. They come at the same time every year. And it’s no surprise that Americans travel en masse over those holidays, the Sunday after Thanksgiving said to be the year’s busiest travel day.

The Transportation Security Administration knows those holidays are coming, but it would be comforting to know the TSA is taking positive measures other than warn people to show up even earlier at the airport.

Once TSA had a goal of passengers waiting no more than 10 minutes to pass through its security screening. However, TSA officials are preparing to tell passengers arrive at the airport 1 hours before flight time. The authority that runs the two major airports serving D.C. says two hours is more like it.

And even though Americans are generous gift-givers over the holidays, woe to the passenger who arrives at security with the gifts already wrapped.

To be fair to TSA, Congress, which insisted on government-hired and government-paid screeners, is now complaining about the cost and demanding cuts in TSA’s work force. And the agency’s task isn’t made easier by jokers like Nathaniel Heatwole who smuggled box cutters aboard aircraft just to show it can be done, forgetting that TSA’s objective is not to stop contraband but to stop hijackings — which it has done.

But enough of sympathy for TSA. The traveling public has problems, too, and these take precedence.

Rather than just hope to struggle through the holidays without angering too many people, TSA should try to show the screening process can be conducted, in Sen. John McCain’s words, with “predictability and dignity,” and that true security doesn’t involve hassling grandmothers and infants and ordering passengers to remove their belts and shoes.

The headlines on stories about the agency’s appearance before Congress tended to run like this: “Holiday travelers should plan on long lines, TSA says.” That’s so government. The wording ought to be more like this: “TSA should plan on holiday travelers so there are no long lines.”

As we said, it’s not like the holidays are a surprise.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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