Orlando International Airport Is Considering Firing The TSA

Orlando International Airport plans to vote on whether or not they should privatize their airport security during a meeting later this month.

The airport has seen a lot of growth the past few years, and is now ranked as Florida’s busiest airport, and the 13th busiest airport in the country, having handled nearly 45 million passengers in 2017.

The airport is doing everything they can to deliver as good of a passenger experience as possible, though the airport claims that crowding at security checkpoint is resulting in diminished levels of passenger service at peak operational hours.

One of the biggest issues is that the airport only has two main security checkpoints, one of which is at capacity in terms of space. The airport has been considering privatizing their security for several years now, though up until now the airport authority hasn’t voted in favor of it. This is on the table once again, and is expected to be voted on during a February 21st meeting of the airport authority.

A TSA federal security director blames the inefficiencies on the lack of available space. Per the Orlando Sentinel:

“We need the airport to provide space for 19 additional lanes to process people in an even more timely manner,” said Jerry Henderson, a TSA federal security director. “But even working with this extreme deficit in space, TSA’s operation at Orlando International is the most efficient TSA screening operation in the nation.”

There are already a few US airports that have privatized security, including Kansas City and San Francisco. As much as I’m personally generally in favor of privatizing things, I’m not sure this would make much of a difference. I’ve had pretty awful experience with security at SFO, in terms of the friendliness of the employees and also the wait times. Even if security were to be privatized, the TSA would still be in charge of picking and managing the private security. So I’m not sure this is much of a solution.

Orlando Airport scores pretty well by most metrics:

San Francisco’s airport is in the same league as Orlando International as a “mega” airport, according to a 2017 J.D. Power study of traveler satisfaction.

Orlando International was the highest ranked of the 18 mega airports, a recognition Orlando airport officials now tout often.

In the category of security checks, Orlando got four out of five stars, or a “better than most” ranking. San Francisco earned three stars, or a grade of “about average.”

Another gauge is an annual survey by Valencia College. Last year, more than 90 percent of passengers were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall screening experience, according to the survey.

Some suggest that air travel security “is too critical to entrust to for-profit bidders,” which I find to be ironic, given the TSA’s track record of consistently missing a majority of weapons and explosives that are brought through checkpoints in tests.

So I’m not sure what exactly Orlando Airport is hoping to accomplish here. Their major issue seems to be lack of available space. Obviously there are screening inefficiencies as well, though privatizing that probably won’t do much to help (especially as airport security in the US is never truly privatized, as it’s still managed by the TSA).

I’ll be watching to see what decision the airport authority makes on this one.

Comments

  1. As much as everyone complains about and dislikes London airports (especially Heathrow), given the enormous volumes of passengers they process through security every hour I find them to be very efficient. There is sufficient room and processes for everyone to remove items from their bags and themselves and plenty of trays. Yes it can take the trays a while to pass through the X-Ray but when you see 40 trays all filled with things waiting to go through you realise the volumes they are processing. Even at peak times in peak terminals I don’t think it’s even taken me more than 10-15 minutes to get through security.

  2. @Lucky can we please get the qsuites trip report. I know they take a long time but it’s been almost a week since you published the introduction.

  3. @Ben

    But, as you know, Lucky despises Heathrow and UK airports…and UK security at airports…and UK food…and British Airways.

  4. The concerns related to space constraints at these checkpoints should drop once the new international terminal opens, which will have it’s own dedicated security checkpoint. The interior remodeling of the ticketing area and other portions of the airport (one of the two monorail tracks always seems to be down whenever i travel through that airport).

  5. Oh, see…I’ve had maybe one or two not-great experiences at SFO (in…125? experiences over the last few years), but the vaaaaaaaast majority of the time I am so impressed with their security employees. Often they’re very pleasant, but even when they’re the down-to-business type they’re courteous. Meanwhile, at LAX I have to apologize to them because they had to work that day.

  6. As someone who used to work in the pre-9/11 aviation industry – on the ground, at the airport – I can assure you that the biggest issue facing improved efficiency at security checkpoints are the airports themselves.

    As late as September 10, 2001, you (and non passengers) could walk through airport security in seconds. Nothing had to be removed other than your jacket. Bags were looked at in a cursory manner, at best. Secondary checks were non existent. Gunpowder and ballistic tests didn’t exist. Water wasn’t a weapon. And people walked onto aircraft with items – every day – that are now considered security threats.

    And then 9/11 happened – on the watch of those private security firms – and they were fired, for very good reason.

    Things are very different now, and SFO is one of the newest international terminals, and their older terminals have been redesigned. It’s that – not the privatized screeners – that has improved efficiency. Most airports were designed with pre-9/11 security channels, and they simply can’t handle the volume or the work that is now required. Newark is a perfect example – you’d be hard pressed to blame the TSA for security lanes that are less well designed than your local Whole Foods.

    There’s a big reason that the vast majority of airports haven’t dumped the TSA. Because, without a shadow of a doubt, they are better than the alternative.

  7. Gates 1-59 have horrible TSA lines, even in Precheck, the other side of the airport is always super fast and efficient.

    Notable is that the Orlando-Sanford airport has privatized security. I’ve never flown out of there so I can’t comment on how well it runs.

  8. Privatizing the security will not make everything amazing overnight. As noted, whatever company wins the bid will still have to follow TSA guidelines. The big improvement, however, will be accountability. The TSA is accountable only to itself, and so if security lines back up to 2 hours, people miss their flights, or passengers are verbally or even physically abused, the only accountability is TSA’s internal processes (which we know is basically worthless). With a private company, these issues are dealt with with fines and even (in extreme or repeated situations) loss of contract, giving them far more incentive to be proactive about dealing with issues. In addition, the private employees actually have to do their job and treat people reasonably or they can be fired (unlike the unionized government employees who are nearly impossible to fire for any reason). Private security wouldn’t suddenly vault MCO to #1 on the airport list, but would definitely be a net positive.

  9. @Garrett – I totally agree. I fly to and from SFO ~60 times a year and even during peak times I find pre-check to be well-staffed relative to the other lanes – they also do an excellent job generally of moving around employees and lanes if lines start to pile up at a given checkpoint. Meanwhile, O’Hare is always a mess and even if pre-check lines stretch the length of the terminal they don’t know how to dynamically adjust capacity…

  10. I’ve only had a few bad experiences with security – at JFK and SFO. I haven’t noticed a difference in either privatization or TSA.

  11. @Doug, can I say you are naive? Is it offensive to you?
    Seriously, you are so right on the key issue ( accountability ) while fail to realize the true difference ( or lack of ) .
    Why would the contractor be fined if there is a long line? written in contract with specific waiting time limit? Have you see such contract in real life? You can vaguely define service quality in contract but it will be very hard to track it down if not accurately quantified but quantification of service if one of hardest thing to do.
    Also who told you only government employee can be unionized? As long as it is a natural monopoly , labor union will hold very high leverage on employers. Take port workers for examples.

  12. @Ben: I genuinely can’t say much about security controls at any London airport as I’ve always* used the Fast track (which is quite decent). The fast track at Terminal 3 does get quite busy when EK is about to depart. Many J/F seats that are eligible to use it.

    *I used the normal queue at STN once but it was a very early departure (small passenger volume) and they just opened up additional lines. I used LHR normal security once as the fast track hadn’t yet opened. Again no queues due to departure at an ungodly early hour.

  13. Good luck to Orlando if they actually go that route. Have only ever checked a bag one time at SFO. Airport security inspected the bag, opened one of the bottles inside but didn’t close the lid all the way when done. Obviously, the bottle spilled inside my luggage. After fiiing a claim for damage with Covenant, the airport security company at SFO, the response was there was no negligence because the employees were only doing their jobs. In other words, they are never responsible for any of the damage they cause.

    Again, Orlando, good luck!

  14. Is it possible that Orlando’s poor security situation is related to the sheer volume of leisure travelers coming through that airport? I can’t think of another airport where PreCheck is more valuable than flying out of MCO…

  15. SFO consistently has the most dickish security out of any airport I go through. The agents are full of snark, make racist comments about my Asian name, and it’s the only airport I ever get chosen for bag check at. The only reason why anyone wants to privatize the TSA is because somebody is getting kickbacks or has some other conflict of interest, I guarantee it. Privatization is awful. If someone could do it better than the government without screwing people over to make more profit, then they’d run for government and not be a business owner.

  16. I’m normally a vocal critic of the TSA no matter what the issue. BUT in this case, I will give credit where credit is due. MCO’s TSA has been the best I’ve encountered. Keep in mind, best != good; more along the lines of having gonorrhea is better than getting syphilis, but TSA there has been reasonably friendly, not too fussy, and queues have been quick (<5 minutes). One of the barkers was even barking out jokes. Caveat: I've always used the Trusted Traveler lines.

    As far as private security goes, I fly through ROC somewhat often which has private contractors running the checkpoints. While they're still bound by the same idiotic TSA rules, the attitude of the employees is dramatically better. No one barking/yelling at pax, and they're flat-out apologetic when they need to do secondary on something, literally, "I'm sorry sir, but I need to take a closer look at ________. Would you please come over here so we can get you on your way?" The ROC staff does appear neater and cleaner than the disheveled pizza box recruits you find at most TSA checkpoints.

    I also support privatization as the private sector traditionally is more agile than government in implementing changes and reacting to things. It also might be a good shot at dismantling the existing TSA and replacing it with something that is effective.

    Either way, they need to strip TSA of their tin stars & smurf shirts and dress them back in proper formal business attire. Professional security guards don't run around dressed like that, nor do they act with the arrogance and self-importance of TSAholes.

  17. I use the privatized TSA alternative at MCI a few times a year, and honestly, there’s no noticeable difference among personnel or procedures. Same attitudes, same slowdowns, same machines, same ratio of ten workers “on break” for every one worker operating the line. Nothing will change at MCO if they go this route.

    It’s still PITA security theater, no matter what it says on their phony little badges.

  18. I’m curious as to what the changes (if any) the TSA tested and implemented on their OWN processes and setup before asking MCO to spend more money. Are they like the TSA in SEA, where they only change their staffing schedule once or twice a year, don’t match staffing to demand from airlines (even thought airlines give them the forecasted load factors), and only consider “wait time” as the time you pass the document checker to picking up your items?

  19. @ Doug – you clearly haven’t dealt with the “polite” private security staff at LHR. Or those super lovely people at United or American. Or the joyful workers at the local cineplex. Let alone the charmers at Rite Aid.

    And those private security screeners well get Rite Aid wages unless they unionize.

  20. I fly through Kansas City all the time (sitting on a plane at MCI right now) and I didn’t realize they didn’t use TSA here. Even their uniforms look the same. There’s no difference.

  21. MCO is my home airport and I probably travel out of it a dozen or so times a year. I agree with another poster that made the observation some of the lines are indeed driven by the high volume of leisure traffic and families with children and all the trimmings.
    I have noticed gates 1-59 are indeed more congested as this was the original building. When gates 60+ were added on, GOAA (Great Orlando Aviation Authority) realized this fault in lack of space and built a much larger atrium. Indeed the higher gates normal flow quicker.
    As a non leisure travel (no children when I am a leisure travel) Pre Check is indeed invaluable.
    I would be very curious to know what a private firm could do to make things better. I think the newer screening machines that have “stations” at them to allow people to take their time would be a huge benefit. Outside of that and a total remodel – not quite sure.

  22. At peak times SFO security will run everyone through prechrck to knock down the lines. I was completely shocked the first time it happened
    to me. Not sure i find that reassuring.

  23. I live in Orlando and travel for work weekly. MCO can be a complete nightmare between children crying and Mickey Mouse balloons hitting you in the face. Precheck is a must if this is your home airport. The TSA staff seem to do more standing around with bad attitudes than anything else. I got yelled at last week for not taking off my bracelets – which have never been an issue. If they’d offer higher wages and hire people with actual security backgrounds, we’d have a different story. It’ll be interesting to see what the private firms are offering versus what TSA offers. I’d start with upping wages and requiring an education/ security backgrounds.

  24. Why can the US not follow the system at other high alert airports around the world, which have few security incidents?

    For example, the CISF Commandos and State Police in charge of security in airports in India (yes, the CISF commandos are intimidating, but safety can have no price), or the special task force in SIN or the IDF in Israel.

    As soon as you privatize security, it becomes a business instead of a privilege. Replace the TSA with state security, who actually know what they are doing and have pride in their jobs.

  25. Orlando is just a bad airport. Really bad. They closed their escalators for months creating lines for elevators that were as long as TSA lines.

    The Precheck line is a joke. There random inclusion of standard passengers is probably 50%. The agents actually complain about it out loud.

    Maybe it’s a conspiracy to make the theme park lines feel shorter.

    I travel through Orlando at least 20x a year for work. Recently, I’ve started to use Melbourne Florida (MLB) as an alternate. Sure it’s 40 minutes further from downtown or the parks, but you make that up in expediency and convenience pretty easy. Much closer to beaches too.

  26. The worst security experience is at Manchester airport in England. They are a huge pain and even if you fly naked they will still find something to run an extra check on you that can take up to 40 minutes. I hate flying out of MAN.

  27. MCO is also my home airport. I fly monthly and I love most aspects of the airport, but my experiece with their security is consistently bad. LONG lines at all times of day (even at 5 a.m.). Rarely are all the lanes open, yet there will be multiple TSA agents standing along the ropes repeating the same info as the signs, or policing the area for non-existent litter. The TSA agents themselves usually seem miserable (if not angry) and they are as unpleasant to deal with as a Delta FA out of ATL. The inefficiency of the operation is astounding.

    As a previous commenter mentioned, if MCO`s processing times are measuring as good, then they’re not starting the clock until you reach the podium. Bring on privatization and process customers more like Disney and less like the DMV.

  28. My mom lives near there, so I’ve been through MCO a lot. It was a lot better/faster/more efficient a few years ago.

    I flew through MCO for work in October. Weekday early evening departure, 2/3 coworkers had Precheck, 1 did not. We waited nearly an hour for the one, because TSA had decided to “pilot” the snack ban, and in the stupidest manner possible. All the people in 2 entire security lanes had to wait while each. individual. snack. item. was scanned. Lots of people had kids, so lots of snacks. One lady had an entire bag from the Russell Stover candy store.

    My coworker said, “I don’t even care about my snack bar, here, just throw it out.” “Oh, no, ma’am, it hasn’t been scanned, that might be a bomb” (meanwhile, water bottles are heaped in piles near the same trash can). As people got angrier, a management type comes over and asks, “Have you considered paying for Precheck?” My coworker responded, “So my snack bar wouldn’t be an explosive if I paid you?” It was such a perfect example of how ridiculously useless the TSA is, and they know it.

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