Flying the unfriendly and—unsafe—skies with TSA

We were told it would be worth it.

The removal of jackets, belts, shoes, watches, lip balm, the very lint from our pockets.

The profiling, the slightly sleazy pat-downs, the full-body scanners that, for all we know, cause some weird malady, the screenings of kids in wheelchairs and the probing of afros.

The unpacking of suitcases of unmentionables. The dumping of perfectly good water from perfectly good plastic bottles.

Oh, and the tax dollars. We can’t forget about the millions of tax dollars.

And for what? Apparently, for not enough.

Thanks to an internal report leaked to ABC, we now know that the Transportation Security Administration is inept at one of its basic functions: screening. Given 70 chances to detect weapons hidden on undercover agents at some of the nation’s biggest airports, TSA failed 67 times.

That’s a success rate of 5 percent.

The reaction, as one might expect, has been swift. Within days of the Homeland Security Inspector General’s report going public, the acting TSA administrator, Melvin Carraway, was forced out of office and a U.S. Senate committee moved to confirm his successor, U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger.

Officials point out that there hasn’t been a successful attack on air travel since Sept. 11, 2001. They also say changes have been made at the airports where those 67 undercover agents were able to stroll through security checkpoints. But that doesn’t do much to assuage our skepticism.

Not when the leaked report is filled with facepalm-worthy examples, such as the one undercover agent who got stopped after setting off an alarm, got patted down and still made it through security with a fake bomb taped to his back.

Not when TSA’s rules for simple things like what should be removed from a suitcase to go into an X-ray scanner differ so much from airport to airport.

Not when TSA agents continue to get fired for things that would otherwise be crimes, like last year’s groping scheme at Denver International Airport.

And not when so many TSA agents continue to treat passengers with such disdain.

Flying in the United States already is an expensive, cramped and miserable experience, and too often, TSA agents make it worse. Although agents in Sacramento and smaller airports seem to try to ease passengers’ way, too many agents are rude, hostile and full of bureaucratic arrogance, particularly at international points of entry.

That was tolerable when we thought TSA agents were protecting passengers and the rest of the United States from another devastating terrorist attack. Now we’re not so sure.

TSA has problems, not just with failing to do its job, but with its approach to doing it. That must change, and soon. Air travelers deserve more than to be treated like livestock.