An Advocate for Passengers

Only a fool would believe that terrorists have given up on the idea of using civilian aircraft as weapons of mass destruction. Luckily, those in charge of the nation’s security are no fools—they are well aware of the threat, and have taken measures since 9/11 to prevent another catastrophic hijacking.

That said, the zeal of the Transportation Security Administration’s front-line troops often is misguided and downright stupid. For example, TSA agents recently strip-searched three elderly women in Kennedy Airport. An 88-year-old woman reportedly was subjected to this screening because she wore a colostomy bag.

These are only the latest examples of TSA agents putting aside common sense and professional judgment in carrying out their vital mission. Senator Charles Schumer has come up with an idea that may spare others the indignity of an airport strip search. Mr. Schumer used his Sunday press conference this week to propose that airports be staffed with a “passenger advocate” who would be called in to mediate disputes over passenger searches.

This idea makes sense, and the Department of Homeland Security would be well-advised to give it serious consideration. The TSA has replaced the nation’s various departments of motor vehicles as the agency most-loathed by average citizens (next to the IRS, of course). Like the DMV, the TSA has to deal with millions of people standing in lines who’d much rather be someplace else.

The comparison is not precise, of course. The TSA’s assignment is much more serious, and one small error of judgment could lead to appalling consequences. It’s imperative that TSA agents take their jobs seriously.

That said, 88-year-old women shouldn’t be subjected to strip-searches. TSA agents might well feel that they have no recourse but to enforce agency rules by the letter, and in a way, that’s a good thing. All the more reason for the TSA to have on hand a passenger advocate who is empowered to apply common sense to rigid, by-the-book procedures designed, after all, for the safety of passengers and, indeed, the nation itself.

Senator Schumer’s idea is a good one. Homeland Security should take it seriously. An Advocate for Passengers