Is the TSA openly accepting bribes at LAX?

I certainly think so. Standing in line for well over an hour yesterday at LAX, I was bypassed repeatedly by other travellers carrying first class tickets or “elite passenger” status.

I have no issue with airlines providing services themselves to people able and willing to pay out an extra chunk of cash. But when it means utilizing a Federal agency and services, its ripe for abuse and, arguably, bribery. Whether the airlines are footing the bill for select passengers or travelers themselves are paying for the privilege, I don’t know what else you’d call special treatment in exchange for cash.

Beyond that hour long observation (and the lack of a Starbucks at the Delta terminal), travel at LAX yesterday was fan-freakin’-tastic. Next up: I’ll bitch that, since liquids are banned from your carry-on, charging $4.50 for a bottle of water inside the airport is nothing less than price gouging.

16 thoughts on “Is the TSA openly accepting bribes at LAX?”

  1. When I flew business class earlier this year, I got sent through the quicker security line, but there was no extra payment in any obvious place. I flew for work and the company I worked for paid so I never saw details on a ticket. It’s not clear how that works.

    As a travel reminder, there are lots more passengers during the holidays and most of them are amateur flyers so they don’t know about liquids and laptops. They take forever. Keep that in mind when heading to the airport….

  2. Higher class seating has always led to higher class service at the airport. There has been a shorter, separate security line for those customers as long as I can remember.

    I don’t not think it is a service the airlines should offer anymore since the rest of us are hassled over the “security” excuse. With the exception of airline employees, every passenger should be put through the same security procedure regardless of where they sit on the plane.

  3. So the lesson learned is that terrorists can go out in style and reduce the risk of being caught if they upgrade?

  4. I have no reason to believe the security is any less stringent in the VIP line, but, indeed, potential terrorists can get through faster with a first class ticket.

  5. I fly a lot for work and therefore have the ability to go through the elite security lines, but sometimes if I am flying with someone without elite status I go through the regular line. There is no difference in the screening process. It is merely a different line. At some airports, the elite line is longer than the regular one.

    Usually, there’s not a lot of difference in the length of these lines, and in T4 at LAX the elite line just feeds into the regular one (i.e., once you get past the id check, everyone merges into one blob to go through the metal detectors/x-ray). But Julia’s point is valid – during holiday travel peak times, infrequent travelers who are unaware of procedures and nervous because a TSO is shouting orders at them will slow things down. A lot. Even in the elite lines.

    There is no outright fee involved, by the way. I suppose you could argue that people who are paying more for their flights or flying more (and therefore paying more, overall, in a given year) are being rewarded for their spending, but I think calling it bribery is… a stretch, at best. What is the TSA being “bribed” to do, put a sign up that the airline printed?

  6. David – it depends on the airport – sometimes it is a contractor and sometimes it is someone from the TSA. But yes, someone checks the ID and the ticket to ensure that they are first/business or elite, all of which is printed on the boarding pass.

    I should also point out that the space in the airport that is outside of the security screening area (i.e., the lines for ID checking that lead up to the security checkpoint) is leased by the airline, so they can do whatever they want with it, like setting up separate lines. Whether the TSA keeps those lines separate going into the checkpoint varies by airport, and in some cases, by terminal. For example, in LAX, T5 (Delta) has a completely different setup than T4 (American) or T1 (mixed airlines – sometimes their line extends outside and down the sidewalk). At La Guardia, the lines merge after you get past the ID check; in the AA terminal in O’Hare, the line stays separate and there is a dedicated metal detector and x-ray for the elite line. I think it has more to do with convenience and the logistics of setting up the checkpoints than any financial motivators.

  7. Even now that TSA is (finally) checking IDs for people going through security, the elite lines seem to always have a rent-a-contractor who checks for the elite status.

    Elite travelers have to go through security somewhere, the airline’s flow management routine doesn’t impact TSA. They also have special security or immigration lines for crew and airport employees in many airports, are you saying that the government shouldn’t be helping these employees do their jobs faster?

  8. Sorry, I still think its bribery. No different than if the guards were taking $20 bills to rush people through. Sure, the government condones it, but it smacks of elitism, something we need a hell of a lot less of in this age of racial profiling.

  9. How is it bribery if no money is going to the TSA? The TSA is not getting paid by the airlines to “rush” people through, and again, in many cases the elite line merges with the regular lines, so the only part of the line that is separate is the airline-controlled portion, that is under their purview since the space is leased by them. Even if the line is separate, why is it bribery? As Ed mentions, there are separate lines for crew and airport employees as well in many airports. Should they also stay in the same line as everyone else, just to maintain equality?

    Keep in mind that many of the people in these lines are traveling for work, and go through these lines multiple times a week. In fact, many of them fly more often than some flight attendants do. I don’t see how someone who flies 200k miles a year going through a separate line is even remotely comparable to racial profiling.

  10. Source? Since the lines at LAX merge into one security processing area, and at the point of putting your stuff on the x-ray belt there is no distinction between travelers, I have no how you can distinguish “existing staff”.

  11. I don’t believe that to be true – if that line were transformed from an elite line to a regular one, there would still be the same person manning the x-ray, the same person shouting at me to take all my crap out of my bag, the same person waving me through the WTMD. Even if they have one additional ID checker, I am sure that person would be fine checking IDs elsewhere (in some airports, they will have one line but two ID checkers, that sort of thing).

    And really – funds for staffing is bribery? So… you’d rather abolish the extra line and have fewer people on staff to man the checkpoints. That sounds like a fabulous idea.

  12. David,

    I’m trying to follow your logic here. The airlines charge first class passengers more. TSA has set up a special line for these passengers. Therefore TSA is getting a bribe? From whom? The airlines?

  13. Yeah, I don’t get the bribe thing either.

    The TSA doesn’t spend any extra money on this separation, the airlines do. The TSA is totally unaffected by this. It’s not as if there’s an elite screening station that sits idle while other lines are backed up. The TSA simply screens whatever passengers the airlines present to them for screening.

    At a checkpoint with 4 belts, the airlines may choose to feed frequent fliers/premium classes into one of those belts, or they may choose to simply merge everyone into one common feeder just before the belts. At LAX Terminal 6 for United, they flip back and forth.

    But never have I seen a belt sit idle while passengers were waiting. The airline-paid person organizing the lines makes sure to balance out the lines so the screeners are always utilized while passengers are waiting.

    And, as frequent flier, remember one is also a frequent payer of the 911 security fee attached to every ticket they buy. Not that we get any extra TSA service as a result, but, yes, we do pay more overall for security.

    The screening is identical. The TSA may or may not even be aware that they are screening a frequent flier line.

    One last note. When the line stays segregated all the way to the belt, sometimes one reason it goes faster is that we have all been through this so many times that we know exactly what to do and have all of our stuff organized without the delays at the belt of “Oh, you mean I could have been taking all this stuff out of my pockets and removign my shoes nefore the very last minute??”

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