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Pursuits

Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe

The U.S. spends billions each year to keep the skies safe from terrorism. Has it made travel more dangerous?
Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe
Illustration by Johnny Ryan

The arrival of the holiday season in the U.S. marks the start of the busiest travel period of the year. For millions of Americans, it’s a time of misery—hours spent waiting out weather delays and missed connections in crumbling domestic airport terminals with oppressive overhead lighting and bad food. But what makes the experience of air travel truly abominable is the government agency ostensibly designed to ease anxieties about getting on planes: the Transportation Security Administration. Far from making travel safer, the U.S.’s approach to airport security is putting the lives of even more people at risk.

The TSA was created to replace the patchwork of private security companies that handled airport security in the pre-9/11 era. Its budget quickly ballooned: Since 2002 the number of TSA agents has risen from 16,000 to more than 50,000. Still, to a traumatized public, any amount of overreaction in the name of preventing another terrorist attack seemed acceptable.