Why We Hate Airport Security

Airport security represents a loss of personal control.

Posted Dec 20, 2011

Americans are used to unrestricted freedom. Any loss of freedom causes frustration. Airport security restricts our liberty. We cannot walk directly to the gate. We cannot possess more than three ounces of liquids or gels. We cannot carry utility tools or other sharp objects. In addition to restrictions, mandates force us to take off our shoes, subject ourselves to invasive personal searches, and luggage examinations at will.

We like to be in control. Airport security represents a loss of control. We tolerate temporary loss of control for a paycheck or to maintain social or domestic tranquility. In other circumstances, frustration sets in. We tend to vent this frustration on those who we perceive possess less power than we do. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officers become convenient targets.

People who enjoy personal or occupational power or think they do tend to resist TSA regulations more than people who do not share the same sense of power. High status individuals are used to telling people what to do. They are not accustomed to submitting to authority, especially TSA officers who are perceived as holding a lessor station. This disparity in power causes cognitive dissonance. Simply put, I am used to giving orders not taking orders. Taking orders from an inferior threatens my self-image. A common way to eliminate this dissonance is to belittle the person whose orders you must follow.

We often forget that terrorists, not TSA, make the rules. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, forced TSA to institute the "shoes off" policy. Ulmar Faarouk Abdulmutallab, commonly referred to as the underwear bomber, forced TSA to conduct intrusive passenger screening. A foiled terrorist plot to blow up airplanes destined to Canada and the United States with liquid explosives forced TSA to restrict the amount of liquids and gels that passengers may carry. As soon as TSA exempt babies and seniors from searches, terrorists will use babies and seniors to carry explosives. If you are frustrated with long security lines, personal searches, and carry-on restrictions, blame the terrorists, not TSA officers.

If a terrorist attack were to occur, the first people we would blame are TSA officers. The irony is that when TSA officers do their job, we complain, and when something goes wrong, we blame the very security procedures that we resist. In reality, our hate for airport security is not about airline security it is about keeping our egos intact. The next time you become frustrated with airport security ask yourself why you are frustrated. The answer will probably be, "I've lost personal control over my actions. Once the real source of your frustration is identified, you are less likely to vent your frustration on TSA officers.

I often travel overseas. I have never seen Americans disrespect foreign airport security officers. All the Americans that I have observed were polite and complied with any and all security protocols no matter how invasive or trivial they may be. The reason for the difference between the way we treat foreign airport security personnel and the way we treat TSA officers is perceived power. TSA officers have the same powers as do foreign airport security personnel. However, foreign airport security personnel are perceived to have more power because we are unfamiliar with their security procedures and, more importantly, they can prevent us from returning home.

It is far better to stand in a security line wishing you were in the air than it is to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.