The last time most of us traveled via air for Thanksgiving was in 2019. Things have changed a bit at our nation’s airports in the intervening two years, so let me catch you up a bit.
For instance, in the security line at the airport in 2019, a Transportation Security Administration worker may have said this: “Please put your shoes and the contents of your pockets into the plastic bin. If you’re wearing a belt, please take it off and place it in there, as well.”
In 2021, the worker in the security line might be saying this: “Arf arf arf. Woof? Arf woof arf. Woof woof.”
I kid, but only slightly. While dogs won’t likely be instructing you on where to put your sneakers and wallet at LaGuardia anytime in the near future, because of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer harebrained idea to avoid disruptions due to it, our four-legged friends could be the only way you’re not going to be stuck in security purgatory.
In September, as Reuters reported, the Biden administration announced that federal employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22 to stay on the job. While the administration had announced in July that there would be an option to test weekly, that was eliminated with September’s more sweeping mandate.
It’s unclear why the administration chose Nov. 22 as the cut-off. Leaving aside the fact there’s some negative mojo hanging around the date as it is — at least in a historical sense — it also falls three days before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel time of the year. Even given the best-case scenario, this would mean the TSA would be down at least some employees.
Oh, and believe me, we’re not anywhere near the best-case scenario. Last Wednesday, CNN interviewed TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “We have about 60 percent of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” Pekoske said.
“The next few weeks” doesn’t quite convey the sort of urgency one might hope to see from Pekoske. When that interview was published, it was Wednesday. As the New York Post noted, to count as fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, the 40 percent of TSA workers who are unvaccinated would need to receive their first Pfizer shot on Monday. If they want to take the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, that deadline is Nov. 8 — although if 40 percent of your workers aren’t vaccinated, my guess is the deadlines aren’t the problem.
One TSA “contingency plan” involves management filling in for unvaccinated workers, the Post reported, which is every bit as feasible as it sounds.
“The TSA is looking at several thousand employees right now who are unvaccinated. I don’t believe there are enough management employees available to backfill those workers,” said airline analyst Henry Harteveldt.
So Sen. Chuck Schumer’s solution? Doggos!
“If TSA lags in jabs, send in the dogs,” the New York Democrat said during a media briefing in New York City on Sunday, according to the Post.
“There is no reason on God’s green Earth why anyone — let alone a TSA agent — shouldn’t have the vaccine,” Schumer added.
“Now if the agency plans now with contingencies, including the deployment of the canine dog teams, wherever the vaccine rates are impacting staffing and security, travel headaches can be avoided.”
The TSA ought to “particularly look at New York” given the city’s high travel numbers and low TSA workforce vaccination rate.
“The canine teams are really effective,” Schumer said.
“They can help secure national security and allow TSA agents to more effectively and efficiently screen individuals for explosives. It really works and moves the lines along.”
If this comes to pass, there are two ways it could work out, and both should infuriate you.
First, the less likely possibility: Everything works smoothly, or at least smoothly enough. That should be great, right? For Thanksgiving, at least, it is.
However, that means up to 40 percent of TSA’s workforce, paid for with taxpayer dollars, could feasibly be replaced by dogs.
Forget the salaries, benefits and pensions. Think merely of what performance reviews and lengthy termination procedures for underperforming employees cost alone, both in terms of manpower and money. This could all be replaced with one of two options: a) “Who’s been a good boy these past six months? Who’s been a good, good, good boy?” or b) the animal shelter, where our underperforming TSA employee will no doubt find a loving family and won’t need unemployment benefits.
Second, the more likely possibility: This ends up working exactly how you think it will, which is terribly.
TSA dogs may provide the smallest of Band-Aids on the gaping, self-inflicted wound caused by an administration that needed to seem tough on COVID-19 and didn’t seem to account for the possibility that a vaccine mandate might actually not result in everyone taking the vaccine.
Just like Biden’s mandate, Chuck Schumer talking up the efficacy of TSA dogs to solve the issue the mandate created is the old politician’s trick of appearing to propose a solution without actually attempting to solve anything. The very fact he’s insinuating human jobs can be replaced by dogs at this time of the year is prima facie farcical.
This mandate sounded great in September, particularly to liberal vaccine hawks. Remember how they ate up that “we’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin” line from Biden’s speech? Well, imagine how thin your patience will be wearing at LAX on Nov. 23 as you’re waiting four hours in a security line for a flight that left two hours ago — particularly when this vaccine mandate could have been delayed or ditched, especially given the very foreseeable externalities it would cause.
I’m sure the dogs will be cute, though. I’m especially fond of German shepherds myself. Hope you like them too, because I’ll bet you’ll be seeing plenty of them.
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