Nav: Home

Few willing to pay a price for equitable treatment in aviation screenings

May 17, 2017

What would U.S. air travelers pay to ensure equal treatment in aviation security screenings?

Not much, according to a new USC study.

About half the respondents said they would be willing to pay up to $15 in fees to make screenings more equitable, and half said they would tolerate allowing up to two contraband-toting passengers per 100 to board a flight.

Overall, 60 to 80 percent of the respondents asked about random screenings did not want to trade off any convenience or wait any longer than five minutes more than usual to ensure equal treatment. Approximately 20 percent said they were willing to make significant sacrifices for equitable screenings, and 10 percent consider equal protection a sacred value, meaning that they would go to great lengths to ensure it.

The largely lukewarm response for equitable treatment surprised the USC scientists who had anticipated that public concern for safety would have eased since the United States has not experienced a terrorist attack on an airline in more than 15 years.

"As we can see by the public's strong reaction to the recent travel bans, we know that the general traveling public has concerns about equity in screenings," said Kenneth Nguyen, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "This observation suggests that a sizable portion of travelers would give up a lot to protect the constitutional principle of equal protection. Yet, we found most respondents would concede very little in terms of money, time and convenience to avoid discriminatory screenings."

The TSA screens an estimated 2 million passengers every day and more than 700 million every year, according to federal statistics.

Security techniques may vary from airport to airport. Current air passenger screening procedures rely largely on a two-stage process. Generally, all passengers go through an initial screening in which they present a government issued picture ID with boarding passes and then pass through a metal detector or backscatter machine that checks for illegal substances and items. Afterward, passengers may be selected for additional screenings, which may include a pat-down.

Some members of the public and advocacy groups have said that security screenings are discriminatory and violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which says no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction "the equal protection of the laws."

Air travelers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for convenience and shorter wait times. Since 2013, more than 2 million travelers have joined the TSA Pre-check program for expedited screenings. To qualify, they have completed an application, cleared a background check and paid a fee. TSA said the program reduces passengers' security line wait times by at least five minutes.

"The biggest takeaway from our study is that we need to take a holistic approach to aviation security," Nguyen said. "We know that travelers value both safety and equity, but what we did not know is how they reconcile these conflicting priorities."

"Our research sheds light on how travelers make this trade-off, and perhaps more importantly, uncovers factors that influence this trade-off and suggests ways that stakeholders can incorporate those issues into security policy."

The USC study was published on April 24 by the Society for Risk Analysis in its flagship journal, Risk Analysis.

The research was conducted by CREATE at USC, a joint research center of the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Viterbi School of Engineering that was founded in 2003 as a Homeland Security Center of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is to improve national security through the development of advanced models and tools for the evaluation of the risks, costs and consequences of terrorism and to guide economically viable investments in homeland security.

Researchers in 2013 recruited 222 participants through Amazon Mechanical Turk and asked in an online survey what they were willing to give up in money, time, safety and convenience to ensure screenings are more equitable.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three types of screenings that trigger a second, more intensive round of screening. Those mechanisms included random screening in which a passenger is randomly selected for further screening, "behavioral" detection in which a passenger is singled out for additional screening because of nervous or anxious behaviors, and risk-based screenings in which a passenger is selected for further and more intrusive screening based on demographic characteristics such as age, nationality, and sex.

The study showed participants' concerns about equitable treatment varied according to which screening mechanisms had triggered a secondary screening, said Richard John, a senior corresponding author for the study and an associate director for Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, a joint research center of the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

"With random screening, people believe that the process is equitable, and they are not willing to make tradeoffs to increase equity," said John, also an associate professor of psychology in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "But they do not like the idea of profiling, and in those cases, respondents were interested in sacrificing something to increase equity."

The study's results indicated that travelers view behavioral detection in much the same way as random screening, but they perceive "risk-based" profile screenings much more negatively. John said that the validity of behavioral detection is unclear, and may be not much different from random screening.

For all scenarios, women were 2.8 times more likely than men to support waiting for 15 minutes more than usual to improve equity. The odds that women would pay more for improving equitable treatment in screenings were also 1.7 times higher than for men. (Nearly 48 percent of the 222 study participants were women.)

"We did not explore the main differences underlying women's' responses, but it seems that women were significantly more sensitive than men to the issue of equal treatment," said Heather Rosoff, a study co-author and research professor for CREATE and the USC Price School.

"We had thought that we would see a significant difference in how whites and non-whites perceive screenings and equitable treatment, but they were very similar in their responses, despite heightened public awareness of bias or discrimination," Rosoff said. "We believe this can be attributed to our conceptualization of equity as a willingness to give up something to have a fair screening policy for all passengers, as opposed to a context in which the respondents would consider their ethnic demographic or their own personal experiences."

John said that overall, air passenger screenings have been proven successful.

"We have not had another airline attack since 9/11, and many believe that air passengers screenings provide an effective deterrent to would-be attackers," he said.
-end-
The study is one of a series funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

University of Southern California

Related Public Policy Articles:

COVID-19 antibody testing needn't be perfect to guide public health and policy decisions
While it's too soon to use COVID-19 antibody testing to issue 'immunity passports', antibody tests that are available today are good enough to inform decisions about public health and relaxing social distancing interventions, says an international group of infectious disease and public health experts in Science Immunology today.
Growing volume of gun policy research creates basis for policy decisions
While research about many gun policies still lags, a surging number of studies now provides the evidence needed to make sound decisions on policies designed to reduce homicides and injuries while protecting individuals' rights.
Nephrology and Public Policy Committee (NPPC) aims to intensify research activity
Epidemiological and clinical research and public policy in Europe are generally considered to be comprehensive and successful - and the European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association (ERA-EDTA) is playing a key role in the field of nephrology research.
Autonomous vehicles could be an environmental boon or disaster, depending on public policy
Widespread use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) could either massively increase or drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions depending, in large part, on public policy, according to new research from Princeton University.
Educational outreach, public policy changes needed to reduce health hazards at nail salons
The nail salon industry has seen rapid growth within the last 20 years, becoming increasingly popular among women of all ages.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Tragic death of baby highlights need for vitamin D public health policy change
UK vitamin D supplementation policy needs to change to protect the health and lives of babies, pregnant women and dark skinned individuals, say University of Birmingham researchers.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Minority public managers prefer integrating social equity, traditional public values
Minority public managers place more emphasis on both traditional values, like efficiency and effectiveness, and social equity when compared with their white counterparts, according to a new study that includes a University of Kansas researcher and two fellow KU alumni.
Public divides over environmental regulation and energy policy
A 54 percent majority of US adults believe that 'government regulations are necessary to encourage businesses and consumers to rely more on renewable energy sources,' while 38 percent support the notion that 'the private marketplace will ensure that businesses and consumers rely more on renewable energy sources, even without government regulations,' according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
More Public Policy News and Public Policy Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.