TSA Brings Problems on Itself

As the Thanksgiving travel begins to increase, so too do the TSA screening stories! If you have been watching TV in the last week, you are probably sick of the "should they – shouldn’t they" conduct security "pat downs".  Polls have shown that a vast majority of travelers have no problem with the new procedure and I believe the coverage is conveniently swayed to those travelers who have a problem.  In fact, only 3% of travelers are subjected to additional screening or x-ray.  As a frequent traveler I have been subject to additional screening only once in the last year.

That aside, having practiced as a clinical psychologist for a number of years, I do understand that there are people who have a problem being touched by anyone.  I know these people will experience a great deal of anxiety with the new pat-down procedures.  The problem for the TSA is should they allow a small percentage of passengers to change the system which will in turn cost many millions of dollars?  I think not.  This population is small in comparison, and I know that under certain conditions, their anxiety will diminish with subsequent screenings.

The true problem is one that I think the TSA has brought on itself. What has caused the brouhaha? It’s poor customer service.  The sad fact is that when TSA agents are friendly and courteous they stand out because they are exceptional—not typical.  When I was pulled aside for additional screening, I didn’t understand why, and was slow to remove my pen and my watch as they were ok under the usual process.  I would have had a very different reaction if I had been told something like, “Sir, we select a certain percentage of travellers for additional screening and today is your day. 

You will need to remove your pen and watch for the x-ray screening.”  This was not done and I admit I was a little hesitant and obstinate during the process. A few kind words up front make a big difference for most people who are asked to cooperate in activities where they would otherwise be uncomfortable. If you were to diagnose this further, the poor customer service is likely linked to a lack of training. I have to believe, based on my own experience, that these TSA representatives do not know their own process well enough and therefore fumble their way through the screening procedure, leaving everyone feeling uneasy.

In the final analysis, the decision between being touched in ways that might cause me some increased tension or subject me to an additional dose of x-rays and having another act of terrorism in a plane is a no-brainer.  However, I believe that the TSA can do a better job to allay many fears using the present process and equipment which can be addressed with increased training and attention to the customer (ie. passengers).  Are there better ways to secure flights than are currently being used? Clearly.  Until the time those procedures and equipment are available, my advice, “Get over it.”

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.