It shouldn't be this hard to make security checkpoints palatable.
It was a rough year for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with multiple scathing reports published about the agency’s efficacy and a revolving door of administrators failing to keep things under control.
With the late summer appointment of Peter Neffenger to the top position, the American public was promised a better-trained and better focused agency — and to a degree, the TSA has done a good job of staying out of the headlines. But there’s much more that the agency can do — much of it on the front lines of airport checkpoints. Here are five things that can immediately improve the airport experience.
1. Bring back liquids greater than 100mL. Last September, then-TSA chief John Pistole hinted that they’re working on eradicating the 100mL liquid rule. That still hasn’t happened.
2. If you can’t bring back liquids, tighten up the liquid screening process. Few airports force you to pack liquids in clear plastic baggies (Heathrow being a major exception) and few people are asked to take their liquids out of their carry-on bags at security. Either enforce the rule or take it away.
3. Streamline bag checks and random searches. Ever been at a security checkpoint when you hear someone shout “BAG CHECK, LANE FOUR?” Currently when a bag or person is flagged for extra screening at most checkpoints a floating agent needs to be called over to perform the screening. And to page them, the line staff shout across the room to find the right person. A simple electronic paging system would be both quieter and more efficient.
4. Better mechanisms for instantaneous feedback. While most TSA officers do a fine job of keeping airports secure, it only takes a few bad apples to make a checkpoint experience miserable. In many airports around the world, simple, color-coded buttons are placed at customs and security checkpoints to get instantaneous feedback on a passenger’s experience. The TSA could use the same to monitor the performance of their agents.
5. Make Precheck only for Precheck subscribers. While the TSA’s managed inclusion program was a nice way to balance loads at the airport and do a bit of advertising, it also served to slow down Precheck for paying subscribers. While that campaign has apparently been wound down, today’s Precheck line is still full of lost and confused travelers. The process for including non-Precheck passengers in the Precheck line needs to be overhauled.
To be clear, these five improvements are only simple changes that can be applied on the front lines at security checkpoints. While there are certainly issues with the charter and global execution of airline and airport security, it will take time, reform and maybe an act of congress to change the fundamental course of the TSA.
With the few small improvements above though, the airport security experience can be better for everyone involved.
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Photo credit: Travelers wait in long security lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson / Associated Press