Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In Defense of TSA Agents

Not long ago, I was taking a train from my arrival terminal at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport to the car rental area, and I ran across an off duty airport employee. She seemed tired and burdened with the day of work; she kept her head down and stuck to herself. I struck up a conversation with her and she, somewhat reluctantly, revealed that she was a TSA (Transportation Security Agency) agent, AKA: a TSO (Transportation Security Officer). I thanked her for doing a tough and often thankless job. After I expressed my thanks, she perked up immediately and mentioned how nice it was to be thanked for being a TSO since very few people bother to do so. She even mentioned that she had been called an "Airport Nazi" at one point.

This encounter got me thinking about TSOs and the recognition that they receive from the public. We often hear about the negative side of airport security, but rarely do we recognize the great work that the majority of TSOs do every day. It's not difficult to find stories about people expressing their displeasure with TSOs so I won't be linking to any of them today.

In looking for some slightly more positive articles, I did a quick search for "thank you TSA". This resulted in finding a lot of posts along the lines of "Thank you for taking my peanut butter TSA!"

I think that the tendency to criticize more than we praise is just part of human nature. We tend to ignore good service, but we latch onto bad service. What we don't often recognize is that it's all the good service that we regularly receive that makes the bad service stand out. I explored this idea more fully in my 3 to 1 Service Rule post a while back.

In the past 5 years or so, I've been through TSA controlled security over 120 times, and I've never seen a TSO act in an inappropriate fashion.

I have seen plenty of excitement through security lines, but this was caused primarily by passengers who were trying to take liquids through security. Most of the time, this occurs after international flights when people fail to put their duty free items in their checked bags after clearing them through customs.

These people don't realize that they have to go through security again once they are through customs. There are always announcements instructing travelers to put liquids in their checked bags, but someone always forgets. This person tends to be a bit cranky after a long flight and ready to argue. Fortunately, the TSOs I've seen in this position have remained calm and dealt with the cranky travelers in a professional manner.

Being in customer support myself, I know that dealing with an argumentative customer can take a lot out of you so I make sure to thank every TSO agent I run into at the airport. Most of this time this is a simple thank you or wishing a TSO an uneventful day. I usually get a great response back which makes me think that there aren't enough people thanking the TSOs.

Similar to bad service sticking out when compared to so much good service, a simple expression of gratitude can stick out when compared to a day of sprinkled with grumbles and verbal abuse. It embarrasses me that this can be the case, but I think it's safe to say we take the TSOs for granted. I have no doubt that there are some bad TSOs out there, but there are bad members in every group; to say that they are all bad is to do the vast majority a great disservice.

Every day, TSOs go to work, unsure of what they will encounter. One of the things that they are after are artfully concealed weapons. Take a minute to read that post and then tell me that they're not doing something important.

I'd like to take this time to thank all of the great TSOs out there for doing a tough job and putting up with a lot of abuse that they don’t deserve. I'd also like to invite you to join me in thanking the great TSOs out there when you encounter them.

From where I stand, most security line issues can be avoided by making sure that you are up to date on the current security restrictions. The current rules are available at the TSA website. I've also found that following the TSA blog Evolution of Security is a handy way of keeping up to date on the rules.

All in all, I feel that the TSOs are doing a great job. Do I have it right or am I way off on this topic?

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  1. My Auntie was a TSA in the 70's and 80's. A bit different back then. But she had some crazy stories. She found guns, swords, knives, and drugs all the time and would pull them out and wave them in the face of the person. She got to meet many celebs and other big name people. She loved talking with the passengers all the time. She worked at Logan in Boston and is still friends with many of the people she worked with all those years ago. I think we should thank the TSA more often and get mad at the terrorists that stole our happy ways from us. I hate that I can't wait at the gate anymore for loved ones. I hate that I can't bring my own liguid snacks on the plane. It is the terrorists fault not the TSA.

  2. Thanks for this. I'll remember to thank the TSOs when I fly in the future.

  3. Good work, Graham!

    As you and I have discussed, our approach to the obstacles, delays & cancellations can make all the difference in the world. The TSA workers are right in the thick of those delays all day. There spirit goes along way...but so does ours! We can choose to travel gracefully!
    Change the World, Start at the Airport

  4. Robin Sue: I think I would like your auntie. It is a pain, not being able to take drinks through security. I once bought one from a machine, walked around and came back to the same area. In the time being, they'd setup another security check point and wouldn't let me take my drink that I bought within security, crazy.

    Jason: I wonder if the negative behavior from TSOs that we hear about would be reduced if we were just nicer to them. Aren't happy people that are appropriately gruntled less likely to do bad things?

  5. Graham,
    Good blog but lets not limit our thanks to TSA people. We all need to remember to thank all of the service people that we meet on a daily basis from the gas station attendant to the food service worker (whether it be a fast food teenager or a server at a 4 star resturant). A simple thank you or a have a good day or just a nice heart felt smile will go a long way to making someones day a little better.


  6. Sadly like in many professions, I suspect the poor attitude of a handful of TSA officers tarnish the majority. I have flown into/through/out of the US many times and mostly had good experiences but occasionally bad ones where TSA officers were at the centre of the bad experience. They should also remember that most people (most of whom only fly occasionally at best) are doing their best to follow the ever-changing and inconsistent rules and are typically polite in their dealings too.

  7. Thank you Graham. I actually get to hear people thank us from time to time, but it is truly refreshing to see someone post a truly positive blog on the TSO's! Thank you again and make sure to speak to us in Greensboro the next time you come through.

  8. Nettech: Good point, people in the customer service industry aren't thanked enough. Being proficient doesn't seem enough these days and people will only thank you if you go out of your way to help them; it's a shame.

    Mark H: Part of it is an education. I travel frequently so I actively keep up on the travel regulations, but how do you reach the person that travels once per year, that's a tougher challenge. The TSA website is there and it works pretty well if people use it.

    There's also an image expectation problem. If you only travel once per year and you've had some bad experiences due to the education problem then you are going to go into your next trip expecting the same problems. This could make things worse than they actually are.

  9. GSOLTSO: I'll definitely stop and say hello if my travels take me your way. I did do some searches for positive articles about the TSOs and I didn't find much. Everyone needs positive recognition every now and then, otherwise bad things happen.

  10. I just want to say thanks for the blog. As another poster said, we do get thanked from time to time, but it's few and far between. I've spent 3 years in the TSA and you wouldn't believe half the stuff I went through from passengers... and from what I heard from TSOs from other airports, what I go through isn't all that bad in comparisson!

    You're a good man for going against popular views of us and I appreciate it immensely.

  11. Another TSO here!

    Thanks, Graham, I really appreicate it, to be honest, most people are generally nice to us all here at BOS, there only a few bad apples every day.

    I guess the thing that brings my morale down the most is just reading comments on the TSA blog.... and the rest of FlyerTalk.

    The only other positive article I happened on was an opinion piece in the Boston Herald.

  12. Robert Stolsig:I'm sure that you, along with every other TSO, has some pretty unbelievable stories to tell. Is there some secret (or not so secret) TSO rant blog?

    Patrick (BOS TSO): I'm sure that being in Boston helps. Who can go to Boston and not be in a good mood? I'll actually be visiting Boston in a couple of weeks so if you get thanked by some random guy, it might be me.

    Don't read the comments on the TSA blog. For some reason the comments are pretty heavily moderated and some really good comments never get published even though they don't break any of the comment rules. There's definitely some favoritism going on over there. I'm not bitter about it though.

  13. Patrick (BOS TSO): Let me clarify a bit on my comment about not reading the TSA blog comments. If you post a comment, you risk very little so there is a lure, to some, to be a little harsher than they might be otherwise. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it's great that the TSA blog allows comments, I wouldn't want that to change. The problem is when the comments start affecting people in a negative way.

    Fortunately we can decide for ourselves whether or not to read the comments just as others can decide to post them or not.
    If we decide to read them, they must be taken in context. Is this a member of the outspoken minority? Is this someone that's trying to get a rise out of you? Is this person typing angry? Does this person have a legitimate concern?

    It can be difficult to tell sometimes, but if it makes you uncomfortable, you can always stop reading the comments. Try not to take it personal and move on with the day.

  14. Excellent post... I think you are correct that there is a lot to remember and the rules are always changing so it remains challenging for the traveler to keep up on what is ok and what is not. I have been with TSA for over 5 years and I love my job. I also was a teacher and also worked for DOD in Nuclear Defense Weapons. Some people do lump us all into one catagory which is unfair. But what I try to do when I have someone who is upset with the process is to educate them... as in 3-1-1, also with buying the soda or drink in security and then leaving and coming back in with the drink you did buy in security. Remember the people who want to do us harm are intellegent. We don't know if the person dumped out the rest of the soda and put something harmful in there. So we have to do what is best and safe for all and deny the liquid from coming back in. I know it is a hassle but I am afraid that the people we are protecting the public from have the mentality to do harm no matter what. Thank you for such a kind post and to all officers continue to do your job to the best of your abilities and remember why... We will overcome.

  15. Thanks for your nice comments, Graham - It's true, we don't usually get the opportunity to hear many positive comments (especially on the internet). Your piece was forwarded to me from our HR specialist in ABQ and I'm sure it brightened more than a few of our days. Someone a few comments up mentioned how passenger reaction can affect us as TSO's and it's absolutely true. A good interaction can make all the difference in someone's day/attitude/job performance - and it really does go both ways. Thanks again!

  16. eric berglund TSO (and proud to be!)April 1, 2009 at 9:44 AM

    thanx Graham!??! very nice to hear, i can honestly say...we do not hear "thank you" enough?!?!? NO COMMENT!! but thank you, it does help when we do hear it! have a blessed day!

  17. Thank you for your post. The past seven years have been challenging and eye-opening. I have met wonderful people and seen things that truly astonish this kid from the upper-mid- west.
    Being a TSO is a good job. Leaning to let the negitivity roll off is one of the most difficult aspects of the job. If you don't you will go crazy.
    People are 90% nice, it is the 10% that radiate negitivity.
    Thanks for your nice comments.
    MSP TSO.

  18. MSP TSO: I can easily see how being a TSO would be a challenging, yet rewarding job. With any customer support position you have to learn to:
    1. not take things personally.
    2. not take work stresses home with you.

    Personally, I do fairly well with #1, but #2 still get me every now and then. Having solid connections with your coworkers is invaluable in getting through the negativity as they know exactly what you are going through.

  19. as with everything in life, as time passes we (human-beings) forget why we are here and why things are happening over and over. if we were able to tell who the terrorist are we would not need human intervention. so please when you are going thru security don't as us "do i look like a terrorist". and if you want to keep your LGA's pay the extra money and check a bag. STSO

  20. STSO: I know that the TSA uses a lot of acronyms, heck I use a lot of acronyms in my work, but I have no idea what LGA means.
    Checking didn't reveal anything enlightening. Please define your acronym.

  21. LGA=Liquids,Gels & Aerosols

  22. LGA

    Means Liquids Gels & aresols

  23. I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great ... Keep it up!

  24. whereas you and I presuppose discussed, our road to the obstacles, delays & cancellations can lead unabbreviated the antithesis money the creation. The TSA line-up are useful rule the affable of those delays imperforate allotment. efficient happening goes along way...but hence does ours! We subjection throng to travel gracefully!

  25. I want to thank you for this blog, I am a TSO and just reading this made me tear up a little. I appreciate everything you said, and it really does give us a nice glimmer throughout the day to hear a thank you every once in a while.

  26. I'm not going to thank the TSA. They are idiots. Let's get the Israelis do our airport security, they do it with intelligence and without any groin groping or breast fondling for 99% of the flyers. As for the TSA vermin out there, just know you are hated by millions of true Americans.