Dear Admiral Neffenger, continuing the series on fixing aviation security…
Aviation is as essential to the United States just as our power, water, food and other transportation systems. It’s not a nicety, nor a luxury. Our nation’s success is based on it.
The 9/11 attacks resulted in the near economic collapse of the U.S. When air travel slows down, flights are missed, business deals that people are relying on for their livelihood fall through, people lose jobs, the essential medical device doesn’t get to the dying patient in time, the once in a lifetime family vacation that is only possible by air, fails to happen, the final trip to see an aging relative or sick child, is missed. The trickle down effect erodes the entire US economy which is based on aviation, it slowly cuts into our values and eats away at our way of life. For aviation to work, it must move, efficiently, effectively, as safe and as secure as possible – but we can’t cut off its legs and expect it to continue to run.
Please watch the new IMAX movie, Living in the Age of Airplanes. It does a great job of explaining just how dependent this country is on aviation.
Don’t get target fixated
I’m sure you’ve heard the term, target fixation. It comes from the fighter pilot community and means that the pilot is getting to focused on one threat that he or she ignores or doesn’t see the others. I get that your top priority will be screening. So do what’s necessary to fix it. If the existing technology doesn’t work, buy stuff that does. If the people aren’t working, re-train them and if they can’t be trained, then this job isn’t for them and they should seek employment elsewhere. Before TSA pushes out into other areas of aviation security, let’s make sure their primary mission of protecting the front door, is effective.
But, it’s not just about finding prohibited items — it’s about training people to make good decisions and to make them at the lowest level, by educating them on the mission and what they are trying to truly protect. The Coast Guard is exceptional at this, so please show TSA how to do it.
Once it’s fixed, let’s not spend tons of time, energy and vital resources into trying to reduce the noise of the system. There are bigger issues to address.
Fixing TSA’s reputation will increase deterrence and prevent actual attacks
Customer service training is a must, but not just so that people feel better about their experience with TSA. YouTube videos of TSA personnel yelling at passengers to “respect the badge” (when they aren’t actually law enforcement officers), or trying to search passengers coming off a flight, with lame explanations and a clear misunderstanding of the rights of a citizen in the United States, or telling people that since they didn’t write the policy, they don’t have to abide by it, continue to erode the reputation of TSA and minimizes the outstanding work that many of your TSOs are doing. I was a screener – back in the 80s, and I get that it can be a mind-numbingly boring job, but it doesn’t have to be. Teach them to be friendly, while also carefully evaluating each person from a threat perspective – condition yellow can be maintained with a smile on your face.
I get that many new TSA personnel came into the job believing they were the last line of defense against terrorism, but they need to stay in their lane and focus on that very important job. Let others do their jobs. Not everyone gets to be the quarterback, but everyone on the team has an essential role.
Customer service training, along with a REAL understanding of what aviation security is, and what the TSO role is in it, will go a long way to rebuilding respect. When people feel that there are competent individuals at the checkpoints, making good decisions and following sensible processes, respect, trust and eventually a perspective that “these people know what they are doing,” will slowly start to be rebuilt. This adds tremendous value to deterrence.