Newswise — As the summer travel season opens, TSA security checkpoint lines at airports around the nation have lengthened and wait times for voyagers have crept into the realm of two hours and beyond.
Congress is blaming the TSA, the TSA is blaming the airlines and passengers, and the passengers are blaming the airlines, the TSA and Congress. A Creighton University communication professor says all four entities could learn a few simple lessons to help shorten the lines and make security measures more efficient, effective and expeditious.
“Blame is great but it doesn’t solve anything,” said George F. (Guy) McHendry Jr., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies. “As a communication scholar, I think a lot of problems could be solved by improved communication and this is certainly one of those problems.”
Up front for McHendry is the TSA’s lack of communication for novice airline passengers who, when confronted with security procedures, might not have the firmest grasp of what’s expected.
In recent days, TSA has said travelers have been at least partially responsible for their fate as more passengers have arrived unready for screenings at security checkpoints. McHendry said while it’s an impolitic statement, his research confirms there’s some truth to it — but TSA could also do more to educate the infrequent flyer.
“Seasoned travelers have it down to a science, they do it so regularly,” he said. “But there’s another segment of travelers, arguably a larger segment, that doesn’t fly very often and, therefore, they see security as an interruption and inconvenience and they don’t always understand what it is they’re supposed to do at a checkpoint.”
Clearer statements of the expectations, better signage and a more jocund medium — say in the shape of a TSA screener walking lines and providing helpful reminders — all could help move the process along. Such measures may also help tune down the sometimes head-scratching statistic of tens of thousands of prohibited items arriving annually at TSA checkpoints, including several thousand firearms.
But that might mean putting a strain on another problem TSA is having at the moment: a lack of personnel.
“TSA is operating consistently on a cycle of staff reduction,” McHendry said. “Losing people is outside of the question of how to get passengers through checkpoints faster and points to a larger problem within the organization. TSA has to ask itself why people are leaving and what the impact will be.”
But even at relatively full strength, the agency has faced criticism over failure rates at catching contraband items arriving at its checkpoints in several high-profile testing maneuvers conducted last year.
Even with those shortcomings, McHendry said, air travel remains extremely safe and the key issues remain the efficiency of security screenings, TSA staffing and effective communication to passengers on checkpoint expectations.
“TSA employees do a thankless, complicated, difficult job,” he said. “But there are areas where it can be improved and I think it does start with communication.”