This post could have easily been a rant about a certain government agency charged with airport security and an airport I fly through frequently. If I’d chosen to go that way however, I’d have missed the customer service lesson in what happened to me and hundreds of other travelers one morning not too long ago.
No this is not yet another TSA groped me post
Here’s the thing: Every person I encountered in this story was perfectly pleasant and treated me as I would want to be treated. This is a story about a failure to count and then communicate that count. Honestly, I don’t know where the communications breakdown occurred. I just know one did. It’s also a story about two supervisors jumping in and doing what they could to help. Sometimes mistakes are made and then it’s time for crisis management.
Was it the traffic accident?
Because of a traffic accident on the freeway approaching my home airport, I arrived about 15 minutes later than I intended but still with more than 60 minutes to spare before takeoff. Typically, that should be plenty of time to clear security and grab a cup of coffee before the plane starts to board. That’s not how it was going to be on this day.
The security line for my concourse was backed up. Now I realize that this sometimes happens, but I know they have ten lanes at the other end and usually even the longer line moves pretty quickly. I figured it would be 15 minutes based on past experience. Boy, was I wrong. When all was said and done, it took more than 30 minutes to clear the security lanes.
Remember I mentioned the ten security lanes? Well, when I finally made it to the front of the long line, TSA had three of those lanes open. There were also two supervisors in shirts and ties conferring. I still don’t know what caused the problem but these two guys started checking IDs and, as I passed through, they did get a fourth line running. That’s better than nothing in a crisis, right? Yes, kudos to them for doing what they could after the fact.
As I boarded the plane, I heard an airline employee say the security backup was caused by TSA employees not being able to get to the airport because of the accident. At this point in the story I call BS. I was coming from the direction of that accident and was only delayed by 15 minutes or less. So, what was the real problem?
Counting and communication could have solved the problem.
I think we all know that since 9/11, airlines share their passenger manifests with TSA. They have to because that’s how they keep people on the no-fly list off airplanes. Okay, so TSA has a passenger manifest for every flight. Wouldn’t one assume they also use those manifests to set staffing levels? I say assume because we don’t really know, do we? TSA is one of the tightest lipped government agencies out there. They are quasi law enforcement, but not quite.
I recognize predicting capacity can be difficult in some businesses. I don’t think TSA’s business is one of those. They know what times the flights are and they know how many passengers are on each flight. Hopefully, we have statistics on how long it takes for an average passenger to clear security. You get the picture. Clearly, if you have 10 lanes available and only chose to use three for whatever reason, you’ve done a very poor job serving your customers.
I want to end by circling back to the two managers who did what they could to fix the problem once it happened. You need people in your organization who can think on their feet. As a vocal skeptic of all things beaurocratic and government, it impressed me to see this behavior in a government agency.