Lawmaker threatens bill to force TSA agents to be more polite

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is threatening to introduce a bill requiring the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to be more polite to airline passengers.

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During a hearing about the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program that took place this week, Connolly said passengers would likely cooperate more with TSA agents if the agency’s workers used better manners when they deliver their instructions.

“There’s no excuse for someone barking orders continuously at the public at any airport in America who is an employee of the federal government, or a contractor for the federal government,” Connolly said. “I’d lose my job if I treated the public that way and rightfully so. My staff would be fired if I find that they treated my public that way.”

Connolly said he was sympathetic to the fact that TSA agents sometimes come across angry passengers.

“Every member of Congress is in the customer service business,” he said. “We experience what you experience. People aren’t all the same. Some people are very cooperative and some people can be less so.”  

But Connolly said “it’s not an either/or proposition” between better customer service and the TSA’s effectiveness in stopping potential terrorist attacks.

“We can have a high-quality customer service and satisfaction while also [having] just top-notch fulfillment of our mission,” he said. “The two are not incompatible. They in fact are compatible.”  

Connolly said the TSA would get better results with nice manners.

“I happen to believe that the less pleasant the experience, because we don’t get customer service right … I actually think it contributes to less cooperation, resentment and a desire frankly not to cooperate,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want people understanding our mission.”

TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Operations Kelly Hoggan said he agreed with Connolly that customer service was important.

Hoggan said the TSA warns potential hires that the job requires interacting with the public when they apply for position.  

“We give a pre-employment overview of what the job entails to ensure people understand that it is a very demanding job,” he said.

Hoggan said the TSA checks the backgrounds of new agents when they are hired and provides them with a minimum of 120 hours of training, which he said includes customer service.

He added that the agents interact with a lot of passengers, however.

“We interact with 1.8 million passengers a day and we screen 1.2 million bags,” Hoggan said. “Over the course of a year, that’s a long period of time.”

Connolly said he would consider introducing legislation to require the TSA to improve its customer service if the agency did not make changes on its own.

“I don’t understand how hard it is to teach people [to] make sure you use the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when you’re interacting with our public,” he said.  

“If I can’t get assurances that we’re going to take that seriously and we’re going to redouble our efforts to make sure that TSA agents or the private sector [contractors] are properly trained in customer service and show respect for the public we’re serving, then we’re going to have to do something legislatively about it,” Connolly continued. “I’m going to insist and I know I won’t have any resistance from the other side of the aisle on that one.”

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