On the 13th of February 2012 Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, or “RIGHTS Act,” addressing the need for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to have a passenger advocate on site, at every airport, to address immediate passenger screening issues. The RIGHTS Act was introduced in response to an increasing number of incidents involving passengers who believe their rights have been violated, screening policy and protocol was not properly followed, issues where elderly or disabled passengers have been improperly handed, as well other passenger issues.
In introducing the RIGHTS Act Sen. Schumer stated “Since the TSA Won’t Voluntarily Put in Place Passenger Advocates, We’ll Mandate They Do.” Under the RIGHTS Act, the TSA was to establish the Office for Passenger Support, Require a TSA Passenger Advocate be on duty at all times, the agency place visible signage at all checkpoints and gates advising traveling that an Advocate is available, real-time complaint resolution be implemented and that advance notification for passengers with disabilities or medical conditions be pre-arranged for expedited screening that allows for proper screening without causing hardship for the passenger in need of special screening.
Following the legislation introduced by Senators Schumer and Collins the TSA has created a new in airport job position, which was recently supported by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and approved by the TSA’s Office of Security Operations. The new passenger facing position is the Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) Position, which will soon be recruited, trained and deployed into every airport in the United States.
The role of the PSS will requires the acting Officer convey the TSA’s standard operating procedures to the passenger in need of assistance and clearly explain what that means in any given particular situation. The PSS will act as the primary point of contact for resolving passenger related screening complaints quickly, on site, and enhance the passengers experience with the agency … additionally the PSS on duty must respond to passenger requests for assistance within five minutes.
Training for the PSS position will initially be 10 hours, with recurrent 1-to-2 hour sessions. Training for the role of PSS will address understanding the basics of customer service, the individual needs of passengers with disabilities, Civil Rights and enhancing the TSA’s public image. The course work for those undertaking the PSS role will have a heavy emphasis on conflict resolution, sensitivity to passengers wit special needs and effective communications.
When the Passenger Support Specialist position is opened within the agency all Transportation Security Officers (TSO), at all ranks, within the TSA will be eligible to apply, although Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) will require a special approval from the agency’s headquarters.
On one hand, the TSA is to be commended for creating the Passenger Support Specialist position in a timely manner, on the other hand there are a number of issues with this new passenger facing role that will soon be staffed, trained and deployed.
The first main issue with the PSS training and role is that all TSA Transportation Security Officers should understand the needs of not only passengers with disabilities, but all travelers. Should the TSA need to create specialized training to address Civil Rights, the laws of the United States and how they pertain to the agency? Conflict resolution and enhancing the agency’s image should be a basic requirement to be in a front line passenger facing role when TSOs finish their initial 10 days of training and 70-hours of on the job training in the field.
The second issue with the creation of the PSS position is this … should the TSA recruit internally for a role dedicated to handling passenger complaints and conflict resolution directly related to a passenger’s experience with fellow TSOs? Can a TSO acting as the PSS be impartial when resolving a complaint and take action against a colleague within their own ranks? A Transportation Security Officer acting as a PSS would have little authority to override a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) should they determine the STSO acted improperly or violated a passenger’s rights. There is far to much room for conflicts of interest to rise, making the PSS role designed to fail from the outset.
The third issue, a red flag that the TSA’s PSS role will likely not be effective as a passenger advocate, is that virtually none of the language in the TSA’s internal job description deals with advocacy, aside from the PSS being onsite to “ensure security screening is correctly implemented and problems resolved consistent with TSA policy,” which is already the job of Supervisory Transportation Security Officers (STSO) and those above them. Having “the ability to take SOP requirements and convey to a passenger what that means for their particular situation” is not advocating for passengers when a conflict arises, it is playing semantics to ensure that a passenger believes the TSA handled a situation properly, even if they did not.
Effective oversight of the TSA, especially on-site at the airport, addressing real-time passenger concerns, should be handled by those who do not answer to the TSA. Those charged with addressing TSA complaints and passenger conflict must be impartial, understanding both the needs of passengers and the TSA, with the ability to rectify the situation without fear of internal retribution.
The TSA deploying passenger advocates who are not truly capable of completely acting as passenger advocates is not only a waste of financial and human resources, it does not improve the agency and has significant potential to further damage the agency’s image. What is needed are true advocates who ultimately improve the passenger experience, which no only potentially improves the TSA’s image but also improves a passenger’s airport and airline experience.