TSA and passenger complaints

Recently we had a story about a woman who claimed that she was required to go through Dallas/Fort Worth airport whole-body-imaging scanners three times during one screening.  From her account, the questions and remarks by the TSA screener made it clear that a few people in another location were getting their kicks viewing her figure in the naked body scanner.

TSA’s Bob Burns posted the expected TSA Blog piece discounting the story, although he was careful not to issue a denial of the truth of the account. The TSA’s only claim was that no complaint was filed, and that DFW scanners currently use new software that does not display a graphic image of a person’s body. That is true today; but what TSA did not say is that the privacy software just rolled out in recent months is for millimeter wave (MMW) scanners only. For backscatter (x-ray) scanners, no such software exists. With those scanners, explicit naked body images are still being viewed by observers hidden away in little rooms.

This brings us to the reason for this article:  Complaints from travelers to the TSA.

Businesses know that being responsive to complaints is important for managing customer satisfaction and ensuring continued patronage. Not doing so can result in a bad reputation and loss of customers.

TSA has no such Customer Service pressures. And it shows. File a complaint with the TSA, and you’re unlikely to ever know the outcome.

I have twice filed complaints with TSA, once for an incident at Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and once at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). The FLL incident was just as my spouse’s tray exited the x-ray, and I saw the screener reaching into a bag. I questioned the act, and suddenly the screener moved to have the item re-screened. I reported to TSA what I believed to be an attempted theft. Response from the Federal Security Director at FLL: “in light of 9/11 we have to understand the need for increased screening efforts.”

The DFW incident was very disturbing as I felt a TSA employee was on the verge of assaulting me during the ID check.  I reported the incident and had numerous communications with DFW TSA and higher offices within the agency, but all they were interested in was my telephone number, not the nature of the complaint. I spent many hours over a period of weeks trying to find out any outcome to the investigation and never got a word from the TSA.  In fact, to this day I’m not sure that the TSA investigated my complaint at all — even though the agency states:

The findings and recommendations will be reviewed and approved by management. A final response letter will be sent, which will outline the findings and recommendations if any. The time frame for resolving a matter is 90 days from receipt.

The TSA complaint process is broken. TSA attempts to hide behind secrecy in order to not be accountable to the public. If one looks at known complaints, TSA’s first words are always some form of “It didn’t happen” and “Normal procedures were followed.”

If the TSA wants the public to have some trust in the complaint process, the agency needs to go back to square one.

Availability of comment cards should be easily available at TSA checkpoints without one’s having to provide TSA with any sort of ID or reason for requesting a card.  The card should be postage-paid to a collection point at TSA Headquarters, not the local airport.

Complaints need to be acknowledged by the TSA as being real to the person filing them.

TSA needs to be transparent in actions used to investigate complaints.

Outcome of complaints should be made public.

TSA employees who violate policy and their managers should be held accountable.

TSA would do itself a big favor if it posted on the TSA Blog a list of all complaints received and the outcome of those investigations.  The TSA has stated that the number of complaints received is small, so posting them should also be a small effort.  Then the public could see the TSA being responsive to complaints and perhaps start having a bit of faith that problems aren’t being swept under the rug.

So what’s stopping the TSA from being upfront and using trusted methods to resolve issues like any other large organization?

I don’t have an answer. Maybe Blogger Bob does.

(Photo: Flickr/Britta Frahm)