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Groping for an air security solution

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities. – Winston Churchill

Most of America was quietly relieved when holiday travelers opted out of participating in “National Opt-Out Day.” Everyone who boards an airplane knows the conflict of wanting to be safe but not wanting to be subjected to inefficient security procedures or, worse yet, potentially dangerous or overly intrusive body scans and searches. But nobody I know wanted to be delayed on their travels by a protest. The anger and nasty attitude that has pervaded national discourse in politics has now found its way into the fringes our industry.

Indeed, I raise the issue here because air travel is so vital to our profession. If the consumer is too afraid of a random act of terrorism to fly, or if the anticipation of a security confrontation at the gates is a part of every trip, some percentage of people will opt-out of traveling altogether.

That’s not good for anyone.

With reference to Winston Churchill’s quote, above, we seem to be embroiled in one of our confusing arrays of possible solutions now. The use of “enhanced body” searches and the new backscatter full-body scanning devices seems to have been rushed into practice without a sufficient degree of industry input and consideration. Indeed other countries use alternative technologies and systems from which there is no doubt a great deal to learn. I firmly believe the best solutions for the United States will be with technology and light observational engagement. The Israeli methods of engagement are likely too time intensive (they have only two small international airports) and depend too heavily on racial profiling (we have a Bill of Rights) to be implemented in the United States. It will be a while before collectively we get it right.

But here’s what travel professionals can do right now for their clients, their profession and their country: help educate the public. We have all seen the unpracticed travelers at security making life difficult for everyone involved. They have no identification, they don’t know they have to remove their shoes, coats, belts, computers, they try to walk through with all their bling intact while holding their water bottle. They want to argue with the TSA personnel about every rule and regulation. They slow us down, make us late, and in general add to the overall sense of frustration associated with air travel.

Let’s remember, however, passengers are the “civilians” in the process. You represent travel professionals. What can you do to improve the situation?

If you are not doing so already, consider printing out  information on TSA requirements and give them to your clients.  Basically everything a traveler needs to know to make a speedy trip through security is there. Anticipation removes much of the shock and impact of the new security procedures. Beyond that, inform your clients. Be their coach. Tell them what to expect, to arrive early, to cooperate with reasonable demands and how to properly address problems. When they return from their travels, suggest they add their comments to the US Travel Association’s new site www.YourTravelVoice.org.  Write articles locally on the topic and find opportunities to engage in local public relations campaigns to assist traveler awareness.  You’ll increase your own expert profile while providing a valuable public service.

It’s one small thing you can do to help improve the situation.  The easiest job in the world is critic. It’s far more difficult to be part of a solution.

I’m pretty sure most travelers just want to get to where they are going as safely as possible and as efficiently as possible. I’m equally sure most TSA employees are just hard working people who deserve respect. Travel professionals can do a lot of good for everyone by stepping up to the plate and doing some coaching of  travelers.

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