How the Transportation Security Administration delivers equitable customer experience
With the holiday season approaching, millions of people will be flooding to airports and other transportation hubs across the country. The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for screening and providing information about policies and procedures for all commercial airline passengers, with the agency screening more than 450 million travelers in fiscal year 2020. The Partnership for Public Service released an in-depth profile of customer experience and satisfaction with the TSA. The analysis also took a look at how TSA has attempted to improve equitable service delivery to its customers.
TSA customer experience challenges
Traveling can often be a difficult and hectic process, especially during peak traveling seasons. For many, the TSA serves as a first point-of-contact for those with questions about screening procedures and other inquiries. However, confusion and frustration can easily arise when TSA’s complex processes are not properly outlined to passengers.
The TSA has struggled with clear communication about aspects of its processes, including the selection of some travelers for additional screening. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as the random selection by technology or if an individual shares the same name with someone on a list of suspected or known terrorists. While the TSA provides a brief overview for the purpose and the process of the screening, 21% of passengers stated that TSA officers did not clearly explain the reasons for additional screening, according to a 2019 TSA survey.
Improvements made by the TSA
During the slowdown in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the TSA used the opportunity to retrain officers to improve communication during the screening process, stressing the importance of swapping out TSA acronyms and technical terms with plain language. In addition, the agency’s customer service branch collaborated with the TSA’s Training and Development Office to ensure plain language training would be implemented for all new officers.
The TSA also is working to streamline communication with customers by clarifying information on TSA.gov. The agency hopes to reduce customer confusion by adding a chat feature that would allow passengers to contact center representatives about any inquiries directly through the website.
Delivering airport screening services equitably
Ensuring equitable services to all passengers is a vital part of the TSA’s mission of protecting the nation’s transportation system, but transgender people in particular have been expressing frustration about their interactions with agents. Many transgender travelers reported “feeling humiliated” after mistreatment by security officers and getting flagged by body scanners designed for binary gender identification.
To address these concerns, the TSA is considering changes to its screening processes, including the implementation of gender-neutral algorithms and touchless screening. The TSA is also collaborating with various LGBTQIA+ organizations to provide education, training and resources to its officers on how to appropriately communicate with transgender/gender-diverse travelers. In addition, the TSA has been receiving monthly advice from multicultural and disability groups to advance equity in its overall services.
While these changes are a step in the right direction, the TSA will need to continue improving processes and prioritizing the customer experience to ensure it is serving all passengers equitably.
To learn more about customer experience and the challenges TSA and other agencies face, check out our full “Government for the People” report.
Rachel Lin is an intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.