Last week the Travel Industry Association released a study showing that air travel hassles have cost the economy over $26 billion because passengers avoided taking some 41 million trips over the last 12 months. If that did not get the attention of policy makers in Washington, it is because many of them were out of town for the Memorial Day recess.

Security is only a portion of those travel hassles, to be sure, but it is an area (unlike fuel prices) where passengers should feel their concerns are being heard, if TSA’s new Checkpoint Evolution is an indication.

After months of working out technical “bugs” in an undisclosed Northern Virginia airplane hangar (with the requirement that anyone viewing the new configuration had to sign a strict Non-Disclosure Agreement), TSA has now rolled out its new passenger-friendly checkpoint at Gate B of the Southwest Terminal at BWI airport. It features:

  • New signage;
  • Better line management techniques;
  • A redesigned conveyor system where the plastic bins are automatically returned;
  • Longer and redesigned areas on the conveyor system where people can line up to empty their pockets and take out laptops, and then proceed ahead of people who need more time;
  • Millimeter wave whole body imaging technology with more than adequate privacy protections (check out the virtual tour);
  • New uniforms for TSA screeners that make them look more professional;
  • Background music that is intended to calm the crowd and assist in passenger behavioral analysis.

During a tour that TSA officials arranged for several of us (including fellow Security DeBrief bloggers Andrew Howell and Rich Cooper), we learned that TSA considers the new checkpoint to be a work in progress – which we took as a very positive sign. TSA is being very forward leaning in its approach to improvements: Will it increase efficiency and add to security? If so, then they should try it, get real world feedback, and, if it works, then implement those improvements. We were told that no idea is ever dismissed out of hand. That type of “active listening” will go a long way towards addressing the workplace issues that have previously dogged TSA in its annual employee surveys.

TSA officials say they will continue to listen to their employees, the passengers who go through its system and the aviation community – all in an effort to make air travel safer and more efficient …in other words, TSA is doing its part to eliminate the “hassle factor” as much as possible. For that, they ought to be commended by everyone who uses the system. And if you have a reasonable suggestion, my impression is that they will be happy to hear from you. What a wonderful change that is for TSA – one that should be noted in next year’s TIA report…one hopes.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More