TSA Pat-Down Changes Don’t Bring Huge Complaint Increase

Wall Street Journal

Complaints about Transportation Security Administration screening shot higher in November, the first month airport security screeners started doing “enhanced pat-downs’’ on passengers, but the increase might not have been as big as you might have expected. [ed – if you believe the data that the TSA themselves is supplying.  They have yet to be truthful about ANYTHING]

November was the month when Transportation Security Administration pat-downs got a lot more personal, and when lots of other media outlets started reporting on full-body scanners. (We wrote about it here months earlier). Backlash built up, but TSA stuck to its guns. And after Thanksgiving, the furor subsided.

And so you might expect the number of complaints that travelers filed with TSA to shoot higher, reflecting that November frenzy. But total complaints filed increased 14% over November 2009 to 1,941 from 1,708, according to data reported by the Department of Transportation.

Complaints about how TSA handles people, rather than their property, were a lot higher as a whole. Complaints about screener courtesy, for example, increased 58% to 384 in November from 243. Complaints about “processing time’’ nearly doubled. Still, the numbers are very small compared to the total number of passengers screened and the attention focused on TSA.

And while November was higher than the same month a year earlier, it was very much in line with previous months. November’s complaint total was actually smaller than six of the previous eight months.

Complaints filed with the agency (here’s a link to the TSA complaint form) may not be an accurate reflection of traveler unhappiness and frustration with TSA. Travelers may be more inclined to file complaints against airlines with the DOT because they want compensation from their carrier. Except for lost or stolen baggage items, there’s no compensation to seek from TSA. Remember, too, that the enhanced pat-down procedures only affect travelers who set off alarms in the full-body scanners or refuse the full-body scan. And public opinion polls show that there is support out there for enhanced screening procedures at airports.

With airline complaints, there is often a lag between complaint totals and changes in operations that affect customers. It will be interesting in the months ahead to see if TSA complaints catch up to the screening changes, or continue to largely reflect traveler acceptance of the enhanced screening procedures.

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