Monday, November 28, 2011

Passenger complaints drop, but is satisfaction rising?

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced that traveler complaints against it were near an all-time low. A recent report indicated that complaints about the TSA dropped in September to 1,418, the lowest since record-keeping began seven years ago.

So, if complaints are down, passenger satisfaction must be up? WOW! The TSA strategy must be paying off. Yet, anyone who has taken a basic course in statistics recognizes that this is an unpardonable and misplaced interpretation of the recent decline in complaints from passengers.

Source: TSA site
A dozen alternative explanations could account for the supposed decline which have nothing to do with customer satisfaction! Would the decline hold up if based on fluctuations in passenger rates each month (rather than raw numbers) or have passengers simply adapted to the “hassle” and/or fear of retribution by being put on a “list” for enhanced security if they officially complain? How many passengers feel “Why bother complaining when probably nothing will change?”

Not complaining for the official record does not mean that all is well! But it is a start!

With the realization that airports are a “customer-service business,” a major hurdle in the security “mind-set” of policy makers is taking place. It is probably for this reason that “out of the blue” customer complaints are making headlines. This is a good sign, but it is important to recognize that misusing statistics does not bode well in efforts to revamp prior notions of airport security. It will only increase distrust of authorities and lead to utilizing other forms of mass transportation when it is available. Both are death knells for the aviation industry.

*The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TSA makes the right security decisions for wrong reasons

By Prof. Alan (Avi) Kirschenbaum*

What we are witnessing at the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) these days is typical of all organizations that, for survival purposes, are adapting their goals to the exigencies of external pressures.

Source: TSA
In this case, the TSA has given in to a combination of passenger backlash and potential loss of income for the airline industry. Part of this adaptive process still hinges on viewing airports as assembly lines where passengers are cogs in the manufacturing process.

It is therefore not surprising that some marginal changes are being instituted in security rules and regulations with the purpose of speeding up the flow of “units” by reducing “friction” at check points. And, for the first time, the concept of allowing TSA agents to have discretion in making decisions appears to have been taken on board.

This is a leap forward in thinking that should be praised as it recognizes the reality of security decision making revealed by the BEMOSA project which has shown the prevalence of bending, and even breaking, the rules throughout the airport security system by security agents.

What is promising here is that the TSA is finally beginning to recognize that passengers are not homogeneous cogs flowing through a factory, but represent different population segments. Yes, deal with children and family units differently than single adults; yes, pre-profile passengers by age and background; yes, remove the reactive security measures when judged unnecessary.

All this can be done by allowing greater discretion on the part of security employees to make decisions. It is these activities that will make airports friendlier to passengers and not lower security.

The key to enhanced security still and always will, remain in the hands of airport employees and not machines.

* The writer is the initiator and coordinator of BEMOSA (Behavioral Modeling of Security in Airports). The full article has been published in Homeland Security Today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Man not machinery more decisive in airport security

Prof. Alan Kirschenbaum, initiator and coordinator of the BEMOSA (Behavior Modeling for Security in Airports) Project has reinforced his criticism of the (ITA) International Airport Transport Association’s “Checkpoint of the Future” program in a recent interview with Stephanie Johnson from the Denver International Travel Examiner.

Checkpoint of the Future, which aims to enhance security while reducing queues and intrusive searches at airports by using intelligence-driven risk-based measures, fails to consider the unique make-up of the individual passengers or those individuals working the technology, said Kirschenbaum.

“BEMOSA has discovered a practically unlimited number of potential scenarios in its simulation modeling based on the reality of behaviors we observed,” said Kirschenbaum in the interview. “This means that future training will need to promote proactive and innovative behaviors rather than rote reactions.”

“In addition, all airports are NOT the same due to physical, demographic and cultural characteristics thereby making it essential that each training program fit the social-cultural context of the potential passengers and employees. Not an easy task but doable,” he said.

In the interview Kirschenbaum pointed out that most security technology in today’s airports were born as a “reactive solution to what has happened.”

“It's a "cops and robbers" scenario,” he said. “From our research, it has become clear that the "human factor" will prove to be more decisive than technology in airport security.”

The reason for this, added Kirschenbaum, is because even technology requires human intervention and interpretation.

“It is here that the wide range of human nature, background, past behaviors and characteristics will play a key role in the decisions made,” he said. “Technology will be part of the background but not at the forefront of the security decisions.”

According to Kirschenbaum, airports should not be viewed as mass production facilities but “complex social service organizations where employees (and not machines) make key security decisions.”

BEMOSA's program, which focuses more on the security interaction between employees and passengers, will therefore provide better security and customer service than one based solely on technology, finished Kirschenbaum.

Read the full interview