The TSA’s secret weapon

Last week I joined a group of Seattle airport TSA workers for a two-day class in what I thought was going to be all about patience.  But patience was just a tiny part of it.

Here’s a link to the Well Mannered Traveler column I wrote for MSNBC.com about the experience.  In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

Don’t be surprised or alarmed if the next time you go through the security checkpoint at the airport you find TSA staff handing out smiles and warm greetings instead of barked orders, mean looks and stern commands. There may even be some TSA-approved hugging and high-fiving going on back there behind the X-ray machines.

It sounds farfetched, I know. Especially if you’re one of the many travelers who regularly ends up feeling demeaned and harassed at airport checkpoints and believes that the TSA only hires sticky-fingered miscreants who are missing the genes for courtesy and respect.

The folks at TSA are well aware of that reputation…. and in an effort to address a variety of problems and improve overall checkpoint security, the TSA in October rolled out a new skills training program. It’s called Engage! (exclamation point included!) and all 50,000 TSA workers are required to attend. The initial system-wide training should wrap up in the next few weeks, so it’s a fair bet you’ve already encountered a few graduates of the course.

Have you noticed any changes? I wasn’t sure what to look for, or what was realistic to expect, so I said yes when invited to join 28 TSA workers from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in a windowless room at the main terminal for their two-day intensive.

I left feeling both reassured and alarmed.

To read the rest of the column, please go to:  TSA’s new secret weapon on MSNBC.com and be sure leave a comment about your recent checkpoint experiences.

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