Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Holiday Airport Traffic Decreased Nationwide

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is usually a very busy day at the nation’s airports, and traditionally, the second busiest travel day of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As we noted in an earlier post, the Air Transport Association forecasted a 10 percent drop in the number of passengers traveling on U.S. airlines during that time.

TSA data collected from airports nationwide proved the forecast right. Based on data collected from this past Wednesday, the number of passengers going through TSA checkpoints decreased 16 percent nationwide - and 14 percent at the nation’s 40 busiest airports - compared to last year.

Of the top 40 U.S. airports, the biggest decreases in passenger volume through security checkpoints on Wednesday were at Honolulu International Airport (35 percent); John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA (32 percent); Tampa International Airport (27 percent) and Newark International Airport (22 percent).

Airports with the smallest drop in passenger volume were San Francisco International Airport (5 percent), Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (5 percent), Boston Logan International Airport (6 percent), Denver International Airport (9 percent) and Indianapolis International Airport (8 percent).

Update: The above data reflects the number of people screened by TSA at security checkpoints, not the total number of enplanements at airports. TSA data doesn't include people who had connecting flights through airports who do not go through the checkpoint. The post has been updated above to reflect this clarification.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Just Back from BWI - A Thanksgiving Checkpoint Report

I just spent five hours working alongside Transportation Security Officers at Baltimore Washington International's Southwest Terminal A to help out with the traditional Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving-rush. Thing is, no rush ever occurred. Sure, there was a steady flow of traffic through the checkpoint without much of a break, but the queue never really grew beyond 30 people.

Officers were out in full force manning five separate lanes-including the Family Lane that rolled out November 20. While families and those with special needs certainly appreciated Family Lane availability, the checkpoint was moving so smoothly, that all lanes were readily able to handle all types of passengers regardless of their particular situation.

Like many of my fellow headquarters colleagues who volunteered for the Thanksgiving weekend, I helped officers with bin removal and replacement in the lanes. I also helped spread traffic around to each of the five lanes to expedite the entire process. As I stood behind the Travel Document Checker podium, a frazzled mother approached me and asked:

"Is that the Family Lane over there?"

I replied, "Yes it is."

"Should we go over there?"

"Do you have any medical liquids over 3.4 ounces?"

"Nope. We're traveling pretty light here."

"Then you're good to go right where you are [which happened to be lane 2-the shortest line at the moment]."

Another good thing I noticed during my time at BWI: pies, cakes, and other holiday food items went through checkpoints without incident-though some items were subjected to additional screening.

The holiday spirit was on display as another passenger approached "TSO Dave" while he was helping bags through the X-ray machine and said: "You guys are doing a heck of a job today." Little things like that mean a lot.

While things went smoothly for the most part, there was one interesting moment around noon. As I was chatting with passengers and helping them with their bins, I noticed an Evian bottle with less than three ounces of red liquid in it under one of the metal tables situated in front of the X-ray conveyor belt. I picked it up, and let an officer know where I found it. He quickly placed the bottle into a little bowl and sent it through the X-ray machine. Based on the image displayed on our end, the officers was able to verify that the liquid was not in fact dangerous and disposed of it.* I love technology.

There's been plenty of articles out there about the decrease in traffic over the 2008 holiday season, but it was very clear from my first hand experience at BWI that TSA's officers, expeditious security features, and prepared travelers certainly helped the flow of traffic today.

It was an awesome experience to work with the BWI team and experience firsthand what they do every day.

Hopefully my experience at the checkpoint will continue through Sunday and Monday. Look for another post from my colleague Christine, who will be volunteering at Washington DC-Reagan National Airport on Monday.

Quick update: Traffic has just started to pick up (2:45pm), but all five lanes are still running smoothly. Family Lane is being used primarily by families. Special needs individuals (wheelchairs, etc.) are still being taken care of in all lanes.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all.

- Poster Paul


* Clarification: While X-ray can detect many things, it cannot detect all types of liquid explosives. That's why the 3-1-1 liquids rule was put in place in September 2006 and will remain in place until a technology solution is tested and deployed. In this case, when an abandoned item was found at a checkpoint, officers used available technology to screen it to ensure passengers' safety and then disposed of it.

Easy as Pie

I spoke with the TSA Contact center today to see what the number one travel question was so far this holiday season. Drum roll please…

Can I take my pie with me on the plane?

The answer is yes! Just send it through the X-ray and you’ll be one step closer to enjoying your delicious pie. We do suggest you take it as a carry-on so it doesn’t get squashed in your checked luggage.

Mmmm. I like pie. I dig Pecan, Rhubarb and Sesame Seed pie. Mmmmm!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Follow @TSA on Twitter and Instagram! 
Bob Burns
TSA Social Media Team

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blogger Roundtable at TSA HQ with Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Hawley

On November 17, several bloggers gathered together at TSA Headquarters for a roundtable chat with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley.

The following bloggers accepted the invitation and participated in the roundtable:

Rich Cooper – Security Debrief

Jonah Czerwinski – Homeland Security Watch

Barbara Peterson – Conde Nast Traveler & Daily Traveler

Matt Phillips – Wall Street Journal & The Middle Seat Terminal

Tom Smith - ACI-NA

Benet Wilson – Aviation Week & Towers and Tarmacs

Chad Wolf – Security Debrief

You can read the entire transcript of the roundtable by clicking here.

Thanks,

Bob

EoS Blog Team

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Travel Projected to Decrease this Year

This Thanksgiving season will be the first time that the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has projected a decrease in holiday passenger traffic since 2001. Higher fuel prices combined with reduced consumer spending have led to a projected 10% drop in the number of passengers and flights in the 12-day period spanning November 21 (Friday before) through December 2 (Tuesday after), as compared to the same period in 2007. (Click here and here)

Even though passenger traffic is expected to drop, as always, TSA has ramped up holiday staffing at the checkpoints to ensure passengers get through smoothly. It always helps to come prepared so you can help keep lines moving. Check out the Travelers Page (click here) for special holiday information regarding food and gift items, tips on how to pack, and a list of things you shouldn’t bring on a plane.

While wait times may vary from airport to airport, last year, the average wait at peak flying times was less than 13 minutes during the holiday weekend. The busiest travel days are usually the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday/Monday after.

Here are projections for busy airports this Thanksgiving, courtesy of Orbitz.


Orbitz chart showing the top 10 busiest airports, click here for more

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why?


Starting today, the Ad Council will launch the “Why?” campaign. The campaign will explain the reasons behind some of TSA’s most controversial security procedures. The goal of this public awareness effort is to reach the largest audience possible explaining to the traveling public what TSA does and why we do it.

Launching just before the take off of the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel season, videos and Web banners will be posted online and complemented by national radio messages. Travelers will find bits and pieces of the campaign when they visit major travel and airline Web pages. They will also see “Why?” at TSA.gov.

More than 23 million passengers were screened at our checkpoints last year during the holiday season, and many of those passengers travel infrequently. Those are the travelers we’d most like to reach. Passenger feedback has shown us that people are more willing to comply with security procedures if they understand the “why” behind the measure. It’s true that for every security protocol there is a relevant security concern. TSA uses its partnerships with law enforcement, global allies and with other federal agencies to review and update security measures based on current information.

As a former Transportation Security Officer, I can attest to the fact that the novice or infrequent travelers slow down the lines a great deal. So by combining the “Why?” effort with the expanded Family/Medical Liquids lanes, TSA is working to increase security while improving the passenger experience. The family lanes will enable families, first time travelers to go through a line where they won’t be rushed or pressured. We are also encouraging people with larger medical liquids in tow to use this lane as well so we can inspect these larger liquids.

TSA’s partnership with the Ad Council will cover a variety of measures. During Thanksgiving the focus is on some of the common pain points: why must I take off my shoes?, why limited liquids in a baggie?.

The bottom line is TSA wants passengers to know that we are on your side and you play a role in security by being ready and cooperative at the checkpoint.

Check out the Videos:

The videos feature one of our very own Transportation Security Officers.
EoS Blog Team

Thursday, November 13, 2008

FAMS Director Comments on USA Today Story

A story in USA Today does a great disservice to the Federal Air Marshal Service. Like any law enforcement agency, a small percentage of bad apples always garner more media attention than the overwhelming number of outstanding professionals. While sensationalizing the regrettable acts of a very few may make for good front page news, it doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story of an organization.

Since coming to the Federal Air Marshal Service more than five years ago and becoming Director in July, I have had the honor of serving alongside air marshals from all over the country. These are fine men and women who proudly carry out their mission of keeping air travel safe. One law enforcement officer joined the Federal Air Marshal Service after some of his family members were killed on one of the planes on 9/11. Another joined after helping to evacuate people from the Pentagon on 9/11, where his focus was so much on helping people that he didn’t notice the burns on his own body until later that day. In the last two years, more than 30 percent of our new hires were veterans.

While air marshals work behind the scenes, we cannot underestimate the value they add to aviation security throughout the country and the world. They put their lives on the line every day to keep passengers and flight crews safe. Among our ranks are military veterans, law enforcement officers, and other dedicated professionals from varied and accomplished backgrounds. All who join the ranks of the air marshal service have met the most stringent suitability standards and have successfully completed a rigorous 15-week training program.

That being said, there have been incidents of criminal misconduct with air marshals over the years. We take every allegation seriously, we investigate them thoroughly and if the allegations are true, we work to quickly remove the individual from our ranks while assuring them due process. Although the actual number of FAMs cannot be discussed publicly, the number of offenders is exceedingly small compared to the total members of our workforce.

As an organization that was quickly enlarged in the wake of 9/11, growing pains are expected. To understand the needs and concerns of our workforce, FAMS leadership has been engaging with our frontline workforce and maintaining regular dialogues with air marshals both in person and in other methods. We have held formal listening sessions with significant numbers of air marshals, and established communications networks to ensure we’re aware of field concerns that could affect our work.

I am proud of the men and women of the Federal Air Marshal Service, and I don’t want the public to think that the vast majority of federal air marshals are represented by the acts of a few who chose to misuse their position. Our workforce is highly trained, sincerely dedicated to their security mission and they work without personal credit for their successes.

Bob Bray
Director, Federal Air Marshal Service

Monday, November 10, 2008

Family/Special Needs Lanes Coming to All Airports in Time for Thanksgiving Travel

The Diamond Self Select Program [link] started back in February 2008 at Salt Lake City International Airport and is now operating in 48 airports. The program allows passengers to proceed through the security checkpoint at their own pace by selecting one of three lanes: Black Diamond (for Expert Travelers), Blue Square (for Casual Travelers), and Green Circle (for Families, those with special needs, and those unfamiliar with TSA procedures.)

Today, TSA announced that the Family/Special Needs Lane (Green Circle) will be implemented at every security checkpoint across the nation by November 20, 2008—just in time for the busy Thanksgiving travel season.



While many frequent travelers appreciate the Black Diamond Lane, we’ve also seen a great deal of success with the Family Lanes. Families and those with special needs appreciate the extra time and assistance, and our officers have seen the number of prohibited items in these lanes drop significantly because passengers have more time to divest.

From a risk management standpoint, directing all medically necessary liquids that exceed the 3-1-1 limits to a dedicated lane makes sense. This move is the first step in the path forward on liquids that Kip Hawley wrote about last month [link].

What do passengers need to know about this development? If you’re flying after November 20th and carrying medically necessary liquids in containers larger than 3 ounces, you should use the Family Lane. Medically necessary liquids include: baby formula, breast milk, insulin, cough syrup, contact lens solution, and prescription medications. These liquids must be presented to a TSA Officer for additional screening, which should usually take less than 2 minutes.
-
If you don’t have any exempt liquids, proceed with your baggie to any other security lane. Remember, you can pack any amount of liquid in your checked luggage.

Poster Paul

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Paperless Boarding Pass Testimonial

While scouring the internet for TSA related information, I came across an interesting testimonial regarding paperless boarding passes from a passenger who travelled through the Detroit Metro Airport. (DTW)

“Checked in online for my flight today and saw a new option show up for an E-Boarding pass at DTW (note: only for direct flights). I had to try it, clicked and within 20 seconds a SMS message showed up on my phone with a link to the E-Boarding pass with a barcode on my cell phone (PDA). Not wanting to risk missing my flight, I also went back in and printed a boarding pass as a backup, that I never had to use.

I had a lot of questions on how it would really work, especially with having to show your boarding pass when you walk under the TSA metal detector and have to show your boarding pass and you are not allowed to bring your cell phone through. So he is how it went today:


TSA Boarding Pass Check - they have a new bar code reader that you hold your phone up to and it reads the bar code and you show them your ID to match the name that shows up on the screen. They then give you a Tuit (a Poker Chip with TSA on it).TSA Screening - Just like normal, except you hand them the Tuit instead of showing them your Boarding Pass with the TSA checkers initials on it. Sorry, they have to keep the Tuit, I was hoping to start a new game to see who could collect the most Tuits in 1 year.WorldClub - I use the Amex Plat. Card, so I have to show a Boarding Pass, ID and the Amex Card. They also have the same bar code reader and I put my phone in front of it and it scanned. Good to go. Gate - I held my phone on top of the normal reader the GA's use and it read it and I boarded without any problems. The only comment from the GA was the the last guy who tried it, didn't work. I'm sold, will be using the new E-Boarding Pass from now on. Didn't slow me down; however, I did get a lot of stares/attention from fellow pax's as I pulled out my PDA at screening, WorldClubs, Gate. “

I’d be interested to see if any of our other readers have tried this yet. So, if you've used this, please tell us about it.

Also, for your viewing pleasure, check out this MSNBC clip.

Bob

TSA EoS Blog Team

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogger Paul's Intro

It is with great pleasure that I begin my first official blog post at the TSA. I arrived at HQ last week with aspirations common to most recent college graduates. Pumped full of “unique” ideas that could potentially change the entire world, I decided to start with the TSA. My plan was simple and straight forward. I just needed someone in a position of authority to lend me their ear.

While my “unique” ideas are certain to be called into question from time to time, as a recent college graduate, my writing will attempt to synthesize an outsider’s perspective with insider knowledge. Having monitored the ongoing debate between TSA authorities and the public, I’ve discovered that both sides are (believe it or not) in agreement more often than they realize.

Since I don’t have the frontline experience like my colleague Bob, I’ll be spending the next few weeks meeting people here at TSA, spending time at local airports, and monitoring the blogosphere to see what other folks are talking about to come up with blog topics to cover.

Since I’ve come on board, I’ve spent some time at Baltimore Washington International Airport’s Southwest Airlines’ Terminal B learning about Checkpoint Evolution [link]. Like many travelers, the first thing I noticed was a wall of holograms and a faint blue glow from the lights lining the perimeter. As I wound my way through the line, I was greeted every so often by portraits of security officers (sometimes out of uniform) with brief bios below their pictures. Clearly, the intent behind these signs is to remind us that Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are people just like the rest of us, and dedicated to their security mission. It was interesting to see that some are veterans or former law enforcement officers.

So here’s the overarching theory: when the checkpoint environment is calm and the majority of passengers lined up at a security checkpoint are relaxed (or as relaxed as anyone can reasonably be when trying to catch a flight), a suspicious person will oftentimes stand out in stark contrast from the rest of the crowd. Also, encouraging clear communication between security officers and passengers helps passengers understand the “why” behind the rules, and facilitates the flow of traffic through the security checkpoint.




Sure, lights and signs are nice, but they are not in and of themselves the main focus of Checkpoint Evolution. Aside from targeted technological improvements—such as Whole Body Imaging, advanced technology X-ray machines, and inter-officer communication via ear-piece—the greatest benefits to security and passengers’ experience come from one thing in particular: enhanced training. TSA officers I met at BWI have completed a 16-hour training course (although training is ongoing) that focuses on explosives detection, intelligence analysis, and techniques for improved passenger engagement, with the ultimate goal being threat detection. This training will be given to every frontline employee, and has already started in some airports.

I asked the BWI officers what they thought of Checkpoint Evolution and the response was very positive. “It has made our job a lot easier,” said one of the officers. “Striking up a casual conversation with passengers allows us to get a better feel for the situation—not to mention that it makes our day more pleasant.”

Next, I hope to attend some of the training sessions to see what they’re like and get more feedback. I’ll report on that later.

Now for the all important question: What do passengers think? I haven’t had the chance to chat with any Checkpoint Evolution veterans just yet, but if you’ve been through BWI’s Southwest Airlines’ Terminal B, let us know what you think by posting comments.