Pat This: TSA vs. the Airline Customer

Contributor:  Gina Scanlon
Posted:  12/08/2010  12:00:00 AM EST
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Recent developments concerning the Transportation Security Administration's new full-body scanners and ‘pat downs’ in certain airports around the nation have percolated curiosities concerning a fundamental issue that has the tendency to divide people.

Is flying a privilege? If so, should we grin and bear new governmental regulations as they come? And are these new developments more of a consumer problem or a governmental one?

While there has been plenty of subtle (blogging, media punditry) outrage, along with lighthearted viral comic forwards in our inboxes with naked people going through checkpoints, there hasn’t been any enacted outrage, with the exception of a few minor pending lawsuits from flyers concerning and infringement of personal liberties and constitutional law. Does this mean that when all is said and ‘checked-in,’ Americans, though they may not like it, are willing to comply?

National Opt Out Day, the day before Thanksgiving, turned out to be a non-issue as reported by every major media source from the New York Times to CNN. And if, forbid, there were another terrorist incident in an airplane, I’m not sure people would be causing such a stir.

Tony Hager made a parallel to the airline development in his recent article for The American Thinker  to the character of Boxer in Animal Farm. Hager writes, “Boxer was a good, faithful horse. But his fault was his blind devotion to his leader and his willingness to sacrifice himself to Napoleon’s grand schemes. Boxer never benefited from his loyalty or from Napoleon’s phony promise of an easy future.” Are we, the customers, in danger of being like Boxer?

Select consumers are attempting to protect themselves by turning the cameras on big brother. Flyers are becoming their own media watchdogs with technologically advanced cell phone cameras and digital recorders, tracking inappropriate behavior and broadcasting it on You Tube, creating a viral awareness of incidents with TSA agents across the nation.

Concerns include everything from personal liberties to radiation to security checkpoint latex glove hygiene.

Doctors have confirmed that catching diseases is possible concerning latex gloves used by the TSA. "There is no doubt that bacteria (staph, strep, v.cholerae etc.) and viruses (noro, enteroviruses, herpes, hepatitis A and papilloma viruses) can be spread by contaminated vinyl or latex gloves," Dr. Thomas Warner of Wisconsin told World Net Daily.

Note: You have the right to ask for the TSA Agent to replace their gloves before frisking you.

But according to safety experts, radiation isn’t a valid concern at this point. "There is no known risk" from being scanned, Dr. Francis Marre, former director of radiation safety at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells CBS News. "It's never been demonstrated."

Whether or not this is an invasion of privacy and a step in the wrong direction that will turn into a downward spiral of more regulations and security devices in other public dwellings remains to be seen. But certainly from a customer service standpoint, it’s quite troubling.

So where does this leave the future of the airline industry? MSNBC travel journalist Christopher Elliott recently wrote a piece concerning how these news rules may affect next year’s airline numbers. According to his report, a new Consumer Travel Alliance poll suggests how travelers are reacting to new regulations.

“A majority (46 percent) says they will travel "about the same" as they did this year. Slightly less than a third (30 percent) will travel more, while just less than a quarter (23 percent) will travel less. This contradicts several earlier surveys, which had predicted a significant upswing in travel next year.”

But perhaps it’s too early to conduct such a poll. We may need to wait and weigh in on next year’s sales until these systems have been given a chance to both settle in, and see how long travelers' patience holds out, especially during the busy holiday season.

Elliot writes that, “The TSA insists it is listening to air travelers, and has already loosened many of its screening requirements in response to the public outcry, including exempting pilots, flight attendants and children under 12 from the body scans or enhanced pat-downs. (Children will receive a "modified" pat-down, but the agency declines to say how, exactly, kids will be screened.)

Flying may be a privilege, but at the end of the day, we’re paying for a service within a competitive market and expect satisfaction in our experiences, right? Clearly the political climate has turned flying from a mile high club to a mile we fear to tread club, but how is this effecting the industry in sales? If more of these efforts from the government continue, I can see if affecting the airline industry greatly.

For more information on the airline industry, check out Kevin Stirtz's report on which airline's have the best customer service scores.

Gina Scanlon Contributor:   Gina Scanlon


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