Is concerned screeners intimidate air travelers
By Robert J. McCarthy
News Staff Reporter
Published:January 22, 2012, 11:10 PM
Updated: January 23, 2012, 7:28 AM
Gruff and unpleasant security officers are not exactly helping business at the Buffalo Niagara and Niagara Falls airports, according to a top man at the NFTA.
In fact, Transportation Security Administration personnel charged with screening airport passengers and carry-on baggage might benefit from “sensitivity training,” suggested Henry M. Sloma, acting chairman of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
“I’ve met a few of them personally,” Sloma said. “They’re not particularly nice, and for no good reason.”
Sloma, whose agency runs both airports, said he appreciates the importance of the TSA presence and its mission to ensure safe airline travel. But he also points out that the Buffalo and Niagara Falls airports compete for business, especially with Canadian facilities in Toronto and Hamilton, not to mention Rochester.
The TSA should be mindful of the need to attract passengers to NFTA airports, not drive them away, he said. As a result, authority personnel have been in discussion with TSA officials about the need for a friendlier experience in the security line, he said.
“They have an enormous amount of authority, and I think they need to discharge their duties in a respectful way,” Sloma said. “We have individual officers out there who may need additional training and supervision.”
NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said she discussed the situation with TSA officials during a recent regular meeting of airport officials. She said she is not aware of any problems but continues to emphasize to all airport stakeholders the need to emphasize “customer service.”
“It’s an uncomfortable situation,” she said of the inspection process, “especially for people who do not travel frequently. It can be intimidating.”
The authority wants to be “proactive” by suggesting additional training in dealing with people intimidated by the screening process, Minkel said.
“Our focus is, we don’t want to wait until there is a problem,” she said.
Jeff Kline, TSA’s deputy assistant federal screening director at Buffalo, said the agency stresses customer service to the “utmost,” adding that compliments outweigh complaints by a 10 to 1 ratio.
“We’ve got to be thorough in our security, but there should be a nice way to deal with our customers,” he said. “I think we really do work hard at that.”
Kline said TSA inspectors on a daily basis encounter travelers who do not understand or who take offense at screening procedures. Those travelers are offered private screenings, he said, and he believes his officers are good at defusing situations.
“But we do follow up on all complaints,” he added.
Still, Sloma assured NFTA commissioners meeting a few days ago that authority staff would keep in mind the competitive situation of the two local airports.
“We want our airports to be successful,” he said. “A good portion of our market is Canadian, and if they’re not happy, they’ll go somewhere else.”
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