TSA trainees at the Premium Passenger line

January 29, 2013

When I flew to Nashville a few weeks ago, I noticed that the security line designed for first class and elite flyers at my home airport was unusually long, in fact longer than I’ve ever seen it. Normally it moves pretty quickly, though, so I went ahead and got in it. This time, though, it was pretty sluggish, and when I got to the font I realized why: they were training new TSA agents.

This was irritating to me for multiple reasons. First of all, it was 5:30am on a Monday morning, so it was during one of the busiest times at the airport. Second, business travelers typically don’t leave very much extra time in their schedule, so it seemed likely the delay could lead to someone missing their flight.

I get why they would put a trainee in our line—we fly so often we know the routine, and are (in theory anyway) more prepared to go through security. People who don’t fly often are less likely to be ready with ID and boarding pass and more likely to be flustered, leading to delays. Plus there are fewer frequent fliers, so if the trainee has difficulty with a procedure he is causing fewer people to wait.

But I can’t help but feel that frequent travelers, especially business travelers, pay a lot of money on a regular basis to fly, and I feel like that should be respected. Not that it ever will be, by airlines or the TSA, but that’s how I feel.

Readers, what are your thoughts?

  1. arun baheti said,

    Used to happen all the time at LAX United terminal before pre-check and it was very frustrating. Now with pre-check it could still be the case but I notice it less since the process is so efficient. TSA’s response would be that your elite status is between you and the airline, and that no group of citizens deserves special treatment.

    I once had a friendly chat with a TSA supervisor about this and got that answer. My response was that it is not about elites getting treated better, but about efficiency frequent flyers know how to prepare and get through security faster. Any line moving faster can clear more passengers more quickly and alleviate the lines.

    I often wondered if trainees were put on the elite line BECAUSE it was an easier set of people on which to learn how to screen.

  2. arnette said,

    Is your time more valuable than mine? I only fly 10-12 times a year and don’t like delays any more than you. Maybe you should
    take a private plane.

  3. roadwarriorette said,

    @arnette you make a good point. No, I don’t think my time is more valuable than yours. But I do think that people who fly all the time for work spend so much time in airports they have to minimize it as best they can. There is no way that most business travelers could arrive at airports two hours before a flight, as TSA recommends. The whole reason for having an elite security line is because FF know how to get through security as quickly as possible, and so they plan their time accordingly. If TSA is causing the line to be much slower so they can train someone, what is the point of having a separate line in the first place?

  4. Stephan said,

    I thin k it is the union mentality…Monday a.m. rush…no problem, let’s put a trainee on – to hell with the travelling public. It’s all about your security don’t you know….

  5. wpr said,

    You really need to develop some perspective. Do you think the new employee was any less frustrated than you or not intimidated with the fact they knew they were responsible for a slower line as probably evidenced by both verbal comments and non-verbal behavior through sighs and moans directed at them. A new employee being trained anywhere they encounter the public is intimidating for them also and we see it in the service industry all the time. While I may be delayed a moment or two, I work hard to try to remember they are gainfully employed and learning a new job, and for that alone I am thankful. A kind word from you would have done much for that new employee, so give it up the next time you encounter such a situation. By the way, I logged over 100 trips last year and well over 100,000 miles, so I get inconvenience, delays, cancellations, and rude employees, but I really don’t get rude customers who exhibit a sense of entitlement or special treatments.

  6. roadwarriorette said,

    @wpr hey now, I was nice! I can be irritated on the inside without showing it to the employee. It’s not his fault they were training him at that time! I agree with you that there is no need to be rude–that doesn’t mean I like their decision.

  7. Ian said,

    your notion of paying more to the airlines is irrelevant; the tsa is paid on a per passenger basis (independent of frequent flyer status); the airlines do not support the security process directly from revenue collected from the fare

  8. wpr said,

    Didn’t mean to imply you were the rude one in this instance. My comment was intended as a general statement. However, I certainly see more rude passengers than I do TSA or airline employees. When a plane has a mechanical delay or there is a flight cancellation, I watch in utter dismay at the verbal attacks on the airline agents almost to the point of it escalating into physical assaults. One has to wonder where the civility and respect for one another has gone and how much worse it will get. Road rage and “flight” rage has become all too common. If you have children, remember how a kind word and smile from you makes their day and lights them up? If you want to make yourself feel good, offer one of these employees a smile and a compliment (on anything) and watch their eyes light up. They may be adults, but the affect is the same. When I remember to do that, it even makes my day (even when I’m irritated that my flight is further delayed and I won’t get to my hotel until near midnight).

  9. roadwarriorette said,

    @wpr I totally agree!!

    @Ian interesting, I didn’t know that. Although you could theorize that if airlines have fewer business travelers, they would have less revenue, so fewer flights, so fewer passengers overall, which would lead to a decrease in income for TSA :D

  10. Charles said,

    As a taxpayer and a passenger I am aware that the ticket fees that pay for TSA are the same regardless of frequecy of travel, revenue paid and even class of service. I am cognizant of your argument that since frequent business travelors know the drill they should be given priority.

    The only way you can guarantee faster security clearance is by traveling in a higher class of service and while I enjoy the speed I still have trouble understanding the rationale since all passengers pay the same fees. This priority was added at the insistance of the airlines so they could retain high revenue passengers, the questionable rationale was that TSA runs security and airlines run the lines.
    The argument that business travelors don’t have the time to arrive early for flights is a bit absurd, it is all based on decisions. Most people arriving for early morning flights arrive from an early wake up, it is just a question of how early you choose to set your alarm.
    By the way, I do frequent business trips that involve Intercontinental flight, usually east Coast – Europe, 6 flights and meeting interspersed in a 5 day window, all travel inclusive. I travel both front of the bus and rear, I can see it both ways. I also work for myself so I am more cognizant of the costs and perks of travel.

    I invite those that have this superior attitude to pay their own way and then comment.

  11. Steve said,

    I’ve worked in jobs that deal with the public and trained people in those positions, too.

    When business was a bit slow, I’d put the trainee out front and stand behind ready to help. When I got busy and a long line started to form, I’d do the work and have the trainee observe.

    We’d switch back and forth until the trainee could handle heavy loads with little help.

    I see no practical reason why TSA or any government agency cannot do that sort of manpower management in order to accomplish their training needs without further inconveniencing the public.

    This isn’t a matter of entitlement. It’s just good business practice.

    The fallacy here is that TSA isn’t a business. There is neither reward nor penalty for efficient work

  12. Stephan said,

    @Steve – Well said. Sorry, but no pity for the TSA nonsense from me. They just don’t care if you are inconvenienced, because they don’t need to. No one said that you should be rude to them and that was not the point of this blog post as others seem to imply.

  13. Andrew said,

    Within these arguments is something so obvious. Frequent fliers fly more. TSA gets paid per passenger flight segment. Someone who flies more segment is in essence providing more business to the TSA. When TSA treats the elite line poorly they are treating their own frequent consumers poorly.

  14. JBG said,

    The TSA knows that Monday AM is a busy travel time, so IMO they should schedule training accordingly. It would benefit all.

    Why do the people commenting bash the blogger for their opinion? I’ll never understand that.

    And I am a nice person who travels “X” miles and has “Y” hotel nights each year.

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