- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

While security has “vastly improved” since the creation of the Transportation Security Administration a decade ago, there is still “a great deal of work to do” in improving traveler satisfaction, according to a new survey released Wednesday by a travel and tourism trade group.

The survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that four of the top five airline traveler frustrations relate to the security-checkpoint process. While many travelers say they support recent initiatives by the TSA to improve security protocols, it could be years before customers see changes, said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the travel association.

“While we recognize the significant steps TSA has taken to improve security screening, the process still remains inefficient and frustrating for millions of American travelers,” Mr. Dow said at a press conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The survey of nearly 4,400 U.S. travelers over the past year found that 72.4 percent named “people who bring too many carry-on bags through the security checkpoint” as a top frustration with the experience of air travel. The three other security-related frustrations were the wait time to clear the checkpoint; having to remove shoes, belts and jackets at the checkpoint; and unfriendly TSA employees.

The only leading gripe not related to security: 70.4 percent of those surveyed complained that airline seating is uncomfortable.

The TSA has launched new risk-based security initiatives to ease the hassles and delays at checkpoints, though not in response to the survey results. The survey was conducted in October just as the TSA was beginning to implement the initiatives.

New security improvements include ending the requirement for removal of shoes and belts at screening stations; doing away with “pat-downs” for children aged 12 and younger; new software for body-scanner machines that provides a more “generic” image to TSA inspectors; and a new “PreCheck” program designed to expedite the security process for passengers who qualify.

Mr. Dow said that survey data showed that a strong majority of air travelers support these recent efforts and think the agency is on the “right track.”

Greg Soule, a spokesman for the TSA, said the agency was generally pleased with the survey results.

“TSA continues to strive to provide the most effective security, in the most efficient way possible,” he said. TSA’s new initiatives “maintain a high level of security, while improving the passenger experience wherever we can.”

But Mr. Dow said full implementation of these measures is “still years away.”

“While TSA is moving in the right direction, there’s much to do so a majority of air travelers can see real improvements in the systems,” he said.

Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy for the travelers association, said that the association hopes that the survey results can show TSA that, “if they continue to focus on passenger facilitation, they can improve the process and have a positive impact on the economy” by making it easier and more enjoyable for customers to fly.

The survey is the third in a series conducted by the U.S. Travel Association on traveler satisfaction, aviation safety and security. Passengers surveyed had flown at least once in the past 12 months.

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