I feel like this practice has just been normalized to the point that no one bats an eyelid anymore, but can we talk about it for a second?
TSA agents and their aggression & comedy routines
Let me start by saying that I don’t envy the jobs of TSA agents. They do the same thing day in and day out, and spend a lot of time repeating themselves. While airport security is of course an important function, in reality TSA agents spend most of their time acting as our last line of defense against bottled water and toothpaste (through no fault of their own). They also have to remind people of the same thing over and over and over.
TSA agents rotate positions during shifts, sometimes working the x-ray machine, sometimes working the body scanners, sometimes checking IDs, and sometimes managing the queue, trying to minimize the number of bags that have to be pulled aside for a secondary inspection.
Arguably the most personality-filled position (let’s put it that way) is the person who is managing the line, and is supposed to make sure people remove the correct items from their bags and bodies, push their bags onto the belt, etc.
It’s pretty common that these people will just yell the same thing over and over. Some people do this politely enough. In the TSA PreCheck line, this might include:
“Folks, you don’t need to remove anything from your bags. Make sure you have no liquids larger than 3.4 ounces in your bags. Don’t go through the metal detector until your bag is on the belt.”
That’s how some agents do it. Other agents (and we’re not talking a small percentage of them) seem to take a very different approach:
- Some are downright aggressive, yelling things like “if you don’t push your bag onto the belt, you’ll be considered abandoning your property at an international airport, and that’s a crime” (I just heard that — goodness gracious, that escalated quickly)
- Some seem to think that they’re stand-up comics, and they’re practicing their routine with a non-consensual audience; I don’t think I even need to give an example, because if you haven’t heard a TSA agent try to make a joke, you haven’t ever flown out of a US airport
What’s amazing is how often they repeat the same lines, and it makes me feel bad for the colleagues working in other positions. I heard the announcement about abandoning property being a crime twice within a minute. Oy. Can you imagine how many times he probably makes that comment during a shift?
Am I the only one who finds this unprofessional and annoying?
Admittedly TSA agents aren’t exactly trained operatives working for the CIA, but they do work for the government. Does anyone have any insights as to whether the TSA has any guidelines for this kind of stuff?
- Does initial training at the TSA include encouraging employees to just rattle off whatever the heck they’d like in order to get attention?
- Do TSA agents ever get additional training for their unprofessional routines, or does the organization simply not care what employees say?
While I don’t think anyone likes the aggressive announcements, I should acknowledge that a lot of people do seem to enjoy the comedy routines. And on some level, perhaps the unconventional announcements do make people listen more than they would if there were scripted, automated announcements (which would be infinitely more professional).
It sure seems to me like the less frequently someone flies, the more likely they are to laugh at the jokes (probably because they’ve never heard them before). Meanwhile if you fly with any frequency, you’ve probably heard all the jokes over and over.
Still, I can’t help but find the whole thing incredibly unprofessional. I mean, most people don’t exactly consider the Post Office or DMV to offer premium guest experiences, but somehow they manage to perform their jobs without yelling in the same way. Then again, they’re not waging war against deodorant.
In my opinion these routines are especially poorly thought out in terminals that get a lot of foreigners who speak limited English. For example, I find that JFK T1 has among the rudest TSA agents. They yell like crazy, rattle off phrases that many foreigners wouldn’t understand, and then act surprised when people don’t follow their instructions.
On a totally separate note, I just saw a TSA agent wearing a tie for the first time ever. No, it wasn’t part of the uniform (as far as I know), but he just decided to put on a tie. Good for him. I think.
I don’t know how we got to this point, but nowadays a hallmark of the TSA experience seems to be comedy routines and aggressive yelling. Personally I find this to be incredibly unprofessional, and I don’t understand how the TSA accepts this standard of communication.
I can appreciate that the comedy routines are at least well intentioned, but the same can’t be said for some of the other spiels.
What’s your take on the TSA’s combination of comedy and aggression? I’m curious if I’m in the minority on this, or…