The process of going through security at airports is a necessary, but often frustrating, step for airline passengers. With more than 50,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers screening more than 2 million passengers a day to ensure the safety of air travel, complaints have been on the rise, with a 42 percent increase in the last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports.
In the “screening of passengers” category of the report, 12,019 complaints were logged in January 2023, up from 6,925 in the same period last year. These include “complaints about screening to include advanced imaging technology, identification, patdowns, prohibited and permitted Items, and TSA PreCheck, but excludes property,” the report states.
While passenger volume also increased about 25 percent as air travel rebounded during the pandemic recovery, the complaints per 10,000 also rose to 20.4 per 10,000 passengers from 15.7 a year ago, marking a 23 percent increase, when the volume increase is accounted for.
According to the TSA, the highest volume of complaints in this category comes are regarding TSA PreCheck, noting that they are “preventable.” “Many passengers forget to check their boarding pass to ensure it includes the TSA PreCheck logo for that level of screening,” a spokesperson says. “We are working now to remind passengers that they need to register their Known Traveler Number (KTN) with all airlines and to check for inclusion in all airline reservations. Passengers can also check for the logo on boarding passes and can visit the airline check-in counter with their KTN if the logo is not present.”
Other complaint categories in the report include courtesy, screening of personal property, wait times, civil rights, other TSA-related, airline non-TSA related, and other non-TSA related. But by far, the screening of passengers receives most complaints, with 86 percent of the January 2023 complaints and 81 percent of the January 2022 ones stemming from this category.
The TSA has been contributing data to the DOT’s monthly reports since October 2009, but it wasn’t until about two and a half years ago that the two agencies met to better streamline the data reporting for more accuracy. “Prior to October 2020, there was no methodology in the reporting and there was no historical knowledge or framework about the origins of the inter-departmental reporting,” the agency says. “Both agencies agreed that changes were necessary to ensure that the report provided a complete and comprehensive overview of TSA Contact Center complaint activity.” The more effective data first appeared in its March 2022 report, citing data from January of that year.
Throughout the year-plus that the new data has been reported, the monthly screening of passenger complaints have seen a sharp rise in 2022, from the 6,925 in January 2022 and 8,402 in February to 14,042 in March. Since then, it's been more steady, ranging between 10,885 in July to 13,210 in April 2022.
The logged complaints are taken by the TSA Contact Center, which passengers can contact either by email at TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov or by telephone at 866-289-9673, on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, or weekends and holidays form 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Since its formation, TSA has maintained a strong focus on customer service and began collecting customer service data voluntarily to improve security operations,” the agency wrote in the March report. “TSA values customer feedback and encourages passengers to contact the agency if the level of service provided to them does not meet their expectations."