Transportation Security Administration officers are the security agency’s frontline employees. They staff airport security checkpoints, screen checked luggage to ensure it’s safe to load onto commercial airliners and perform a wide variety of other security functions. Given the nature of commercial air travel and security since 9/11, travelers sometimes become upset with them simply because they’re doing their jobs. Unfortunately, such anger can even spill over into assaults against TSA officers.
On Tuesday, July 18th of this year, for example, a traveler making his way through one of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s security checkpoints managed to injure five transportation security officers (known as TSOs). One of the TSOs even had to be taken to the hospital, while the other four went to urgent care clinics around the airport. Fortunately, other TSOs as well as Phoenix airport police managed to subdue the man before he could injure more officers or even fellow travelers.
In 2017, the last year for which numbers are available, 34 TSA security officers suffered assaults at the hands of the traveling public. That’s a rise from 2016, a year in which 26 TSOs were assaulted by air travelers. More than 50 percent of all such assaults occurred during pat-downs or bag checks by officers at airport security checkpoints. This is to say nothing of verbal abuse of officers, typically by travelers stressed out by today’s air travel realities. Some TSA union officials believe longer lines at security checkpoints lie at the heart of the anger issues so many air travelers seem to be suffering from.
To be sure, physical assaults of TSA officers are still a relatively rare thing, given the many millions of air passengers who regularly make their way through security checkpoints without incident. The security agency puts the rate at about one assault per 17 million passengers screened in 2017. But even one unprovoked assault would seem to be too many when looked at dispassionately by any reasonable person.
Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.