Blast Off! TSA Blog Channels Fliers' Ire

Security screeners look through and remove liquid items from a passenger's luggage, Denver International Airport, Colorado, photo on black 8/13/2006 AP / file

The U.S. government wants to hear travelers' complaints about security at American airports at a new blog on its Web site.

The Transportation Security Administration introduced the "Evolution of Security" blog Wednesday. And it promises that commenters' complaints and suggestions won't vanish into thin air.

The blog, at http://www.tsa.gov/blog, is getting a rather "blah" response from aviation analysts and passengers advocates who say it will do little to improve process or perception.

"This will just make it easier for them to receive complaints for them to ignore in the name of 'national security,'" said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.

In the blog's initial post, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said the goal is to provide a forum for the agency to explain why travelers must go through certain steps at checkpoints since interaction at airports is often harried and halted, resulting in "feedback and venting ... circulating among passengers with no real opportunity for us to learn from you or vice versa."

"We will incorporate what we learn in this forum in our checkpoint process evolution," Hawley wrote. "Our postings from the public will be reviewed to remove the destructive, but not touch the critical or cranky."

Terry Trippler, a Minneapolis-based airline expert, applauded the idea but said TSA "was in the right church, just not the right pew yet."

And that church could become anything but sacred. Trippler said he envisions the blog quickly degenerating into an online vacuum where a handful of habitual complainers force TSA officials to respond to them, while other self-appointed security "experts" pontificate on the best ways to improve the process.

Even worse, he said some travelers may avoid the blog for fear of retribution from the government.

The TSA already is fighting an uphill battle in the court of public opinion.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted last month found that only the Federal Emergency Management Agency, still dealing with its mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina, ranked below the TSA among the least-liked federal agencies among Americans. TSA tied with tax collectors in the ranking of a dozen executive branch agencies.

The AP poll found that the more people traveled, the less they liked TSA, but also that 53 percent of air travelers though the agency did a "very" or "somewhat" good job. Their top complaint: the inconvenience of security.

By late Wednesday there were 29 comments on the blog, mostly from TSA employees and moderators. One anonymous poster asked why some airport body scanners stop him due to a hip replacement while others do not.

The response from "Christopher," identified as an "evolution blog team member," said answering those kinds of questions in future posts was why the site was started and added: "Come back on Friday to check out our post on the top three questions security officers get from passengers."
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