Fewer TSA Complaints Belie Marx Brothers Label: BGOV Barometer

Traveler complaints against the U.S. Transportation Security Administration are near an all-time low, even as House transportation committee Chairman John Mica derides the agency as resembling the Marx Brothers comedy team.

The BGOV Barometer shows that consumer complaints about the TSA last month were down 59 percent from a May 2004 peak. In September, they dipped to 1,418, the lowest since record-keeping began seven years ago, according to data provided by the TSA and the Department of Transportation, and compiled by Bloomberg.

“The sky-is-falling perception that’s out there is pure political theater,” Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. “The TSA is definitely going in the right, not wrong, direction right now.”

Complaints probably are down because the agency “finally gets” that a targeted, intelligence-based approach is best, said Bloom, who advises airports on security. That means fewer people are being hassled by the agency, he said. Under TSA chief John Pistole, the agency this year began allowing some airline pilots and frequent fliers to skip security procedures such as removing shoes.

When employees began administering more intensive pat-downs last November, complaints in the “courtesy” and “screening procedures” categories jumped 41 percent to a combined 516 from a year earlier. They fell to 360 last month.

Customer Satisfaction

“In any customer-service business, it’s rare that you get 100 percent customer satisfaction,” Pistole said in a speech last week at George Washington University. About 50 million passengers per month pass through TSA checkpoints.

Mica, a Florida Republican, has said TSA’s performance is similar to “the record of the Marx Brothers” of 1930s and 1940s comedy films. Mica, who helped write legislation creating the TSA after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, yesterday said many of its functions should be contracted out.

Jenni Farley, a character on MTV’s “Jersey Shore” who goes by JWoww, posted on Twitter this week that she was “treated like a criminal” at an airport in Fargo, North Dakota.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said at a hearing in Washington last week that she had undergone “unbelievably invasive and very painful” airport pat-downs.

“TSA officers are trained to treat all passengers with dignity and respect,” Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Security is a partnership and we encourage passengers to provide us feedback.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said that while “a few grumpy senators” may complain, TSA’s employees have an “incredibly hard job and do a good job.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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