Lately, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just can’t seem to do anything right. The agency, created after 9/11, has at various points been accused of failing to find weapons in undercover tests, conducting overzealous body searches, and allowing agents to sleep on the job. The latest snafu occurred this week, when it announced one of its most significant policy changes: it will begin allowing small knives (and various pieces of sporting equipment) aboard airplanes.
The change in the banned-items list was immediately met with harsh criticism. Pilots and flight attendants voiced the reasonable concern that allowing knives may imperil safety. Even passengers, who have chafed under the restrictive list, were disparaging. “It seems to be a poorly thought-out decision. I don’t pretend to understand the logic behind it,” Brandon M. Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, told the Los Angeles Times. After all, the September 11 attacks were committed with box cutters, which are smaller than the knives that will now be permitted.
For its part, the TSA noted improved safety features on airplanes since 2001 and said the change will bring it in line with international standards and allow it “to focus on threats that can cause catastrophic damage to an airplane.” It seems they’ve forgotten that small knives can, in fact, cause catastrophic damage to airplanes, and buildings, and lives.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the TSA. A poll conducted in September 2012 found that 90 percent of respondents thought the TSA was doing a “poor” or “fair” job in security screenings. This latest action won’t improve those results.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Cover your bases before making a controversial announcement. Although they don’t appear to realize it, the TSA has a brand – one it’s managing very poorly. The agency’s raison d’etre is to ensure the safety of airline personnel and the air-traveling public. The smart tactic would have been to confer with key players ahead of time and gauge their sentiment on the potential policy change. That way, they are involved in the process, can raise objections privately, and everyone is on the same page when the media comes calling. A handful of public endorsements from interested parties would have made this announcement turbulence free. As is, they should fasten their seat belts.