Understanding the Passenger Experience: Providing Friendly and Reassuring Service
Working in airport security is no easy feat.
Security personnel are tasked with the challenging responsibility of ensuring the safety of passengers and airport facilities while maintaining a high level of professionalism and customer service.
One of the most challenging aspects of this role is dealing with difficult passengers – individuals who may be frustrated, anxious, or uncooperative due to various reasons.
In this article, we will explore effective strategies that airport security staff can employ to better understand the passenger experience and provide friendly and reassuring service.
Understanding the Passenger Experience
It’s not a pleasant experience to fly. While some of us have gotten used to it because we travel regularly for work or pleasure, flying can be at times frustrating and uncomfortable, even nerve racking.
It’s important to remember that each passenger is an individual, some may be on their way to visit sick and ailing family, others might be headed home from a holiday or travelling to an important work event. Everyone’s day is different at the airport and likewise everyone comfort level with flying is different.
Some passengers have been regular flyers for years and they have their own way of making their trips more comfortable, others are cautious, perhaps they don’t fly often or they haven’t for a while so they’re a bit more uneasy. Whatever their comfort level or reason for flying passengers can encounter more than their fair share of inconvenience at the airport from delays to flight changes, bag checks and more.
By the time passengers get to screening checkpoints or the airport lounge they could have already experienced several mild inconveniences that could put anyone in a bad mood. That’s why it’s so important to employ these strategies when interacting with passengers as an airport security officer.
Empathy and Active Listening
It’s essential to remember that a passenger’s emotions could be running high due to factors beyond your control. Delays, flight changes, or family issues could be the reason behind their impatience.
When dealing with an agitated passenger begin by showing empathy and actively listening to their concerns. Give them your full attention, maintain eye contact, and use body language that conveys openness and understanding. Often, people simply want to feel heard and acknowledged. By demonstrating empathy and active listening, you can de-escalate the situation and create a more cooperative atmosphere.
Remain Calm and Professional
Whether it’s a line of people waiting to go through security or a passenger who is not used to flying these situations can be emotionally charged but it’s crucial for airport security staff to maintain a calm and professional demeanour. Don’t allow your personal feelings of frustration to escalate the problem. Instead maintain a calm and composed approach. Your professionalism will set the tone for the interaction and encourage the passenger to also adopt a more composed approach.
Clear and concise communication is key to diffusing tense situations. Use simple language and avoid technical jargon that might confuse the passenger further. Clearly explain the security protocols and procedures, providing reassurance that their safety is the priority. Use positive language and offer options when possible, making them feel like they have some control over the situation.
Offer Solutions, Not Arguments
If you have passenger at screening who has brought something they are not meant to bring, explain the situation clearly, outline the policies and then focus on finding solutions to the issue. Perhaps they throw out the item and buy a new one when they land or they check the bag if that item is allowed in checked luggage, they could get someone to mail it to them. There’s always a work around to be found. Presenting alternatives instead of simply saying “no” can help defuse tension. If the passenger has a valid concern, work collaboratively to address it.
Call for Backup
If a situation is escalating and you feel unable to manage it alone, don’t hesitate to call for backup. Airport security teams are well-trained to handle challenging situations, and having a colleague’s support can make a significant difference in resolving the issue peacefully. Teamwork not only ensures safety but also demonstrates a united front that can discourage unruly behaviour.
Maintain a Respectful Distance
In this day and age, post COVID-19 it’s important to, wherever possible, maintain a safe and respectful distance from passengers. People’s personal space bubbles are gotten a little larger as a result of social distancing.
For many travellers this may be their first time on a plane again since everything happened and being caught in a seat so close to another person is going to be uncomfortable enough, try to keep an appropriate and respectful distance where you can.
Offer Distractions and Diversion
Anxious passengers might look sketchy at first, but it may only be that they’re an anxious flyer. In such instances, offering distractions can help alleviate their anxiety. For example, you could provide information about the airport’s amenities, such as lounges, shops, or cafes, where they can relax while waiting. Distractions can redirect their focus and create a more positive atmosphere
Provide Information in Advance
Preventing difficult situations is as important as managing them. Clearly communicate security procedures, restrictions, and guidelines through various channels before passengers even arrive at the airport. This can help set expectations and reduce the likelihood of surprises that might trigger frustration or anger.
After a challenging interaction, it’s beneficial to provide support for both the passengers and the security staff involved. For passengers, offering information about complaint procedures and channels for addressing their concerns can help them feel heard. For security staff, debriefing sessions or counselling services can assist in processing any emotional toll the incident might have taken.
Training and Role-Playing
Airport security staff undergo specific and rigorous training that includes specialised training on dealing with passengers. The course that airport security staff are required to complete is called the Certificate II in Transport Security Protection. The course is taught in an intensive in-person workshop with some online work required before and after the workshop.
In the course they learn how to:
- Undertake physical search of cargo and articles
- Identify and handle weapons, explosives and prohibited items
- Work effectively in a transport security industry
- Control access to and exit from a security sensitive area
- Establish and maintain a sterile sensitive area
- Manage disruptive behaviour and unlawful interference within a transport security environment
- Conduct frisk search of persons
- Conduct screening using explosive trace detection
- Manage the flow of items for screening by X-ray screening equipment
- Screen articles by interpreting X-ray images
- Operate body scanner
- Identify powders, liquids, aerosols and gels (PLAGs)
- Conduct vehicle search for access to security sensitive areas
- Apply awareness of dangerous goods and hazardous substances in the transport security environment
- Control persons using empty hand techniques
- Conduct security screening using walk-through metal detection equipment
- Conduct security screening using hand-held metal detectors
As a part of their training, they also engage in role-playing scenarios and these can better prepare airport security staff for handling difficult or anxious passengers. These exercises help build confidence in dealing with various situations, allowing staff to practice de-escalation techniques and effective communication strategies.
Understanding the passenger experience and how to best handle them is an essential part of working in airport security.
Employing strategies such as empathy, active listening, effective communication, and remaining calm, security staff can navigate these situations with professionalism and tact.
The goal is not only to ensure the safety and security of all passengers but also to create a friendly and reassuring experience that reflects the airport’s commitment to excellent customer service.
Through continuous training and a commitment to these strategies, airport security staff can turn challenging interactions into opportunities for positive resolution.