Protecting your right to fly!

Meeting Notes, August 24, 2012

The meeting of Passenger Advocacy Subcommittee was held at the offices of the U.S. Travel Association  in Washington, D.C.

The meeting featured a briefing by Mr. David Castelveter, Director of External Communications, TSA Office of Public Affairs. (TSA Organization Chart)

The Purpose of the Subcommittee:

The purpose of the subcommittee, as described in the recently posted meeting notes of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) is to:

·        Look at ways to improve the aviation security experience in an efficient manner.

·        Look for ways to expand the population of trusted travelers and make the process more traveler-friendly.

·        Examine how TSA communicates with and responds to complaints/concerns from the public. .

At the same meeting of ASAC, Doug Hofsass, Associate Administrator at the US Dept of Homeland Security-TSA, stated that TSA would consider security changes that meet three core requirements:

1.      Create efficiencies,

2.      Reduce the burden on operators and traveling public, and

3.      Improves or at least does not diminish the current level of security.

The Meeting:

The meeting was called to order at 10:00 A.M. by Geoff Freeman, the Sub-committee Chairman. Mr. Freeman reviewed briefly the progress of the subcommittee. He then introduced Mr. Castelveter.

Mr. Castelveter’s Briefing:

Mr. Castelveter began his briefing with a brief description of his experience in the airline industry, beginning with Alleghany Airlines. (Alleghany would later become part of U.S. Airways). He later served as Vice President Communications for the Air Transport Association of America, Inc. (Now known as Airlines for America) In May 2012 he joined TSA.

Early in his career with Alleghany, Mr. Castelveter had been appalled and incensed by the attitudes and behavior of Allegheny’s airport staff. He told us how he felt these rude employees should be fired; and how he was challenged to spend a day behind the counter as a customer service agent. His opinion changed overnight. He now realized that the employee was not the problem. They had come to work with an honest desire to be helpful, but had been ill used by an unappreciative public whom they were there to serve. He never forgot that lesson. .

Mr. Castelveter lamented America's changing view of the TSA. He described how, in the days following 9/11/2001, the American public had taken an “anything goes” attitude towards security, and was willing to accept just about any security procedure TSA chose to impose. Today however, public approval of the TSA’s job performance had fallen to 54%; and there was declining appreciation by the public of both the evolving threats to commercial aviation and the need to maintain and constantly update TSA’s policies and procedures.

Some of the challenges his office faced were:

·        How to make security customer friendly.

·        How to better communicate with the customer.

·        How to make the customer feel safe.

TSA’s biggest problems were passenger related:

·        Lack of understanding of the screening process.

·        Lack of preparation for the screening process.

·        Lack of knowledge of prohibited items.

Steps TSA had taken to improve the screening process were:

·        Precheck program

·        Less rigorous screening for those over 75 and under 12

·        Expedited screening for U.S. Military traveling under orders.

TSA was shifting to “Risk Based Security”, concentrating on threats and real risks, rather than a “one size fits all” approach.

Mr. Castelverter went on to describe one of the most important tasks of his office:

“Mediating news coverage”.

Mr. Castelverter viewed negative news coverage as harmful both to TSA’s mission and employee morale. He was determined to do all he could to protect TSA’s image and support TSA employees in their work. To this end his office monitors/tracks news coverage of the TSA, and generates statistical data on TSA’s “image” in the press.

He expressed his frustration with media that would not give enough attention to stories favorable to TSA, such as the following;

·        Police investigate attempted abduction on freeway - Dallas News |

·        Kidnapped Woman rescued by TSA Agents

as well as with the attention given by the media to negative stories that either were exaggerated or untrue, such as this story: Henry Kissinger Gets the Full TSA Patdown

Even though Mr. Kissinger had no problem with the pat down, TSA had to endure “3 days of rage” over the incident.

He also discounted/downplayed the furor over racial profiling at Boston airport, and pointed to the story of TSA agents rescuing the kidnapped woman as proof that Behavior Detection Officers and random spot checks were a necessary and important part of airport security.  

He then discussed this story: Deaf Man Claims TSA Harassed Him. Quoting TSA’s Blogger Bob, he said that TSA had reviewed the video, and could not substantiate the man’s claims. Moreover, TSA had a lip reader too, and after he reviewed the video, he concluded that the TSA agents in question were not even talking about this passenger.

He emphasized again the need mediate negative news stories, to fact check and debunk stories when ever possible, and the importance of not to letting a negative story fester. He concluded his remarks by describing some of the initiatives his office was taking to improve TSA’s image: recruiting college students, launching a Twitter campaign, publicizing TSA’s “good catches” and relaxing rules on snow globes.

The briefing took well over an hour, and was followed by discussion and a question and answer session.

Making Security “a Positive Experience” I questioned Mr. Castelveter on the focus of his efforts. Even under the best conditions, the screening process is not and would never be a “positive experience”. Why not recognize this, and admit mistakes and misconduct when they occur? Why not simply apologize to the passenger in these cases? After all, basketball players raise their hand when they commit a personal foul. Could not TSA do the same?

This suggestion he flatly refused. He was adamantly opposed to such an approach, and determined to protect TSA employees at all costs. I asked why this was so important? He replied that it was a matter of preserving morale among TSA employees, who suffer insult and humiliation every day from the passengers they screen.

Random and Unpredictable security measures: Mr. Charles Leocha of the Consumer Travel Alliance then questioned Mr. Castelveter on the value of TSA’s policy of random and unpredictable security procedures. He related how, as a young 2nd lieutenant in Germany during the Munich Olympics, it was his duty to protect 57 nuclear weapons! There was nothing random or unpredictable about the way he and his men went about that!

Precheck: Several members of the subcommittee who are enrolled in TSA’s Precheck or Global Entry, noted that they had yet to experience any benefit from this program. TSA has touted this program as one means of improving the passenger’s screening experience. Subcommittee members as a group were 0 for 12 in this program, that is, none had experienced the expedited screening promised in 12 separate attempts.

Improving Communication and Interaction with Passengers:

Mr. Castelveter returned to his offices after his briefing and the question and answer session. The subcommittee then returned to the issue of improving TSA’s communication and interaction with passengers, continuing the discussion from the previous meeting. I noted that there was considerable material on the subject of improving relationships, and distributed the following hand outs:

Communicate: Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills

Conflict Resolution Mistakes To Avoid

While the handouts were oriented towards personal relationships, there was much applicable to relationships in general. Not surprisingly, TSA was (and is) ignoring most of the Do’s and practicing most of the Don’ts!

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr. Freeman reminded subcommittee members that the purpose of the subcommittee was to develop proposals and formal recommendations for the full Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which will meet September 18, 2012.

Conclusions from the Meeting.

Mr. Castelveter is an able individual and a zealous defender of TSA employees. However, he showed little sympathy for the passenger or passenger concerns. Indeed, based upon his experiences at Alleghany, his attitude towards passengers has not changed and can only be described as negative if not hostile.

I found it increasingly difficult to listen to his briefing. He exemplified the defensive attitude noted in Conflict Resolution Mistakes To Avoid:

Rather than addressing a partner's complaints with an objective eye and willingness to understand the other person's point of view, defensive people steadfastly deny any wrongdoing and work hard to avoid looking at the possibility that they could be contributing to a problem. Denying responsibility may seem to alleviate stress in the short run, but creates long-term problems when partners don't feel listened to and unresolved conflicts continue to grow”

His comments regarding profiling at Boston's Logan airport and the deaf traveler (above) were not credible and astonishing in the boldness of the denial of any problems. Equally astonishing was the belief that social media and Twitter were the key to improving TSA’s image. Finally, even though he called passengers customers, it was clear that protecting TSA employees and TSA’s image were his number one priority.

Mr Castelveter’s concern for TSA employees is understandable, but misplaced. Chef Robert Irvine said this to a woman whose restaurant was failing:

“You’ve allowed complacency to enter your workplace.  …you wanted to take care of your employees. Wrong. Sorry, you’re wrong. You have employees you will take care of providing they do their job correctly. That is it. You are far too soft and far too caring about employees who don’t do their job, and that’s where we are now.” (Restaurant Impossible, Episode 46)

TSA is missing a great opportunity here. Responding positively passenger complaints, dealing with employee misconduct, and adopting a customer (passenger) is always right attitude is the best way to build TSA’s image and respect as an organization. A positive relationship based on mutual respect can only strengthen security. It remains to be seen if TSA will seize, or ignore this opportunity.


Douglas Kidd

Executive Director

National Association of Airline Passengers

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