TSA aggressive strategy keeps holiday travel calm

MILWAUKEE: Despite a call for passengers to boycott its full-body scanners, the Transportation Security Association reported that airport screening went smoothly over one of the year's busiest weekends of air travel.

MILWAUKEE: Despite a call for passengers to boycott its full-body scanners the day before Thanksgiving, the Transportation Security Association reported that airport screening went smoothly over one of the year's busiest weekends of air travel.

In anticipation of a busy holiday travel season, the TSA had launched an “aggressive, multi-tier communications strategy,” said Sterling Payne, deputy assistant administrator, public affairs for the TSA.

Outreach included use of its Twitter account, blog, and YouTube channel. TSA Administrator John Pistole also made several appearances on network and cable news outlets, was interviewed by dozens of print publications and held a conference call with over 185 local and regional media outlets.

Top line messaging reinforced the fact these security measures reflect the TSA's commitment to stay ahead of terrorism threats, said Payne. But she said specific messaging focused on the controversial Advanced Imaging Technology [AIT] machines and the pat-downs.

“We wanted passengers to understand that [AIT] is optional and safe, and it's not at every airport,” Payne told PRWeek. “For the pat-downs, the messaging was that very few passengers actually receive pat-downs—only about 3%. We also wanted to help passengers understand why it is necessary and what circumstances would lead to a pat-down.”

For examples, the TSA used its blog to help educate passengers and dispel myths about both security protocols. It also used Twitter to tweet out daily travel trips (a tactic it started last Thanksgiving).

In response to the potential boycott, Pistole urged passengers on media outlets like Good Morning America not to opt-out of the full body scans. The TSA also used its blog to provide airport wait times and updates on the day before Thanksgiving. Ultimately, the online protest National Opt-Out Day, which aimed to create long lines at airports, was considered a bust by many media observers.

Wait times at more than 450 airports nationwide were consistent with past holiday travel periods, and many airports experienced minimal lines, said Payne. She also said that about 99% of passengers chose to be screened with AIT, which is “consistent with what we've seen since the technology was deployed in 2007.”

The TSA handles its PR in-house.

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