... from the desk of Roger Sullivan

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Well THAT was a pleasant surprise …

I’m in SFO, returning to Boston. I have adjusted to the new TSA guidelines for prohibited carry-on items and have been able to remove the contraband, yet still maintain a degree of creature comfort – AND carry on my roller-bag. Life is getting back to ‘normal.’

I was originally going to post on my tips & tricks for carry-on bags. Mine are much simpler than others with their toiletry stashes in multiple cities. But as I was passing through security, a tall, imposing, suited gentleman walked into the area like he owned the place, and checked the x-ray screen - of my bag. My first thought was, “This can’t be good!” Sure enough, my briefcase was ‘snagged’ for the dreaded “extra screening.” [NB: IMO, a briefcase screen is potentially much more disruptive and time-consuming than a suitcase screen. Because, being a creature of habit, everything has its place. When the contents are removed, it’s a real pain to get them back in all their little compartments!]

The next thing I knew, the gentleman (did I mention that he was BIG?) was looking at me across the across the belt, asking “Where are you flying to today?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but even when I’m not doing anything wrong, that kind of innocent question in a relatively stressful situation can be pretty unnerving. And, I had read recently that this kind of “behavioral analysis” questioning is going to be part of the security screening process. Well, I hadn’t had time to even find my innocent-as-a-lamb face that I usually reserve for Border Control Officers – let alone put it on.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, the gentleman handed me his business card! Now, I’m thinking, “Wow, this is a really new kind of behavior analysis test.” After I quickly scanned the card, he introduced himself as Mr. Edward W. Gomez, Federal Security Director, San Francisco International Airport.

Now comes the surprising part:

Mr. Gomez: “Do you travel a lot?”
Me: “Yes.” (Remembering to keep answers brief in high-stress situations.)

THEN HE SAID: “How are we doing here [in SFO] compared to the other cities you travel through?"

Here was a Federal Department of Homeland Security, TSA area director asking for a performance evaluation!

I must say that I was a bit surprised …OK, “stunned” is the more appropriate word. After recovering, (my jaw from the floor) I said that I thought that, in general the screening process is getting much more consistent from airport to airport. I appreciate this very much because I don’t have to remember whether this is the airport with the no-shoes policy. You simply always take them off. And that’s just fine with me. (And, by the way, I know that this was probably a stupidly inane response. But I was still recovering from my surprise. Mr. Gomez’s email address was on the card, and I intend to use it for a more thoughtful reply.)

We talked a bit more about the extra burden caused by the new “no liquids” policy and how that will continue to affect travel. I thanked him for his interest and the job that the TSA is doing and went to find my briefcase. (Remember, it had been ‘snagged.’)

When I got to the screening counter, the lady with my bag informed me with awe in her voice, “He’s the Big Guy!" I had already observed the "big" part, but that's not what she meant. She continued, "He’s responsible for this whole area.” She went on to say that there are many management layers between the line screeners and him but, “ … he comes down here all the time asking questions – just like that.”

As I left the screening area, I caught his eye once more and thanked him for his interest.

Well, let me say it a bit more publicly, Mr. Edward W. Gomez, you are to be commended!

We hear lots of negatives these days about Homeland Security and the TSA. But here is a senior dedicated public servant asking questions (many times) and being genuinely interested in improving his customers’ experience. He is setting a terrific leadership example for all those under his management.

On behalf of those traveling for business or pleasure through San Francisco, thanks very much, Edward Gomez!


  • Wow. It sounds like he actually has a brain knows how to use it and is keen to do so! Next time I encounter that phenomenon in an airport screening area, I'll be sure and blog about it myself! ;^)

    By Blogger Robin, at 9:55 AM  

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