I recently had the displeasure of being subjected to the pre flight security at Terminal 5. On the best occasions this is not fun, but a necessity. On average I travel through an airport approximately every six weeks. Not a lot some might say? Irrelevant of how you perceive the frequency, this last experience got me thinking about the role of personnel responsible for pre flight security screening.
The experience was probably the worst experience of security in this particular airport for a good 2-3 years. I followed the winding line to the point where instead of watching others, I got to put my hand luggage, coat etc in trays to put it through the scanner, before walking through yourself. As usual there were two lines of x-ray machines for one line of people. Well planned and thought through. However, one line of machines was not working for some unapparent reason. There was no explanation as to why, it just was not, and all the personnel stood around ignoring passengers as best they could.
Finally it was my turn to put my things into the tray, surprise no trays! On asking one of the “unengaged” security specialists from the other line for more trays, I was told “ask him over there” and the specialist concerned went back to her conversation. In addition, the person checking that your belongings were placed correctly was non communicative. This job would probably have been done better by a robot?
On the other side, after the X-ray, people were collecting their belongings and blocking the process as trays backed up with no space for new trays to come through, thus halting the active line. Did anyone from security even try to encourage people to take their belongings and “re-assemble” themselves in the place dedicated for this where there are places to sit? And yet, in front of this x-ray line was a desk with not one, but three supervisors enjoying early morning conversation.
After this 25-minute experience, of course I hit the red button, the one with the dissatisfied face. Not only that, I took the time to fill in a feedback form and post it in the box provided. I wait with baited breath for a response.
As a result of this experience, the question swimming in my head was, “What is the role of a security specialist whose reason for having a job is to screen people and their belongings to ensure we are all safe? For the safety aspect, I am grateful. Asking the same question about a barista in Pret a Manger, or sales assistant in Pink or any other clothes shop, the answer is clearly to sell clothes, muffins, sandwiches, coffee etc. If that sales assistant, or that barista, were to sell their merchandise in the same way that the security team did, surely we would all go somewhere else? The fact of the matter is we cannot go somewhere else when it comes to pre-screening security.
In reality, every security specialist’s job is to take care of passengers and provide a service that is paid for indirectly through airport taxes. Thinking about their role from the customer perspective, puts a completely different slant on the role and how that person and the teams fulfill that role. Every person that travels through is a customer, many of whom are leaving the UK after a visit to enjoy our culture, sights, events and so on. Is my experience the last impression we want to give about our country?
Selling a muffin, coffee or salad with no attention to the customer does not change the quality of the product, but it does change the customer experience. Perhaps its time our security change their perspective on what they do, giving everyone a positive experience?