Is it OK to fly with that? Ask TSA on so­cial me­dia

Red Eye Chicago - - The Chatter - By Eli Panken

Can you bring that pie to your fam­ily in a carry-on bag when you fly home for the hol­i­days?

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion has the an­swer for that. But don’t bother call­ing them—they pre­fer to an­swer over Twit­ter.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion cre­ated @AskTSA in May 2015 to field the ques­tions and con­cerns of ev­ery­day trav­el­ers over Twit­ter. The TSA dou­bled down on their so­cial me­dia re­sponse team with the ad­di­tion of an AskTSA Face­book page this past July.

Jennifer Plozai, a deputy as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor for pub­lic af­fairs at the TSA, said the ac­counts have re­sponded to more than 95,000 in­quiries, with the page man­agers aim­ing to re­spond to ev­ery re­quest within an hour.

“Peo­ple were, quite hon­estly, pleas­antly sur­prised that TSA was be­ing so help­ful, friendly and quick to re­spond to their ques­tions,” Plozai said. “It re­ally turned the per­cep­tion peo­ple had about TSA on its head.”

Plozai said the AskTSA ef­forts have led to more fol­low-up ques­tions and more in­for­ma­tion about fly­ers’ air­port ex­pe­ri­ences.

AskTSA grew as an ex­ten­sion of the TSA’s Pub­lic Af­fairs team. The so­cial me­dia ac­counts let the or­ga­ni­za­tion han­dle ques­tions about ap­proved per­sonal items as well as com­plaints and con­cerns over TSA wait times at dif­fer­ent air­ports.

The TSA also uses In­sta­gram to show­case some of the of­ten hu­mor­ous ob­jects pas­sen­gers try to bring on flights. Of­fi­cials also write a blog in which they elab­o­rate on their 140-char­ac­ter re­sponses.

“There is no time to talk, to lis­ten, to en­gage with each other [at the air­port],” a post on the blog reads. “There isn’t much op­por­tu­nity for our Se­cu­rity Of­fi­cers to ex­plain the ‘why’ of what we ask you to do at the check­point, just the ‘what’ needs to be done to clear se­cu­rity. … Our am­bi­tion is to pro­vide here a fo­rum for “This an­gle grinder was dis­cov­ered in a car­ryon bag at At­lanta (ATL). Could this pos­si­bly be for split­ting Aunt Betty’s home­made din­ner rolls? All power tools are pro­hib­ited from carry-on bags. They may be packed in checked bag­gage. #Thanks­giv­ingTravel” —@ TSA In­sta­gram

lively, open dis­cus­sion of TSA is­sues.”

The AskTSA ac­counts at­tract some an­gry com­ments, too. So­cial me­dia of­fi­cials are in con­tact with TSA of­fi­cials at in­di­vid­ual air­ports and can re­lay is­sues. Plozai, who is based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., says the ac­counts are run by 10 team mem­bers who mon­i­tor the men­tions and mes­sages sent to both the Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts.

The AskTSA team also works with air­line and air­port so­cial me­dia ac­counts to re­di­rect ques­tions about check-in, boarding and more.

With the hol­i­day sea­son com­ing up, @AskTSA ex­pects a spike in in­com­ing men­tions and mes­sages about travel con­cerns. Plozai said pas­sen­gers ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing some­one at the agency to reach out to. “Based on the num­ber of ‘thank you’ mes­sages we re­ceive ev­ery day, trav­el­ers seem to gen­uinely ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that we’re here to make their travel ex­pe­ri­ence safer and a bit more pleas­ant.” Story cour­tesy of Chicago Tri­bune’s Blue Sky In­no­va­tion, fea­tur­ing news, anal­y­sis and events re­lated to in­no­va­tion, en­trepreneur­ship and the next Big Idea.

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