Needfinding: Airport Security
Needfinding is a process that a developer goes through to understand problems or inconveniences that may exist in a persons’/users’ life.
When addressing issues that may arise in a users’ airport experience, airport security is a particularly noticeable obstacle. Airport security or the TSA screening process is an unavoidable experience for travelers and can often be a time-consuming part of a flight. Figure 1 shows the steps required for travelers once they arrive at the airport, the essential, third step being going through security.
In order to better understand the experiences of typical travelers going through airport security, I conducted three interviews with people of varying ages and flight experiences. Each of these interviewees are people I interact with on varying bases — from my home church. Interviewee 1, Alex, is 32 years old and he travels every once in a while; he has been through TSA multiple times alone and with family members, one who is in a wheelchair. Interviewee 2, Aden, is 21 years old and travels very frequently both alone and in groups. Interviewee 3, Sara, is 18 years old and has just recently traveled alone for the first time. Each of these interviewees were picked specifically because I believed they would have diverse experiences to share in terms of going through airport security.
From the interviews, I was surprised to see the very different impressions from my 3 interviewees on airport security. Seeing both positive and negative reactions towards the airport security process showed me that my interviewees and probably a majority of other people value efficiency and security. The contrasting opinions of some of my interviewees concerning the length of the lines in airport security (i.e. Alex said the lines take much too long, while Sara said it was pretty fast and efficient) was interesting and something that is probably situational.
Below are summaries and relevant insight from each of the interviews I conducted.
Interviewee #1: ALEX
My first interview was with Alex, a ride and show supervisor at Universal Orlando. He travels fairly often and has experience traveling pre and post 9/11 as well as pre and post the COVID-19 pandemic.
He had particularly frustrating experiences with airport security having experienced it with his mother who is in a wheelchair. One of his most memorable encounters with airport security was in December 2019 when he went through a separate line with his mother, having been set aside in the wheelchair security line. He said they made it “very difficult” and it was “kinda awkward and they made us feel uncomfortable” because of the lack of communication between the TSA staff and the inefficiency in the service they were provided. He categorized this experience as “not very positive because of the lengthy process they created for someone in a wheelchair” and it “wasn’t as efficient as it should be”. He also mentioned the increased lack of personal security as a family with a wheelchair because belongings like carry-on bags and shoes were set aside away from the area they were waiting, which was “uncomfortable”.
I asked if he remembers his first experience with airport security and he said the main parts he does remember was the fact that he had to have both his ticket and identification out — he said he didn’t expect to have to re-identify himself considering he did that process when he bought his ticket (see Figure 2). He also said he remembers thinking he would have liked to know what was expected of him; for example, he didn’t know he would have to take off his shoes and belt.
The shoes/belt was something he mentioned when talking about a similar security experience he goes through almost on the daily. As an employee at Universal Studios Orlando, he says that he goes through a version of an airport security line every morning (see Figure 3). These lines are more relaxed and “much more brief compared to TSA” in that shoes/belts don’t need to be taken off unless people don’t pass the metal detectors — overall there were “less obstacles to go through”. He said that his daily experience in these lines is generally positive in comparison with airport lines because of the lack of long lines and therefore the efficiency.
I asked Alex to describe his experiences with airport security with 3 adjectives and he said: “lengthy” “inconvenient” “inefficient”. He did counter his adjectives by saying that he “understands the necessity for inconvenience for the sake of safety… and the payoff for the inconvenience is the greater sense of security” which is important considering his experiences going through airport security before and after the 9/11 attacks. Overall his main concerns with airport security seemed to be with speed or efficiency going through the process and the interactions and clear communication with the employees, not with the security aspect.
Interviewee #2: ADEN
Aden was my next interviewee, a biomedical sciences major at the University of Central Florida who travels very often. He has experience traveling both internationally and domestically and estimates that he’s gone through TSA “over give or take about a hundred times to two-hundred”.
Despite having gone through security often, he couldn’t think of any memorable personal experiences but said that the TSA line is “anxiety-inducing” and it makes him much more self-aware. He said that he remembers times when other people “went hysterical, but in those times the TSA employees always remained calm”. On average for him, he said that going through security would take him around half an hour.
When I asked him to recall experiences similar to airport security lines, he brought up restaurant lines, which he said were much more efficient. He also brought up theme park lines, which he said are much worse in that “there is an express and regular line” (see Figure 4). These options for lines he said makes it unfair and although it is “the same with TSA with the handicap line, it is not as severe at airports”.
I asked Aden to describe his experiences with airport security with 3 adjectives and he said: “consistent” “well-managed” “quiet”. He generally said he has positive experiences with airport security because he “has a larger sample size with less bad experiences”. For himself, he values security and efficiency in airport lines and he says a major part of creating a good experience is the ways the employees show “customer service”, as with any job.
Interviewee #3: SARA
My final interview was with Sara, a freshman at the University of Central Florida considering a career in nursing. She had recently gone on her first flight alone on a solo trip to New York from Orlando and I believed her recent first-time experience going through airport security would provide interesting insight on a beginner users’ perspective.
She recalled her normal experiences at airports, which she said “is very nerve-wrecking, probably because of all the security there”. She also said that normally she’s always “conscious of the people around me… and the workers especially” because she doesn’t want to do something wrong. She said “just the people around there and the environment of the TSA makes it feel very serious and scary” (see Figure 5). In recalling experiences similar to airport security lines, she talked about “getting a passport, I think is a much worse experience” and a better experience was “getting a driver’s license... because there are less people there”. Overall, she said her experiences in airport security is better than normal lines because they moved faster for her — “only took around 10 minutes for me”. She appreciated being able to have a human aspect and see people who directed her but she doesn’t like the process of taking off her shoes and getting checked through a metal detector because “if feels like I did something wrong”.
I asked Sara to describe her experiences with airport security with 3 adjectives and she said: “overwhelming” “nerve-wrecking” “exciting”. She talked about how the experience is exciting because it’s a process before going on a long-awaited trip so typically she’s feeling excited even in the lines. She said the nerve-wrecking and overwhelming aspects are because “the workers are so fast-paced with everything” and she “looks up to them”. She said “I can definitely tell working with so many people, it must be stressful” so she tries to do what she can. She said she always makes sure she has her ID out and puts all of her belongings in her bags so she can be checked quickly.