Airlines, airports and passengers: nothing but gains this year [INFOGRAPHICS]

There are a whole lot more of us flying this year: 4.3 percent more, to be exact. That’s the increase in domestic air traffic from September 2009 to September 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that month, U.S. airlines had 57.3 million passengers, leading to the largest year-over-year gain since September 2007. Meanwhile, international passenger traffic on U.S. flights surged 9.4 percent year over year.

For the first three quarters of 2010, scheduled domestic and international passengers were up 1.5 percent, suggesting that the recovery has gained momentum throughout the year. Domestic passengers gained 1 percent, with international passengers up 5.3 percent. Relative to 2008, though, passenger traffic is off 6.8 percent.

So, who wins? Of course, the airlines have had a relatively fantastic year, especially the worst of them. Delta, considered bottom of the barrel, surged from #3 in September 2009 to #1 in September 2010, with more than 9 million enplaned passengers, up 68.6 percent year over year (but don’t forget that the Northwest merger plays a role in this. Delta‘s also the top dog for the first nine months of the year for the same reason, followed by Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the busiest in the United States by a considerable margin. Close to 32 million passengers passed through in the first nine months of 2010, an increase of 1.1 percent year over year. Atlanta led Chicago O’Hare, which came in second, by more than 9 million passengers so far this year. For the greatest gains, look to Charlotte: it was eighth on the list but posted a growth rate of 6.5 percent YTD.

Las Vegas was the only airport in the top 10 for the first nine months of 2010 to post a year-over-year decline. The number of enplaned passengers dropped by a rather substantial 3.6 percent year over year, hardly surprising given the fact that the Las Vegas tourism business has been slammed by the recession. Also, outbound traffic from Las Vegas is likely constrained by the local economy, which has been battered pretty badly (as real estate prices indicate).

Even though the number of passengers increased for airlines and airports, the number of flights operated slipped 1.2 percent from the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2010. Likely, the airlines were tightening up their flights, making better use of available seats and cutting expenses.

[photo by Yaisog Bonegnasher via Flickr]

The TSA took my baby story: The relationship between psychology, customer service and traveling with a young one

After watching the TSA video of the mother blogger who claimed in a post on her blog “My Bottle’s Up” that a TSA agent temporarily took her baby son out of her sight during the security screening process at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport, I had thoughts about TSA security screening.

Katie wrote a post about this incident earlier today, but there are other points worth making, particularly when considering factors that helped create this partly true, partly fabricated TSA vs. passenger story–even if the fabrications may not have been intentional.

There are a couple of details about this incident that indicate that perhaps TSA still has a bit of work to do when it comes to perfecting customer service and truly understanding human psychology and behavior.

Although I’ve been generally impressed with most TSA agents, there are times when it has been clear to me that bad practices can have adverse effects.

Here are points that came to mind when I looked into this latest TSA vs. passenger story:

1. People who are flying are consumers. They’ve paid for a flight. That means they have expectations of being able to catch their flights. This can produce anxiety if expectations and reality are not matching up when TSA’s security measures become cumbersome, time-consuming and seem ridiculous.

2. A person flying alone with a young child has a bit of paraphernalia to deal with. Along with the child, consider the stroller, bottle, diaper bag, and various objects the caregiver has brought along to keep the child happy. It’s enough of a process to get belongings for one person ready for security. Add in the rigmarole it takes to take a child through the security check, and there’s potential for more anxiety.

3. TSA is a government entity that has all the power at a security check. Regardless that most TSA agents are splendid and do their jobs with the highest professionalism, there are jerks–not many, but there are some.

Plus, there are passengers who have had bad experiences with authority figures–or have anxiety about authority figures. There’s something about going through security that can make even the most law abiding citizens worry.

4. When the mother did get red flagged for a security check because the alarm went off, she was put, along with her child, in a clear box-like room with Plexiglas walls. That seems like a recipe for high anxiety. Why wasn’t she checked as soon as she beeped? Why the box-like room? The more I watched her in the room, the more anxious I felt. She was stuck until someone made a move.

First, there she is holding a young child and being ignored. Watch how many times her hand goes up as she’s trying to get someone’s attention. Watch how her feet are shifting. She’s having problems. Certainly it’s not rocket science to know that people with young children don’t really need to be put in a box-like room without knowing how long they’ll need to wait in it, if at all. Frankly, making people wait before getting the wand feels like a bit of a power play to me.

5. When you are stuck in a box- like room, but the others around you are able to go about their merry way, it can make you feel even worse. While the woman is in the room with her child, others are passing through security without a hitch. Why wouldn’t this put her on edge? Or is the role of TSA really about testing our patience?

6. Even when she was finally checked, the process was maddeningly slow. She was then taken over to sit in a chair for an even longer amount of time. For some reason TSA kept talking to her. I can imagine the “Yoooouuur in a huuurrryyy arrre yyyyouuuuu? Trying to catch a flight? This will teach you a lesson about trying to get TSA to hurry, and I’d watch the attitude, Lady.”

Running a wand over someone should be quick and easy. I’ve been wanded a few times myself. In my experience, it”s been a slam dunk process. This woman was checked and rechecked. She could have completely undressed and got dressed again longer than it took TSA to clear her. The whole time she was being checked, her baby is off to the side in the stroller. There’s nothing worse as a parent to be in a situation when you are in a busy place with your eye off your child. The child was not taken anywhere, but the woman might have been thinking the child could have been.

Even though TSA did not separate this woman from her child, as the woman claimed an agent did, I’d say that TSA didn’t do a whole lot to ensure that this woman would give them high marks on customer service. If anything, it looks to me like the TSA agent was having a bit of a power play.

In Katie’s post, she mentioned that she didn’t think the woman was separated from her belongings like she claims she was. I think she was.

From what I saw, a woman with blond hair gathered the belongings off the conveyor belt. It took some time for the mother to be reunited with her belongings, some of which belonged to her child. One of the belongings was a laptop. It doesn’t take long for a laptop to be snatched.

Like Katie said, the woman didn’t appear to make a phone call to her mother or her husband on her cell phone like she claimed she did–unless it is a teensy tiny cell phone that none of us can see.

Maybe it was a cell phone of her imagination–the one that she uses whenever she’s fending off an anxiety attack. Regardless of the details about this story that are not true, TSA at this particular airport, at least, still has some work to do.

Perhaps this particular TSA could take pointers from this security sign at the airport in Houston.

“Families and Those Needing Special Attention” are listed first. “Small children; strollers” are under the first bullet point.

If a mom (or a dad) and the baby in arms beep, help them first–with a smile. Say, “Sorry to inconvience you, but I need to find out why you beeped. Thanks for your understanding.”

It will work like a charm.