One of the most common complaints about security is the rudeness of the screeners. I typed out a whole lot of theorizing on customer service in the US and Canada, southern USA hospitality, the British class system, French culture, the effect of competition on corporate attitudes towards customer service, and the public face of police services. But in the end I deleted it most of it. Simply put, the public expects smiles, please, thank you, and deference. The screeners expect orderly, respectful compliance. Both groups are very disappointed by what actually happens.
Security screeners are stuck with the dual and daunting task of preventing potentially dangerous objects from going onboard aircraft, and acting as the public face of the inconvenience of airports. I imagine that many of them try to face each new customer with cheer, or at least guarded neutrality, but after five hours of scowling, whining, eye-rolling passengers, they're probably doing well not to actually swear back at you. The public are incredibly rude to the screeners. The screeners are rude back. The whole process becomes self-perpetuating pit of nastiness.
My strategy: be nice. If I have to, I pretend that the screeners are behaving as reasonable human beings, and respond accordingly to my fantasies. The aim is for an Academy Award level performance, not sarcastic pseudoniceness. The first step in being nice is to follow the rules. I mean really, the rules don't hurt me. It's a nuisance to get my laptop, my boarding pass, my baggie, my shoes and my parka all organized on the belt, but that nuisance is not the fault of the screener.
I smile and say hello to any screener who looks at me. I say excuse me, and please, if I have a question. I say thank you if they give me an instruction or a bin. If they thank me, I tell them they're welcome. If I discover that I've accidentally packed something I shouldn't have, I apologize, and admit to knowing better. Everyone knows that throwing a tantrum will not result in being able to keep the prohibited item. And I know I feel better after an encounter if I think I've behaved in a civilized manner. It's a game. I score points if the screener is nice back to me.
A little bit of niceness goes a long way, in both directions. Some of the poor screeners are so starved for love that their gratitude shows. Some of them are so hardened in their ways you'd think I swore at them. It's like those studies showing that people are happier when they give money away as opposed to spending it on themselves. Is it my being polite that makes me happy, or someone else's being polite to me?
On a recent trip, I decided to try WestJet's e-Boarding Pass. I followed the instructions on their site and they e-mailed me a boarding pass. Not a boarding pass to be printed out, but a paperless one. At security, I displayed it as instructed on my computer screen. The screener looked at it, looked confused, and called another screener. They told me it was not adequate. It didn't qualify as a boarding pass because it didn't have a barcode.
I went back to the check in area and used a kiosk to get a paper boarding pass. I returned to the screening area and got the same screener. She was openly grateful for my easy acceptance of the original decision. I won't tell you what I got away with because of it.
I wonder if I put a big tinfoil happy face inside the bottom of my carry on, if it would show up as a happy face on the x-ray machine. Maybe I'll try it next trip.
The picture is of a bilingually labelled, CATSA-issue one-litre plastic bag. These are available free in most Canadian airports, from a table in front of security. I've also seen bags for sale in US airports. They should also have a vending machine for little mailing boxes, and postage, so you could mail things you weren't allowed to carry. I think a lot of US airports don't have mailboxes, though, so that would be a barrier.