Which airport has the friendliest staff in the world? Here's our vote!
The Friendliest Airport in the World:
(TUS) Tucson International Airport!
In the last three years of traveling full-time, we've been through over 20 security lines in airports all over the world.
Even though I've been strategic about packing and created minimal packing lists, the experience is the same everywhere: stressful, disruptive, and uncomfortable.
You know-- We're corralled like sheep through snaking security lines, yelled at every two minutes to remove our shoes, belts and to take out our toiletries, and we've accepted uncomfortable pat downs.
The worst moment of it all? With all my strategic planning and packing, I still forgot to wear shoes with socks!
I find myself barefoot feeling the cold, clammy, tiled floor thinking, "How many other millions of stinky feet have been here, too?" Sick! "Come on, Lindsey!"
I still forget stuff and have to continue to create packing lists- even on this trip to Tucson.
Over our travels I've commented to Adam, "Remember the days when flying used to be fun?"
Do you remember?
Remember when you could wait for your family and friends at the gate? You could hug them right away when they landed.
Remember when checking bags was free? We would check our bags and forget about them until we landed.
Now, the whole thing is stressful. We carry all of our stuff with us through the whole process and we have to unpack it and repack it through the security line.
Our experience at Tucson International Airport was so different. We still went through the whole unpack, repack thing, but we didn't feel the normal feelings of being disheveled and those "I survived," and "Glad that's over!" kind of feelings.
We left the security line feeling happy and light. It was an experience with friendliness and smiles. It was weird. It was remarkable. It took me back to the fun days of flying.
Let me tell you the story:
1. They're Friendly Any Hour of the Day
It was 5:09 AM in Tucson International's Airport. We had woken up 30 minutes before at the hotel. We gave ourselves ten minutes to get dressed and out of the hotel, ten minutes to drop off the rental car, and ten minutes to head into the terminal.
We were waiting in the security line between the black retractable queue stands guiding us up the ramp to give our tickets and IDs to the security staff.
However, ahead of me to my right, a security staff member was walking down the line greeting and chatting with every passenger ahead of me.
Still asleep, I wasn't in a cheerful, chatty mood. It was 5:09 AM, I had just woken up, and security lines are supposed to be straight faced, get in and get out situations.
I knew I was his next greeting and I prepared myself to be short and sweet.
"Good morning ma'am. Can I help you with anything?" he said kindly with a smile. I kept it short and polite with a "No, thank you."
In my head I said, "This is weird. I'm just ready to get through this."
Then Adam heard someone ahead say, "This is the friendliest airport I've ever been to."
"A friendly airport? How bizarre," I thought.
Then I realized, he wasn't yelling at us.
2. Warm, Smiling, Chatty
The first security man wasn't a fluke. It was the culture.
It was our turn to go through the swinging black stall gate and give our ID's and tickets to the security woman.
You know, this is the security staff that's sitting on a stool behind the black podium. They're always straight faced, looking miserable, they never look you in the eye, and they never crack a smile. They scan your ticket, sign it with a highlighter, look at the long line behind you, sigh, then hand the ticket and your ID back to you. "NEXT!"
Well, this woman in Tucson didn't fit the mold.
She greeted us warmly and started chatting. "Hi! So, are you headed home?"
For us, that question is a bit difficult. We started explaining, but she was confused. We were in Tucson, heading to Atlanta with a Colorado ID. That's not normal.
So I said, "Well, we're traveling in a camper around the US. This was a quick trip for business. Adam's an accountant and helps people figure out their taxes with this lifestyle."
She beamed! I was confused now. "A smiling security person? What?"
"My husband and I want to do that! That's our dream after we retire. Please give me your card- I'll be needing it one day."
Not expecting to share his card in the security check point line, Adam had packed it deep in his backpack. While he fumbled to grab it, she continued to share her dreams of RVing through retirement.
When he finally found it, she said, "Oh, this is awesome! I'll be in touch! Safe travels out there."
Then, she motioned us to the security belt area.
As I made my way forward, I turned back to Adam with a "What's happening here?" look.
Two friendly security folks? This wasn't normal.
My mind was changed mid security line. Their staff was treating us like people not cattle. And, I was no longer seeing them as obstacles to successfully pass through, I was seeing them as humans with emotions and dreams.
3. Even When They Have to Investigate your Bag
Now it was the time to unload computers, toiletries, take off our shoes, and get a pat down.
Along with unloading all of that, I always unload my big bottle of "medical" contact solution. I've learned I can take it, but because it's bigger than 2 oz. it causes an inspection every time.
As expected, my grey plastic container got dinged and the next security guy pulled the box over to test my contact solution.
I grabbed my other two bags, shoved my computer into my backpack, and hopped over to him trying to put my shoes on. The stress of it all.
For the third time that morning in the security line, we had a friendly conversation.
The security guard asked about our travels and we quickly got on the topic of camping and travel trailers.
We learned of his dreams to buy a camper and travel with his family.
My contact lens solution came back negative, I packed it away and we were all cheerfully wishing each other "good days."
Still dark out at 5:17 AM, Tucson's friendly security staff had transformed me from a sleepy, short-mooded passenger to cheerful and excited for the day.
Each of them made the airport security experience enjoyable. Now, that's remarkable!
Congratulations to the Tucson International Airport security staff!
Thank you for flipping the status quo and making the airport security line enjoyable!
Who knew just a bit of friendly conversation while performing the same tasks can transform a passenger's experience.
This is possible for every airport!
Please share this if you agree! And, share it with folks you know in the airport industry.
We can make flying fun again even with security lines!
For your next trip to Tucson:
1. Get excited about your airport experience!
2. Here's a packing list of essentials not to forget for the desert!
3. Here's three places you have to go while you're in town.
4. Learn five shocking facts about Arizona's famous Saguaro Cactus. These are so cool!
5. Five reasons why you have to visit Mission San Xavior del Bac on your trip!