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Transportation Security Officer (TSO): Job Description, Training & Salary

Oct 20, 2021

What Is a Transportation Security Officer?

Transportation security officers, or transportation security screeners, inspect passengers, baggage, equipment, and cargo at airports, rail stations, or bus terminals, following the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A TSO officer is trained to screen passengers at security checkpoints, paying attention to detail while treating the travelers with respect. The job often requires weekend, evening, and holiday work. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED certificate, as well as security experience. For those interested in getting an educational background, there are security guard certificate programs available.

Required Education High school diploma or GED certificate; security experience
Other Requirements U.S. citizen, proficiency in spoken English
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* -3% (in decline) for transportation security screeners
Median Salary (2019)* $41,770 for transportation security screeners

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Transportation Security Officer Job Description

TSO job descriptions include checking luggage or packages manually or screening with x-ray equipment in order to identify hazardous items and keep them from being loaded onto public forms of transportation. Transportation security officers identify potential security risks by observing the behavior of travelers as they move through terminal areas. TSO job duties also include scrutinizing ticketing and identification materials to recognize potential security risks.

Transportation security officers screen passengers going through security checkpoints by using any combination of visual observation, pat-down searches, metal-detector screening, explosive trace detection, and x-ray devices. They report specific findings or incidents to management or law enforcement to help identify weaknesses in established protocol or flaws in terminal and equipment design. Officers need to conduct all duties with a focus on customer service, while assisting passengers who have questions or special needs. The TSA job description is very similar, but TSA officers are especially expected to display honesty and flexibility, be accountable, work well with a team, and have strong communication skills.

Employees in this field generally work indoors and often wear some kind of protective gear. Transportation security officers should expect to work with a team and should also be prepared to interact with frustrated, stressed, or angry people. Professionals in this career must find the balance between customer service and strict adherence to important rules and regulations. Related positions include security guards and administrative positions within the TSA.

TSO Duties

  • Screening passengers and luggage
  • Asking security questions of passengers
  • Directing passengers through security equipment
  • Reporting suspicious activity to appropriate authorities
  • Ensuring a safe and respectful environment at all times
  • Complying with safety measures
  • Working with passengers to ensure their needs, as well as security regulations, are met

TSA job duties include all of the above and more, and are likely to change on a day-to-day basis depending on the specific needs of the travel organization at the time and the flow of passengers through the space. Important skills include attention to detail, ability to follow instructions, efficiency, politeness when working with passengers, compliance with the law, and excellent listening skills.

TSA officers work in airports and other transportation areas

TSO Training and Hiring

Most transportation security officer training happens after hiring, though past experience with security is a bonus in a lot of cases. Training includes how to perform TSO job duties as well as training for a variety of possible emergency scenarios. The hiring process generally includes an application, an interview, a background check, a physical fitness test (in some cases), and a drug test.

Transportation Security Officer Salary Information

According to the U.S. Department Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary earned by a transportation security screener was $41,770 as of May 2019 (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that there were 46,730 transportation security officers employed at that time.

Transportation Security Officer Career Outlook

The BLS predicted employment decline of 3% for transportation security screeners from 2019-2029. The highest number of transportation security screeners were located in and surrounding Florida, New York, and Texas, as reported by the BLS. The industry with the highest level of employment for transportation security screeners by a significant margin is the Federal Executive Branch.

Transportation security officers require a variety of skills, including communication and customer service, in this field. Those planning to pursue this career will need their high school diploma or GED. Some decline in the employment of transportation security officers is expected from 2019-2029 and those wishing to advance their career may be interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree in security management.

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