My TSA Mobile App

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Mobile Gov Experiences are agency stories about creating anytime, anywhere, any device government services and info. This__ entry is a story shared by the Transportation Security Administration._

The MY TSA mobile app and website developed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is designed to help passengers better prepare for security so they can get through TSA airport security checkpoints more efficiently. The app has multiple functions to help travelers and uses information from TSA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NOAA and users.

Why We Did It

TSA gets hundreds of thousands of calls and emails each year, mainly from people asking about security procedures, ID requirements or if an item is permitted on a plane. Countless others forgo asking TSA or don’t know where to go for help, and just show up at the airport unprepared. The introduction of an app would provide the public with 24/7 access to the most frequently requested information—anywhere, anytime. Better preparing passengers to go through security with less stress is part of TSA’s overall strategy to calm security checkpoints and enable TSA officers to focus on real threats.

What We Did

A project team was formed that included representatives from IT, legal, outreach, security operations and Deputy Administrator’s offices. Members of the team worked on issues including app content and development, terms of use, legal requirements, IT security requirements, and privacy issues.

As soon as we had a good version of the app to demo, we showed it to TSA’s Senior Leadership Team for their review and approval. As an early adopter of mobile apps, our biggest hurdle was getting the iPhone version of the app through legal clearance because of the Terms of Service agreements at the time. With help from GSA and other agencies, we were able to get over the legal hurdles and get the iPhone version into the iTunes store.

TSA rolled out “MyTSA” both as a native iPhone app and as mobile site/app using TSA data as well as data from other agencies. The app has multiple functions to inform passengers, including:

  • The “Airport Status” function provides general airport conditions and delays for U.S. airports, courtesy of the Federal Aviation Administration. The iPhone version accesses GPS to direct users to the nearest airport, or they can select a specific airport.
  • The “Can I Bring” tool was designed to answer the most commonly asked questions to TSA’s Contact Center about items passengers want to bring onto a plane. These questions make up about 70% of the calls and emails to the Contact Center, so by pushing this information out and making it available 24/7, the goal is to reduce the time and energy for people to get the information they need, and save TSA resources. Items not in the database can be submitted by travelers for consideration.
  • The “Guide” includes information on ID requirements; tips for members of the military and travelers with special needs and/or children; rules for liquids, gels and aerosols; packing and wardrobe tips for speeding through security; and information on traveling with food and gifts.
  • Wait time information is crowd-sourced and provided by travelers in real time.

How It Worked

The MyTSA app directly fits into TSA’s security strategy, which helped secure approvals from TSA leadership. It improves customer service to an increasingly mobile society and in the long run, can lead to cost savings for TSA through less need to call or email the TSA Contact Center.

TSA was one of the first apps featured in the USA.gov Mobile Apps Gallery in 2010. As of December 15, TSA had approximately 235,000 unique downloads from the iTunes App Store for the MyTSA application. On average, the mobile web version gets between 1,000 and 2,500 new downloads per week.

Citizen participation in the app has been very positive. The database of items in the “Can I Bring” database numbered approximately 800 at the time of launch, and due to submissions from users, there are now 3,300 items in the database, a 400% increase.

What We Learned

  • Common gov-wide terms of service speed time to market.
  • Mobile development expertise is critical to ensure a good user experience with apps. Solutions must recognize the limits and capacities of the target devices which are not small websites.
  • Promotions are critical to adoption. The launch of the app gallery on apps.usa.gov helped promote the app. Other marketing efforts have included signage in airports, periodic promotions of the app on TSA’s blog (http://blog.tsa.gov), and media outreach.

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