In a year when the number of unruly passengers and gun catches have broken all records and upended civility, Austin-Bergstrom (Texas) International Airport TSA Officer Christina Marks is doing her job exceedingly well. Credited with discovering five firearms in carry-on bags since January, the eagle-eyed officer takes her X-ray and customer service duties seriously.
“We make critical decisions based on what kind of risk the item may pose if it were to go through the checkpoint,” said Marks. “So, once I make my decision about an item, it's my final decision.”
Dedicated to detecting prohibited items and emphatically resolving alarms, Marks is also incredibly gifted at going with the flow and adapting to change. Before joining TSA in October 2016, Marks moved 14 times in 13 years as part of a military family. Her ability to roll easily with whatever is just around the corner is one of the reasons the checkpoint appeals to her.
“Each day at TSA brings new challenges, and you have to learn to adapt to each situation,” said Marks. “Not only do officers have to adapt to new policies and procedures, but we have to be the face of TSA.”
Before TSA, Marks spent time on the working side of a Starbucks counter in Fort Polk, Louisiana, servicing hurried customers demanding their java fix fast. Now, dressed in TSA blue, she takes her customer service skills to heart when working with airline passengers.
“Each person should be treated with dignity and respect,” said Marks.
She specifically remembers the extra mile she walked with a grateful passenger. Working at the front podium as a document checker, Marks verified the travel documents of a passenger who was visually impaired and traveling only with a service dog. When the passenger asked for help while trying to navigate the checkpoint, Marks asked to be tapped out and escorted the passenger through the screening process and on to her gate with a quick side trip for a grab-and-go breakfast before boarding.
It’s easy to be nice to the nice, but when confronted with nasty? Well, Marks has definite ideas about that, too, saying, “It’s my job to make sure each passenger has a great experience going through the checkpoint.”
“There are many days, especially our busy days, when we constantly get berated by passengers,” added Marks. “I have been the punching bag for upset passengers who are about to miss their flight. I try my best to inform them of their options and de-escalate the situation, explaining their options are limited but not impossible.”
What I do matters
I’m helping to keep the traveling public safe. The most important part of my job is to help passengers through the screening process while maintaining the integrity of our screening procedures.
Empathy in this line of work speaks volumes, because each situation is unique and each passenger is going through something that you know nothing about. Kindness goes a very long way.
Why my job is rewarding
I know what I do matters to the traveling public. I get to know many passengers who travel weekly. Many of those passengers become like family as we regularly see each other and get to know each other on a more personal level. I do not have family who live anywhere close to me, so it’s nice to see their familiar faces on the checkpoint every week.
In addition, I enjoy helping train and coach new employees who might have questions about certain procedures. Between COVID-19 and receiving new [computed tomography] X-rays, this has been a challenging year, but that’s what I love about this job – always something new.