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Lambert TSA Manager And His Boss Reflect On Ambassador Award, Everyday Airport Shenanigans

Robert Davis and Shayne Danielson
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

For the occasional traveler, “TSA” likely conjures images of opening laptop bags, taking off shoes, lifting arms overhead and hoping against hope that there’s no spare change hiding in a pocket. But for Transportation Security Administration manager Robert Davis, that scene has about as much to do with customer service as it does airport security — and earlier this month, he was honored in a big way for his efforts.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport named Davis its Ambassador of the Year at the airport’s annual employee celebration. The kudos came as part of the airport’s Catch Us Giving program, after Davis helped an international traveler avoid what could have otherwise turned into a travel nightmare.

Davis — who began working for the TSA when it was created in 2002 and has been at Lambert throughout the 18 years since — joined host Sarah Fenske during St. Louis on the Air on Wednesday.

Joining the conversation was Davis’ supervisor, Shayne Danielson, who is the deputy assistant federal security director for screening, overseeing airport security at Lambert. Danielson was quick to praise his employee.

“It’s not necessarily what we do; it’s how we do it,” he said. “And for Robert, what he does on a daily basis, he just does it very well, and he has that person-to-person interaction that really resonates with people. And he can take an issue that’s escalated and de-escalate it very quickly — and turn it into something good.”

Davis beat out more than 1,350 other Catch Us Giving nominees to be named Lambert’s Ambassador of the Year. He opened up about how he’s seen his job evolve over the years, and also discussed the biggest challenges that come with the work. 

One of them is dealing with the frustration of large crowds of people, all in a hurry, when a potentially dangerous item is found during the screening process.

“Last year I know we caught, I believe, 55 guns at the checkpoint, and most of the traveling public don’t realize how much we find that’s prohibited, because we keep it under wraps,” Davis said. “We’re very discreet and professional when we find these things, and the folks behind them feel like we’re just holding them up, not realizing there’s a loaded firearm that could’ve gotten on the plane had we not done our jobs.”

Several listeners called into the show to share their own stories of excellent customer service at Lambert Airport. Listen to the conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.