There’s nothing more dispiriting than checking in only to find that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) security checkpoint line stretches on forever, and may even cause you to miss your flight. It seems like the TSA is constantly warning travelers about unusually long wait times during the summer or holiday season. Sometimes the agency initiates a hiring splurge and beats the rush, but more often travelers are left waiting and waiting for the privilege of taking off their shoes, sorting their possessions into plastic bins, and standing in an awkward body scanner before rushing to (maybe) catch their flight.
The TSA keeps travelers safe by screening for prohibited items, but while the necessity of this service is widely understood, the need to wait in long lines is onerous, frustrating, and frankly outmoded. Passengers can arrive hours before their takeoff and still miss a flight due to excessively long lines understaffed by the TSA. A Minnesota man recently made headlines by suing the TSA for the cost of a new ticket after missing his original departure time despite arriving two hours early.
“Why is this taking so long?” is a common refrain heard in TSA lines, and the answer lies in the interplay of two factors. Every so often, airport security is breached somewhere in the world - sometimes harmlessly, sometimes with tragic loss of life. When this happens, the TSA quickly mandates new restrictions and procedures to tighten security, and learning these procedures can slow lines down. Meanwhile, budgetary concerns can lead to mass layoffs in TSA screening staff. This depleted workforce, combined with higher security standards, often leads to long lines as travelers head to their flights.
This year, the TSA managed to avoid a summer of record-breaking waits by quickly hiring more employees, expanding the schedules of existing personnel, and adding funds for overtime hours. This influx of man-hours helped keep the lines moving along in time for the summer season. Unfortunately, many of these new hires were only temporary for the season; unless the TSA budgets to maintain its workforce year-round, the winter holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving may well be a disaster for people trying to visit family and friends.
Plans are currently in motion to implement more digital screening to speed lines up using automated checkpoints. And travelers willing to pay a premium can sign up for services, either through their airline or an independent vendor, for express or VIP passage through checkpoints often without even having to stop. Unfortunately, none of these steps will fully alleviate the potential for seemingly endless airport security lines. The TSA needs to allow travelers to get in a virtual queue and arrive exactly at their appointed time and spend the time they would have been standing in line getting a snack, getting work done - or even traveling to the airport.