TSA, Homeland Security, Congress, US Airlines Square-Off Over Long Lines at Airports

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 A Guest Post by John @laptoptravel

ihatethewait standard lines chicago ord vs tsa precheck renespoints blog (1)TSA Lines Are Out of Control

If you have traveled domestically on airlines in recent weeks, no doubt you have experienced significant lines at the TSA security points in the airports.  Delays have gotten so bad that some airports (Chicago’s O’Hare, for example) have been advising passengers to arrive three hours early for their flights to make sure they have enough time to traverse the security checkpoints.

Editor’s Note: A timely follow-up to René’s earlier post on wait times at Chicago, which by the way I had no knowledge of him doing. That just illustrates how important this dilemma is and how it is ‘top of mind’ for today’s airline travelers.

The lines in the Atlanta airport became even worse after that airport temporarily closed one of its security checkpoints.  The Terminal South line closed earlier this month as the airport plans to re-open it before the end of May. Reportedly, the TSA lines will be ‘re-designed,’ perhaps including the new CLEAR line, of which Delta Air Lines has bought a 5% stake in. Delta will offer CLEAR to its Medallion members at a discount off the annual fee. For its Diamond Medallion members Delta will make it a free benefit for flying 125,000+ miles with Delta each year.

Members of CLEAR will be able to ‘jump’ to the front of TSA lines; even TSA Pre-Check.

Delta Air Lines CLEARDelta Air Lines Has Taken a 5% Stake in CLEAR

Lines at the airport have recently been so long that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a “Survival guide for those long Atlanta airport lines.” And the pattern is being repeated all over the nation’s airports, partly due to the TSA’s problem with staffing in many major airports. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has suggested that airlines who wish to shorten long waits at airport security should consider waiving the fees for checked baggage.

TSA Long Lines Checked Baggage Airport

We’ve asked the airlines to consider possibly eliminating the checked baggage fee to encourage people to check their luggage rather than putting it in the carry on,” Johnson said this week.

It’s a move being supported by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey who also proposed the idea in a press release letter last week to the major U.S. airlines.

The airlines’ response? Not gonna happen.

And so a war of words, policies and government intervention is set to unfold this summer while the flying public will be pawns and spectators alike.

The airlines blame staffing problems at the TSA for the long lines and delays. They want the agency to staff up for the summer peak travel period and do more to promote more flyers to register for PreCheck; TSA’s program designed for expedited screening and faster clearance times. American Airlines recently allocated $4 million to hire and provide its own contractors within the TSA lines to help improve the speed.

Jean Medina, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, an airline industry (lobbying and self-interest) group has weighed in on the matter:

“This is not a bag fee issue. This model of charging customers for services they value and use is not a new phenomenon. It dates back to 2008. Encouraging passengers to check more bags will not help and would actually exacerbate current checked baggage screening issues that are resulting in passengers missing their connections and having their bags delayed.”

The Transportation Security Administration chief has apologized for the long lines at airports nationwide with a special apology to hundreds who missed flights from Chicago over the weekend.

However, for passengers this summer, things could get much worse as the peak travel season (June through August) is just on the horizon with no quick fix in sight. Meanwhile 231 million people are estimated to fly this summer, representing more than 2 ½ million flyers per day.

Politicians see this as a ‘hot topic’ this summer. Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, spoke on the issue. “We have clearly the busiest aviation systems in the country. And this was…why it’s unacceptable. It was all predictable” Emanuel said.

To further illustrate how political matters are becoming the hours-long lines have at least one member of Congress calling for Neffenger to resign if he can’t fix the problem by Memorial Day.  “If travelers do not have relief by Memorial Day, TSA Administrator Neffenger must resign and be replaced with a leader who can provide fast and secure screening,” Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk said in a statement.

Peter Neffenger recently retired as a Vice Admiral in the United States Coast Guard, and now holds the title of Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration. He became chief of the TSA last July and has said he is working to correct the problems and responded “”My goal is to get as many people on checkpoint lanes as possible over the summer months,” he said. “I expect to see large travel volume over the summer.”

Accordingly, that ‘45-minute short commuter flight’ could now push beyond four hours of dedicated time to check-in, clear TSA, board and fly.  Of course actual flying time would perhaps account for less than 15 percent of the time devoted to the ordeal.     – John

Who do you think is to blame for long lines at the TSA security checkpoints?  What solution(s) do you think would solve the immediate problem?

Have you considered signing up for Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check?  These cards will reimburse you for the $100 fee.  There are SO many cards that pay this $100 fee that is good for 5 years that are worth considering like the ones here:

   The Platinum Card® from American Express  <—LINK

    The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN  <—LINK

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. I recently flew out of Atlanta and, even though signs indicated PreCheck closed at 10:00pm, TSA staff closed down the line at 9:45pm.

    I made it under the wire, but subsequent passengers were livid that they were denied access, especially since they arrived at the PreCheck entrance before 10:00pm and the regular line was jammed.

    Turning screening over to government employees was a big mistake.

  2. Airlines benefitted from National Guard, then TSA being spun up, assuring people it was safe to travel. It is security theater to be sure, but people want it. Minimum wage contractors replacing government employees is looking at the wrong end of the issue. It surprises me how many people slam the TSA employees, they are just employees doing the job YOU people want done. It really wouldn’t matter if you replaced them all with minimum wage contractors, the structural problems remain.

    Go back to pre-9/11 days when you could walk your friends to the gate to see them off. It won’t make much difference security wise and we’d spend a lot less money, and less time arguing about how to do, a job that doesn’t need doing.

  3. went through TSAPre in terminal 1 at ORD today at 2:00 and it seemed to flow with a15 wait. Precheck had 2 lanes open. THe screener pulled one of my bags out for a secondary check as well as the next 2 bags after it. I wonder if this was a stall tactic. My bag may have set of the check “alarm” due to the Cpap machine which has never been a problem in the past… 70% of the TSA staff seems to be in a bad mood!

  4. Another hidden culprit in many airports are the airports themselves. I just flew from Phoenix Terminal 3. With an artificial knee, I had to go through the standard line, despite PreChek and Global Traveler. The airport has given TSA a very thin long area. PreChek, and two regular lines with “Magnotometer” (as ORD likes to call it) and body scanner, all getting very little room adding to long lines. Because Phoenix Sky Harbor doesn’t have room, TSA can’t be flexible with PreChek or any of the other lines. Some of the medium and smaller airports are not given enough area for a real PreChek. While TSA planning and operations seem to be done by chance, limited space is usually specific airport problem.

  5. @Aland,

    I totally agree with you about airport design, and specifically Phoenix’s Sky Harbor. When we did our #DeltaDesertDiamonds Mileage Run to the airplane boneyard the return at PHX was a joke! Single file (no matter who you were or what you had as far as pre-clearances.)

    Airports, for the most part, were not designed for these security lines when first put to architectural drafts. TSA and airport security is a reactionary after thought, unfortunately brought about by acts of terrorism.

    However, it seems that instead of pointing fingers, someone needs to step up, take responsibility and get things fixed; and quickly! If we’re holding our breath on a government agency to do that, then…well….you can fill in the blank.

    Thank you for your feedback and reading the blog!

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