I’ve taken three flights in the last couple of weeks and the Pre Check lines have been open for exactly none of them. Regular lines continue to get longer, and as we approach the peak summer period, the ugliness is coming to a head. The airline lobbying group A4A has now created a campaign called I Hate the Wait to help people express their anger directly to TSA on Twitter. There have been a lot of tweets followed by pictures of really long lines. Usually when the noise reaches a fever pitch like this, government finally gets around to fixing the problem. That’s what it looks like is happening here on the surface, but in reality Congress is putting forward weak stopgap solutions that don’t fix the issue. It’s too late to save this summer, so get ready to arrive at the airport much earlier than normal.
You’ll recall I wrote about this back in March, and I was afraid if the government didn’t act, things would get bad. The government isn’t acting in any meaningful manner. Sure Congress finally authorized TSA to use some overtime and they’ll be hiring an additional 700 or so screeners by the middle of June, but that’s a drop in the bucket. Congress needed to act much sooner and TSA should have relaxed its procedures to improve throughput, but no. Instead, they’ve been busy wasting time.
Remember Senators Markey (D-MA) and Blumenthal (D-CT)? Those two are the ones who kept trying to sneak airline fee regulation into the FAA reauthorization bill. Fortunately, they failed, but now they have a new target. These two Senators are up to their usual tricks: blaming airlines for everything.
In fact, they sent a letter to airline CEOs this week asking them to stop charging bag fees this summer so that fewer people would carry bags on and lines would move faster. Because Congress won’t do its job and properly fund a system it has forced upon the airlines and the traveling public, these two members of that esteemed body think airlines should completely alter their business models to help fix the mess Congress created. Yeah, right.
Maybe these Senators should be encouraging airlines to follow Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant’s lead and charge for carry-on bags as well. If the solution is to reduce carry-on bags, that’ll do the trick. Something tells me that’s not going to be part of the Senators’ proposal since they clearly have a separate motive that has nothing to do with lowering the burden on TSA. But this is a useless discussion anyway. Cutting back on carry-ons in favor bulking up on checked bags won’t solve the problem.
Remember, TSA screens all those checked bags as well, and as I noted in March, it can’t keep up with demand for those services either. (Not usually this bad, but still pretty bad.) Bags are missing flights because TSA can’t keep up with checked bag demand. Encouraging people to check more bags will just shift the problem to a different part of the travel experience.
It would certainly be much more productive if Congress focused on understanding what was happening and then solving the problem instead of wasting time with PR stunts. It has finally started to make some hollow moves, but we’re way too late for anything to meaningfully change this summer.
The TSA either needs more screeners or it needs to be more efficient at using the resources it already has. The latter was the premise of some Congressional theater last week when a House committee decided to hold hearings on “Examining Management Practices and Misconduct at TSA.”
This was a complete mess that provided no solutions. You can watch some of the videos from that hearing and see just how useless this exercise has been.
Is there no way to fix this without Congress? Of course there is. If the TSA wanted to do something useful, it could. It could opt to go back to previous security procedures which allowed for greater throughput. But no, that won’t happen… all in the name of safety. Anyone believe that?
With no option to actually make the security screening process more efficient, we need a lot more screeners to keep the aviation system moving. Minor moves have been made to try to make it look like Congress is acting, but it’s not enough. This summer is going to be rough, so get to the airport early.
[Original fiddle player photo via Shutterstock]