#iHateTheWait is Trending for Good Reason but What Are the Broader Impacts of the TSA Delay Debacle?This latest round of airport security check chaos has resulted in the trending hashtag, #iHateTheWait. This isn’t the first time the TSA has had people up in arms. The real problem is that the agency is once again more concerned with getting funding than it is with fixing itself. A lengthy wait in TSA security lines is something many frequent business travelers have been accustomed to for years. It was in part what drove the TSA to create the PreCheck and Global Entry expedited screening programs four years ago.

The agency had hoped that, after introducing the expediting programs, 25 million travelers would sign up for them. As it’s painfully clear, the TSA isn’t very good with numbers (even loose estimations). Approximately 7.25 million people have enrolled in these programs to date. Let's not forget that TSA PreCheck lanes don’t even exist where they should at some major airports like LAX’s Tom Bradley terminal.

Looking at more numbers, the TSA now has about 42,000 officers, which is 5,000 less than they had in 2013. Yet, between 2013 and 2016, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE the union that represents TSA officers) claims that travel volume has risen 15% from 643 million to 740 million.

Given these realities, it’s no surprise that the AFGE is now saying that TSA needs 6,000 additional officers to address the problem of long wait times. The response? TSA is allocating $34 million in funds it received last Friday from Congress to hire an additional 768 full-time screening officers (about one third of that workforce will be deployed to Chicago O’Hare), as well as providing increases to part-time staffing and overtime. They also plan to deploy more bomb sniffing dog units at major hubs – no surprise there’s a delay in this initiative as well.

If we were judging strictly by the numbers, this doesn’t bode well for our travelers. We’re not sure Band-Aids this small are even made for such large festering wounds. Recommending that travelers arrive to some airports three hours ahead of their scheduled flights is not a salve either. Demanding another hour or two out of a traveler’s day really only serves to highlight the failures of the TSA while further punishing the customers.

The 4,500 American Airlines passengers who have missed their flights at Chicago O’Hare since February of this year due to long security lines are a perfect example. Did the TSA rebook their flights? Hold their planes or stand in for missed business meetings for them? Of course not.

If we sound upset it’s because we are. This latest round of chaos comes down to yet another budgetary squabble between the TSA and Congress – not to mention flat-out poor management. The first to suffer are our loyal customers and frequent travelers.

Lawmakers have also voiced concern but, let’s be honest, the entire travel industry is voicing concern. Senator Dick Durbin D-Ill stated that “The extreme delays at security screening in Chicago airports reflects poor planning and inadequate federal funding.” He continued, “TSA must open more screening stations, get more travelers onboard the TSA PreCheck program, end airline baggage fees through the summer to ‘reduce carry-ons and screening delays.”

Other Congressional leaders have stepped into the fray as well, promising to continue raising the issue and speaking up on behalf of their constituents. More “concern” is not what we need right now. Airports like LaGuardia, JFK International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta have threatened to replace TSA screeners with private contractors in an attempt to spur action. The chaos will undoubtedly reach critical mass this summer and talking about it isn’t going to help matters much.

  • We can get behind the idea of dropping baggage fees but if the TSA could simply ‘open more screening stations’ wouldn’t it have already done so?

  • Is anyone looking at the entire staffing budget of the TSA to find opportunities to drive more front line help? Verizon provides us with a good opportunity to highlight “leading by example” when they effectively deployed their business executives to the front line for customer service while their front line personnel were on strike. Where are these dynamics in the TSA conversation?

  • Does the surreptitious firing of Kelly Hoggan, TSA’s Head of Security, fix the underlying, systemic and lingering management failures of an entire federal agency?

  • Is it also worth asking why the agency has continued to ignore peak periods of travel when allocating security officers to screening stations?

  • Does having more passengers in TSA PreCheck lines (where available) really address the problem of … lines?

  • Why would passengers be more willing to sign up to PreCheck when there are month-long backlogs for processing appointments?

  • Will lowering baggage fees result in travelers checking carry-on bags they otherwise would have brought onboard? (Or will they likely take advantage of lower fees and bring more bags with them through the summer vacation season?)

  • How does opening more security lanes with one security officer manning each station help? We all know that when a bag is stopped on the conveyor belt the entire line comes to a grinding halt. Who is talking about backup officers and what it requires to streamline or automate the screening process? (Note that the TSA has slowly rolled out a pilot program in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta that begins to address this point)

  • Is more competition required through privatization?

We are absolutely thrilled that industry leaders like American Airlines and United have stepped up to the plate for everyone’s sake. Both airlines have pledged to hire workers to help speed up the lines – with American Airlines last week announcing it would budget $4 million for the effort.

In response, we have encouraged our customers, friends and even family to help themselves avoid the chaos by signing up for TSA PreCheck (despite the long wait for processing in some cities). We’ve also directed travelers to prepare themselves ahead of time by checking apps like My TSA App or MiFlight for current wait times at their departure airports. The fact remains, this problem isn’t going away anytime soon and Travel Management Companies and industry leaders alike must do our part to help alleviate the burden on our travelers.

Do you have tips or suggestions for how to address the TSA security line issue? We encourage our travelers to use social media to voice their ideas and concerns, join us on Twitter or LinkedIn by clicking the links below:

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