Your Summer Preview of Waiting in Lines at Airports

Hartsfield-Jackson is the busiest airport in the world, funneling more than 100 million travelers through its terminals in 2015. To prepare for an increase in travel this summer, Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue have requested at least 100 additional Travel Safety Officers (TSO) from the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Peter Neffenger to manage security checkpoints. Excerpts from a letter written by the senators to Neffenger are below.

“We are grateful that you and your Atlanta-based staff have worked with the airport and airlines to find innovative ways to process passengers in a reasonable timeframe. Striking the appropriate balance between efficiency and safety is an enormous undertaking, and we recognize TSA’s and TSOs’ hard work to find that balance.

Unfortunately, sheer volume can overwhelm even the most efficient checkpoint operations. In Atlanta, this year’s passenger traffic already increased five percent over last year’s busiest recorded levels. Many constituents and stakeholders are contacting our offices to express frustration and alarm at the long wait times for passenger security screening. This could be a deterrent to air travel that would have a significant economic impact on our region and state.

The continued success of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is critical to the prosperity of Metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. Given the heavy passenger volumes forecast for Atlanta this summer, it is critical that adequate, trained personnel are in place to meet the expected demand. TSA’s recent request to reprogram funds to hire new screeners is a positive step intended to ease expected long wait times this summer.

We appreciate your hard work and commitment to ensuring airport safety and efficiency. Increasing the number of TSOs will result in better, more efficient use of Hartsfield-Jackson’s many screening lanes during all periods of the day, and especially at peak travel times. This will help prevent passenger inconvenience and missed flights. Furthermore, quickly clearing passengers from nonsecured areas will enhance airport safety.”

As this letter makes clear, American airports are facing a bottleneck crisis that will significantly increase the amount of time that travelers spend waiting in security checkpoint lines this summer. In the last five years, the number of airline passengers has risen by 100 million while the number of TSOs has steadily fallen. The TSA’s request to “reprogram funds” will shift $34 million in existing funding so that an additional 786 TSOs can be brought on and trained by June 15th. This, however, would only be a 2 percent increase in the number of TSOs, still leaving the agency woefully understaffed for the 7 percent increase in passengers.

Congress is blaming Neffenger and other TSA officials for failing to anticipate the crisis. Some Republicans are calling for the TSA to be replaced by private security. This is not a novel idea as most Canadian and European airports have long relied on nongovernment entities to provide security. Maybe we could learn from our allies. A much scarier thought than missing a flight due to lengthy lines is that Department of Homeland Security agents posing as passengers were able to smuggle explosives and weapons past TSA security 95 percent of the time. I’m not even sure that “good enough for government work” should apply here.

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Jean

How did it go? “You can’t professionalize unless you federalize”?