The Transportation Safety Administration is in a full-blown crisis.
With wait times at security checkpoints reaching absurd lengths, the TSA is feeling the heat from travellers, airlines, airports, and government officials.
On Friday, TSA administrator, Peter Neffenger was hauled in front of the press in Chicago by mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois senator Dick Durban, and the CEOs of United, American, and Southwest Airlines.
“Now we have a situation that is totally not tolerable for the flying public, because the people responsible were not doing the jobs that they needed to do, and funding, but also staffing positions,” Emanuel said at the event, which was broadcast on television.
This, just days after he was forced to defend the agency in front of the House Oversight Committee due to accusations of mismanagement and poor performance. The troubles stem from severe understaffing by the TSA, at a time when the number of people flying is reaching an all-time high.
Here’s what else has happened until now:
- Last week, more than 450 American Airlines passengers were forced to sleep in cots at Chicago O’Hare Airport due to unusually long lines at TSA checkpoints.
- American Airlines said this week that it would spend $4 million of its own money to help alleviate the agency’s staffing shortages. The airline’s COO Robert Isom made the announcement in a strongly worded letter to his employees dripping with frustration resulting from the TSA’s lack of manpower.
- In February, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport threatened to privatize its security screening process if the TSA couldn’t improve its performance. It’s a threat that was repeated this month by major airports in New York, Charlotte, and Phoenix.
- While SeaTac International airport in Seattle has gone as far as hiring and training 90 private contractors to help improve the screening process.
- The TSA and its supports blame the staffing shortage on a series of budget cuts that have severely constricted the agency’s ability to add new employees. According to CNN, staffing at the TSA has dropped 10% since 2013 while passenger volume has increased 15%.
- To help alleviate the problem, Congress gave the TSA an additional $34 million in funding last week. $8 million will go towards hiring 768 new screeners while $26 million will pay for additional part-time hours and overtime, CNN reported.
However, the Federal government has yet to come up with a long-term solution to fix the TSA.
In the meantime, airlines and airports have become increasingly aggressive in its push for passengers to join the TSA’s PreCheck program. PreCheck allows approved passengers to expedite the screening process, but comes with an $85 fee to join.
In other instances, airlines such as Emirates have warned its passengers to allow at least two hours for the screening process.
Until Neffenger and his agency can resolve its staffing issues, get ready for a summer of gnarly lines.