3 reasons why TSA lines are worse than ever

Airports security lines around the country have become unbearable, as the Transportation Security Administration operated check points

According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the average maximum wait times at JFK International Airport’s security lines have shot up 82% compared to 2015.

The TSA and its checkpoints have been around for a decade and a half now.

So what has all of the sudden caused wait times to balloon?

Unfortunately, gridlock at America’s airports was not caused by a single mistake on the part of the TSA, but rather a confluence of multiple factors.

1. The travel industry is booming

Air travel is growing a record pace. According to the International Air Transport Association, demand for air travel in North America increased 4.3% last year while domestic air travel in the US surged 5.5%.

However, some airports have reported even high figures. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport reported an 10% increase in traffic for 2015 and became the first airport ever to host more than 100 million passengers in a year. For the first quarter of this year, the world’s busiest airport reported a 14% increase in travellers.

Chicago’s O’Hare international reported a 10% increase in passengers while Los Angeles International reported a 6% increase in 2015.

In other words, more people than ever are flying.

2. The TSA is grossly understaffed

While the number of people flying has surged, the number of security screeners have not. In fact, according to the New York Times’ Ron Nixon, the number of TSA screener have dropped 12% since 2011. In 2011, the TSA employed 47,630 screener. By this year, that number has fallen to 41,928.

The TSA blame this chronic understaffing on a series of cuts to its budget. In 2011, the operated with a $7.6 billion budget. In 2015, the agency’s fund had shrunk to roughly $7.3 billion.

To help alleviate the problem, Congress gave the TSA an additional $34 million in funding this month. Eight million dollars will go toward hiring 768 new screeners, while $26 million will pay for additional part-time hours and overtime.

However, this may not be enough. The lack of available of staff has gotten so bad a major airports in Atlanta, New York, Charlotte, and Phoenix have threatened to bring in private security contractors should the TSA fail to improve its performance. In addition, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle has gone ahead and hired 90 private security screeners to supplement the TSA.

3. TSA gambled on PreCheck and failed

To compensate for the lack of available screeners, the TSA gambled on a campaign to enroll 25 million people in its PreCheck program. For $85, PreCheck allows pre-approved passengers to go through special expedited security lines for a period of five years. However, that campaign has thus far failed to generate the level of enrollment the government hoped. In fact, only 9 million people have enrolled in precheck and TSA does not expect to reach the 25 million-person goal until 2019.

As a result, this perfect storm of surging demand for air travel along with cuts to the number of security screeners as well as the failure of the TSA’s campaign to enroll travellers in PreCheck has led to this summer’s absurd security lines.

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