The Summer of Our Discontent
Airport security lines are testing the patience of the most seasoned travelers
For experienced travelers, air travel in the US this summer is shaping up to be an excruciating affair. In case you’ve been secluded on a desert island for the past several months and missed the news, airport security lines are already essentially out of control, and it promises to get much worse before it gets better. So frequent fliers – who are used to whisking across hundreds of miles in the span of a few minutes – can count on hours in line shuffling the 50 or 100 or 200 feet to the TSA checkpoint.You may actually spend more time in the security line than you’ll spend in the air, assuming you make your flight at all.
The cause? Too many passengers, not enough screeners. At least that much everybody seems to agree on. Beyond that, the debate gets more acrimonious, with passengers blaming the Transportation Security Administration, the agency responsible for security screenings, and the TSA blaming congressional funding cuts. Oh, and passengers are at fault too, the agency says, for not signing up in droves for the Pre-Check program.
So far, blame is plentiful; solutions are scarce. TSA is promising to add more screeners and bomb-sniffing dogs (although we must confess at being somewhat surprised to learn that a dearth of dogs is the cause of these bottlenecks). The agency has also asked Congress for more money – no surprise there – though that remedy would probably not kick in soon enough to do much good in the short run. Meantime, the only helpful hint the agency, the airlines and the airports can offer passengers is to get there hours before flight time and expect a wait. Say, that’s some useful advice. If you occasionally follow my musings on these pages, you know that, at heart, I’m an optimist, especially about the world of travel. Whether it’s flying around the world, navigating the streets of an unfamiliar destination or experimenting with a new cuisine, there’s joy in the journey.
Sadly I can offer no such Pollyanna-ish philosophy about being stuck in this summer’s endless security lines. Oh, I could lie and tell you that the TSA has legions of Harvard-educated recruits ready to take up screening duties next week (not likely). Or that IATA is rolling out a whiz-bang sci-fi security technology that will eliminate not only the lines, but the need for the TSA as well (maybe in a dozen years or so).
The truth is, there doesn’t appear to be any real relief in sight from anyone who can make a serious dent in the problem. So it’s up to us frequent travelers to make a difference every time we fly. There isn’t much we can do about the lines, or the waits, or the hordes of vacationers ahead of us who are unaware of the protocols around shoes and belts and liquids. But we’ve all flown enough to know how to allay the tensions and ease the pain. Here are some of my suggestions: 1. Be early. Plan ahead and don’t assume you’ll be ‘lucky’ this time. Your usual airport arrival schedule probably won’t work this summer. Better yet... 2. Be flexible. Try an alternate airport near you. A couple hours’
drive to a less crowded facility might just be worth it. 3. Be courteous. Berating screeners will not make things go any
faster. Try thanking them instead. 4. Be prepared.You know the drill, so get ready for the screening
ahead of time. 5. Join Pre-Check. Really. If you haven’t enrolled already, do it. It’s money well spent. The news isn’t good for fliers this summer, but we are road warriors and we will make the best of it.
We always do. BT — Dan Booth Editorial Director