Synopsis: The TSA points to recent layoffs and increased air travel as reasons for dramatically increased weight times this past week. The article below examines the legitimacy of these excuses, and poses alternative theories as well.
Our worst nightmare has come true: security lines at airports have somehow gotten even longer. Reporters and individuals alike have shared videos and footage of Disneyland-like security lines at airports that were otherwise running smoothly just one week ago. The TSA officially blames it on under-staffing and higher traffic. However, both of these excuses are quickly eliminated as there have been no massive TSA layoffs recently, and statistics show that the number of travelers has not increased dramatically. So what, really, is the cause for all this chaos?
The TSA is blaming increased wait times on an unexpected increase in travel as summer approaches. However, it is estimated that air travel will increase by only 4% compared to travel done last summer (officially June 1-August 31). With flights constantly getting cheaper and more frequent (and the population constantly growing), an increase in passengers of this size should not have come as a surprise to the TSA. Furthermore, a 4% increase translates to 95,500 additional fliers every day during those three months (source). Divide that number by 43 of the nation’s major airports, and that comes out to 2,220 additional passengers at each of these airports. With an average of over 5 million passengers flying in and out of just Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on a daily basis, this hardly seems like even a drop in the bucket. In fact, if you divide this number across all 429 commercial airports throughout the United States, you will only see an increase of 222 passengers at each airport per day.
TSA also blames layoffs for the lack of efficiency going through airport security. However, many of the airports with the longest wait lines were operating fully (i.e. all screening stations were open) yet people were still waiting for hours and missing their flights. More TSA employees would not have expedited the process at all. In addition, many of the airports where some layoffs have concedingly occurred were actually overstaffed to begin with. With a budget of over $7 billion, TSA understaffing can hardly be an issue.
With the frustration related to long security lines, the TSA is urging travelers to sign up for the TSA Pre-check program. While it only take $85 and an application to join, this program, has been well below its estimated enrollment since it went live in 2011. Of course, with wait times increasing, the TSA is pushing passengers into the loving arms of Pre-check, and many will go willingly. Is it purely a coincidence that the TSA needs higher enrollment in Pre-check, both for the money and to show “success” of the program, and now there is so conveniently a situation that’s practically shoving travelers into this program.
One possible, legitimate excuse could be that TSA officials are actually doing what they are employed to do and providing more thorough checks. This is likely, since the TSA has received criticism since its inception for massively failing at detecting potential threats such as guns, grenades, explosives, and other weapons going through security. One report showed that TSA screeners at St. Paul airport failed 9 out of 12 tests, with one test being inconclusive. That means the screeners passed a mere 17% of the tests. This was a follow up to a 2015 report that found only 3 out of 70 tests were passed at various major national airports, i.e. the TSA failed 95% of the time to detect a weapon. Perhaps TSA is finally embarrassed enough to step up its game and start adhering to the requirements that it forces on the rest of us.
The reality is that the TSA wants more money from the government, even though it is clearly not doing what it is paid to do, and the agency squandered over $500 million in screening equipment improvements (which are obviously not working), and an additional $11 million in training just from 2009-2015. By making passengers wait hours just to get through security, the TSA has guaranteed that more pressure will be put on the federal government to increase the budget for TSA to fix the problem.
Let’s go over the facts one more time. Security wait times at airports increased dramatically over the past week. Is it due to cuts or layoffs in the TSA? Nope. A lack of funding? Negative. Increased air traffic? Not that either. The TSA finally doing its job? Perhaps. So now the agency demands more money “for increased staffing” and monopolizes our plans as collateral. Hmm…privatizing airport security is starting to look pretty good right about now.