IF YOU’VE BEEN TO THE AIRPORT LATELY, you may have noticed that lines are starting to feel just a little bit longer. Don’t worry: you’re not crazy. They are getting longer. At some airports, waits in the security line can take over an hour.
The Transportation Security Administration (or the TSA), which is run by the Department of Homeland Security, admits that this is the case. There are a few reasons for this: first, the number of people flying by air has been increasing over the past five years. The TSA says 12 percent more people are flying now than were flying in 2011. But over the same period of time, the number of employees working at the TSA has decreased by 12 percent due to budget cuts. So not only are the lines getting longer, but there are fewer lines for passengers to use.
The length of lines has also been exacerbated by new airline fees for checked baggage, which has given passengers a greater incentive to try to carry bags on. Since carry-on bags have to be checked at security, it has meant that TSA screeners have now had to look at more luggage than they have in the past.
To top it all off, a recent test by the federal government managed to sneak bombs and other weapons through TSA security. Last summer, it was reported that TSA screeners failed a staggering 95% of security checks, which led to the firing of the head of the agency. As a result, the TSA has now tightened their security procedures, meaning that not only are there more passengers and fewer screeners to deal with them, but that those screeners now have to do more work.
Fortunately, things are likely to improve soon. Jeh Johnson, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, has said that the TSA plans to start using more bomb-sniffing dogs, which are more effective at catching illegal materials, while simultaneously speeding up the hiring process and approving overtime for more TSA employees. Congress has allocated more money to the TSA, and have also been trying to get airlines to waive their checked bag fees.
If you can’t handle the waits — and don’t want to wait for them to get shorter — you can always still sign up for TSA’s precheck, which is worth doing for people who travel frequently. It costs $85 and requires a background check and a meeting with the DHS, but it may ultimately be worth it, if it means you’re no longer missing flights.