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What’s Behind the TSA Delays?

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We’ve been hearing about long delays at the airport at TSA security lines. There’s a good chance if you’re flying this holiday weekend—or for that matter, the rest of the summer—you might experience serious delays, depending on your airport. Today, I discussed the current situation on CBS This Morning. Here’s what you need to know right now.

Air travel is expected to hit an all-time high this year, with the TSA preparing to screen some 740 million people. That’s nearly 100 million more than in 2013.

The TSA has pledged to hire 768 new officers by June 15. But even with new hires, those people would need to be trained, which can take anywhere from six to eight weeks. That means there’s a good chance those new hires wouldn’t actually be working at airports until Labor Day.

As a result, a growing number of passengers are applying for TSA PreCheck in record numbers. Right now, there’s an average of 15,000 new applications per day.

But even if you have TSA PreCheck, there’s sadly no guarantee that the lines will either be properly staffed or even open. In theory, PreCheck is great.

In a discussion with me this morning, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson insisted that the wait times on TSA PreCheck lines “are five minutes or less.” My response: I won’t argue that fact on the lines that you open. But if you don’t open a PreCheck line to begin with, then your statement is false.

Earlier this week, I flew out of JFK during a peak morning time. I’ve actually had PreCheck since the program began in 2013, but that didn’t matter since the PreCheck lines at Terminal 5 didn’t even open that morning.

TSA PreCheck at JFK Terminal 5 earlier this week

TSA PreCheck at JFK Terminal 5 earlier this week

Delta, United, and American Airlines will spend approximately $4 million assigning their own staffers to the TSA security lines to help their passengers. It’s not really helping passengers as much as it’s a triage effort by the airlines to identify all the passengers in line about to miss their flights so the airline can make a quick determination as to which flights will take a delay and which flights won’t (some flights are more equal than others in terms of revenue).

There’s a trickle-down, or some might argue a “tumble-down” economic theory about how much a delay costs an airline, its passengers, and its affiliated vendors. One recent survey by the U.S. Travel Association estimated that the TSA delays could cause a $4.3 billion hit to the U.S. economy.

The takeaway: 1. Look for alternate airports that are smaller. 2. Timing is everything. Try to pick a flight that leaves between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. There’s much lighter traffic. 3. On trips under 300 miles, given the economics of fuel prices, you might be better served to drive.

For more information about the TSA and PreCheck, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com

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