Can We Expect Shorter Wait Times At Airports in the Near Future?

Airport Waiting

Attention, travelers: The Transportation Security Administration has developed a new approach to reduce security check-in lines during the busy 2016 summer season. This may be in response to the travel and tourism industries’ ongoing demands for system changes before peak travel seasons begin. The fact that only about 1% of travelers approve of current TSA operations, however, reflects the sense that there is no quick fix for this ongoing problem.

TSA’s plan is to approve more overtime for current employees and fast-track the hiring of an additional 700+ new agents. There will also be an increased presence of the Canine Teams. If past purported improvements, such as the discontinued Pre-check Program’s expedited security lines, are any indication, don’t pop open the champagne just yet.

TSA’s believes more agents in place will provide faster service. Standing in long lines for hours to complete 15 minutes of identification, frisking, or body scanning procedures has been the major complaint since the institution of the post-9/11 safeguards. Airlines for America, the trade organization of major United States passenger and cargo carriers, initiated the #i HateTheWait social media campaign. The action focused even more attention on the issue and provided passengers with another platform to vent about the amount of time spent in slow moving lines. The responses via Twitter was overwhelmingly hilarious and demeaning.

The additional personnel sounds like a winner, except do we really want employees who have already completed one shift to take on additional hours? While the majority of TSA agents and officers may be professional in appearance and service, there have been many complaints about the staff overall. Concurrently, there is a high turnover of agents and officers. Passengers have repeatedly stated that employees’ lack of common sense and basic customer service skills increases wait time. Introduction of the American Traveler Dignity Act reinforced the public’s dissatisfaction with the system.

To address these issues of quality of service, high attrition rates, and increasing numbers of travelers, TSA has built a new screeners training center in Glynco, Georgia. Although it will definitely surpass the on-the-job training methods now in place, it accommodates less than 200 trainees at a time. On the plus side, 5,400 new screeners this year is more in line with the TSA union workers’ statement that a minimum of 6,000 more agents are needed to improve service.

On-the-job training for new employees may have been a major flaw in the system. Three years ago the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported increasing misconduct among workers. Former TSA employees recounted the low morale among security staff, inappropriate joking and other disrespectful actions by co-workers. Baggage theft has also increased, with little legal recourse for the victims. Addressing another dubious attempt to improve the process, the GAO added that Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) training program is an ineffective waste of millions of tax dollars.

Stream-lining the hiring process to increase personnel may not be entirely acceptable either. Agents now receive between 80-120 hours of training. Considering consistently poor results during threat detection tests raises more questions about speedier training.

TSA’s PreCheck Program demonstrated to some extent that allowing particular individuals or groups preferred check in status was not helpful. The Program began in 2011 and was cancelled recently due to the terrorists’ attacks in Europe. Pre-approved, designated low risk members of frequent flyer programs, the Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI programs, and active duty United States military personnel were allowed express access to screening. PreCheck members were fingerprinted, subjected to background checks, and paid an $85 fee to receive a Known Traveler Number to be used at the airports. The service was available to US citizens, permanent residents of the US at only 156 of the over 15,000 airports in the country. Most regular passengers felt even this limited use only added to the grid lock.

One change now available at some small airports might be present a better solution. It involves reverse screening, allowing passengers to be screened when they reach the destination point, as opposed to at the departure location. Unfortunately, at larger locations this would probably only result in shifting the annoying lines from one locale to the other.

America has the most airports of any single country in the world and there seems to be no way of simplifying security. In fact, the entire TSA organization may be discouraged. Recently they used the Innocentive crowdsourcing site to gather ideas for a Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model.

Two anonymous winners split the $15,000 prize.

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