It was the recipe for a perfect storm. The security screening process at most major airports was already operating at capacity, and the summer travel season was just months away. In an attempt to anticipate the influx, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) campaigned to get 25 million travelers to sign up for its PreCheck program. But the campaign to enroll members in the program only netted nine million users, so Congress cut nearly 10 percent of TSA’s workforce: 4600 people.
Now summer is here and TSA is understaffed, so it pleaded with Congress to authorize overtime for its existing workers while it scrambles to hire and train 768 new officers. The reallocation of funds from one account to another, to the tune of $34 million dollars, was approved May 12. TSA had originally planned on completing its needed hiring by September, but the estimated eight percent increase in travelers anticipated between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day changed that.
Since the first of the year, TSA has been advising travelers to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight in order to allow adequate time to navigate the security line. Many have not heeded this advice and a harbinger of what was to come was seen in March during Spring Break when nearly 7,000 travelers missed their flights due to long wait times.
In an attempt to lessen the strain on TSA’s workforce and speed up the security screening process, two US senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), even sent a letter to US airlines, asking them to temporarily suspend baggage fees during the summer travel season in order to encourage more travelers to check bags.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United, Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant, JetBlue, Alaska Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Island Air Hawaii were all asked to consider the measure, but to date, none of them has responded.
So in the meantime, we’re recommending that everyone sign up for TSA PreCheck as soon as possible, to save yourself plenty of time at the airport. While you may not need it for this summer’s travel season, your PreCheck status will last for five years. And if we have another summer like this one promises to be, you’ll be glad you have it.
Photo credit: Bradley Gordon (Flickr, Creative Commons)