Over the last couple of weeks, the suckiness that is airline travel has become even suckier as serpentine lines leading to Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Dallas' airports have grown from Six Flags to Disney World length. Airlines have been forced to delay flights, passengers have been left behind and one of your friends has a horrible anecdote about waiting hours to get through security, which will seem longer in the telling.
As summer travel season heats up, here are five things to keep in mind as you suffer through the lines.
1. The causes and effects of the crisis are not complicated or unexpected. — The airline industry predicts more passengers will take airplanes in the summer of 2016 than any previous summer. Between June 1 and August 31, 231.1 million passengers are expected to board commercial flights in the United States. Last year, 222.3 million passengers took summer flights. Despite the increase in passengers, the TSA has actually rolled back staff by 10 percent in the face of a spending freeze. TSA officials say they expected to at least partially bridge the gap with an increase in passengers enrolled in the PreCheck expedited screening program, but that hasn't happened. More passengers screened by fewer TSA employees means longer lines.
2. The problem is not actually that bad. — One of the problems with the TSA is that the agency does not give consistent, official data about the length of security lines at the airports it screens. Without hard data, anecdata flourishes. The agency does have a decent crowd-sourced tool, though, that relies on travelers to report their own wait times. Over the past couple of days, waits at Love Field's primary checkpoint have regularly been 10 minutes or less. At DFW, checkpoints routinely have had no reported waits at all, and rarely see waits over 30 minutes — which is still brutal, but isn't the end of the world.
3. Take advantage of public transportation. — Because so many DFW users insist on driving themselves or taking a cab/Uber/Lyft to the airport, the checkpoint directly across from DART's Orange Line station the airport's Terminal A routinely has either a very short wait or no wait at all, according to the TSA's crowd-sourcing tool. Getting to the airport on the Orange Line costs $2.50 each way.
4. Listen to the airlines. — Patricia Condon, a spokeswoman for Virgin America Airlines, says that lines at Love Field have increased slightly so far this year and that Virgin is experiencing some delays for flights leaving the airport. Through September, Virgin, like the TSA and other airlines, recommends that fliers arrive at the airport at least two hours before their flights, about 30 minutes earlier than the previously standard 90 minutes.
5. If you fly even once a year, you might want to get PreCheck. — If you enroll in PreCheck, the TSA's trusted traveler program, you get to hop in a shorter security line, leave your shoes and belt on and leave your laptop in your bag as you go through screening. PreCheck costs $85 and is good for five years.
It's easy to see the problem getting worse before it gets better, the TSA has pledged to hire more screeners, but the hiring process and training takes time. Add in the agency's 10 percent annual attrition rate, and issues will continue to fester. Two senators, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, have asked carriers to stop charging for checked bags over the summer to lower the number of carry-ons the TSA has to look at, but that's not going to happen.
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