The busy summer travel season has barely begun, and already the long lines at airport security checkpoints due to inadequate Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staffing levels have led to egregious wait times, missed flight connections, and increasingly dissatisfied airports, airlines and their customers.
The situation has become so dire that several of the nation’s busiest airports are threatening to privatize the security screening process. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark, sent a letter to TSA saying they could “no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of the TSA passenger services.”
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport experienced significant staffing shortfalls in 2015, and expects the summer of 2016 to be even busier. Fearing things will only get worse, the airport sent a letter to TSA earlier this year advising the agency that they are strongly considering privatizing the security screening process.
Last month, American Airlines also added to the latest growing chorus of critics fed up with the travel disruptions caused by the long wait times. Between March 14 and 20, nearly 6,800 American Airlines passengers missed flights due to checkpoint delays.
“The lines at TSA checkpoints nationwide have become unacceptable,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein said in a statement. “The result: our customers are waiting in TSA lines greater than one hour.”
In response, TSA asked Congress on May 4 to spend $34 million from its FY 2016 budget to hire and train 768 new officers and pay overtime for its 42,500 officers. Congress approved the request Wednesday.
The approval followed closely on the heels of Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, and fellow Subcommittee members Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), and Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) calling on House appropriators to allow TSA to allocate the $34 million to additional screeners and overtime pay.
In a letter to Reps. John Carter and Lucille Roybal-Allard, Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, the representatives explained that the shortage of TSA screeners is causing major problems across the nation.
“We need to act now to get more screeners on the ground at airport checkpoints, or wecan expect even longer lines and wait times, more passengers experiencing travel disruptions, and more airports forced to consider privatizing security,” Rice explained. “TSA already has this $34 million in their current budget, and we need to let them use it to increase staffing levels and prepare for the heightened demand that we’ll see in the coming months.”
Keating urged TSA not to overlook the role the agency plays in supporting economic stability. He explained that lengthy delays can adversely impact local businesses and communities, particularly those which rely on tourism. “It is the responsibility of TSA to ensure the security of our nation’s airports and passengers – thus supporting millions in revenue from tourists and business travelers alike,” said Keating.
The long lines at airport checkpoints also put a strain on overworked transportation security officers, Payne noted.
“The problem is only going to get worse, with the 2016 summer travel season estimated to be the busiest in terms of commercial air travel since the economic downturn in 2008,” Payne commented. “It is absolutely critical that Congress quickly acts to reallocate the $34 million already in TSA’s budget to ensure that the agency can address the shortage of screeners and meet the demands of increased travel.”