TSA is heavy on the minds of frequent travelers of late; hours long waits, missed flights, and short tempers are all on tap at busy airports. Why? What’s the deal?
A friend of mine asked this question the other day and I thought I would look a bit more deeply into it.
For anyone who pays attention to travel (like me) the signs have been out there for some time indicating the TSA was headed for some serious issues.
There have been highly public security test failures on top of the kerfuffles caused by fairly blatant profiling, inappropriate actions of a handful of screeners, and the newsworthy responses of irritated travelers.
What is at the root of this issue? A ginormous bureaucracy for starters. It is an arm of a hastily put together Federal Agency that is itself a rather hot button issue. Additionally, we are in an election year which means that a lot of our elected officials are more interested in appearing to do something than actually, well, doing something. This makes for a nice soup for just really screwing things up.
The TSA is supposed to be one of our first lines of defense against terrorism. Anyone who purchases a domestic US airline ticket currently pays $5.60 per one-way segment that is supposed to fund the agency. It should bring in about 3 billion dollars to the agency.
But it doesn’t. According to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the majority of that fee (which was increased to current levels in 2014) goes to paying down the deficit, not security. That’s right, you pay a fee on every ticket you buy, a fee that says right on the label that it is for providing airline security, and the majority of the money garnered from that fee goes to something else other than providing security for air travel. Go figure. Oh, and those fees were nearly doubled in 2014 to reach the current levels.
Here’s some more sobering news – the current TSA staffing level is about 6,000 people short of what it was in 2011.
Let’s recap – you, the traveling public, have 6,000 fewer screeners now than you did 5 years ago while paying twice the fees you did at that time. And Congress ‘wonders’ why we have long lines, short tempers and missed flights.
One of the reasons we have such low staffing levels is that TSA screeners are some of the lowest paid employees in the Federal Government. According to a CNN Money report from 2010, about 37% of TSA screeners are part-time employees with a starting salary of around $14 per hour. It takes close three years of part-time work before a screener can be moved to full-time.
Small wonder that TSA screeners have the lowest morale and highest turnover rate among Federal employees! Small wonder that security tests are failed time and again. Small wonder that positions are not being filled, that lines are long and tempers are short.
So what is being done to combat this? Surely our lawmakers, the very people who constantly and consistently tell us that we are under threat and need to take steps to increase our security are working hard to take care of this issue.
Well, one Congressman called on airlines to stop checked baggage fees to help the situation. On Tuesday the head of the security division of the TSA was removed from his post. Oh, and they hope to hire an additional 700 screeners by mid-June. In the meantime they are ‘re-deploying’ screeners to major airports on a temporary basis.
That’s the solution to what can legitimately be called a crisis in our air travel; which is to say isn’t a solution in any sense of the word. They are little more than band aids being slapped on a huge, gaping wound.
So what does a traveler do in the meantime?
First, take a lot of deep breaths. Please try to remember that the person running that scanner is a human who gets a lot of abuse and not a lot of money. It costs us nothing to be respectful to one another.
Secondly, think about checking that bag. I know you want to grab your things and rush off the plane, that another 10 to 30 minutes at a baggage carousel is probably not in your vacation itinerary, but it might just save you (and everyone else behind you in the security line) that much or more in the long run.
Thirdly, travelling in off-peak hours means off-peak lines. Early mornings and late evenings as well as Saturdays generally have fewer flights and thus fewer people.
Finally, check the wait times for your airport by either using the TSA app, or a website like ifly.com and then plan accordingly. Check early and often, times fluctuate and the sooner you look the more prepared you are.
Oh, and if you have some spare time (maybe while you are standing in line at TSA) you might want to drop your Congress person or Senator a line and let them know that security is important to you, that they really should get their collective head out of, well, you know where and do something about this.