The TSA is a Mess; Won’t Get Better Soon

Bad news, travelers: TSA lines are a mess these days and, by all accounts, the Agency apparently seems keen to keep them that way. It turns out that the TSA bet big on travelers paying to be part of the PreCheck program and used that expectation to reduce its screening staff by 10 percent. Except people didn’t actually sign up – and pay the $85-100 for a five year enrollment – to get the expedited screening. Combine that with a couple reports on general incompetence in the screening process and, well, things got ugly in a hurry. Starting last September the TSA cut back on non-paid (and pre-screened) passengers gaining access to PreCheck. That led to slightly longer lines. And now some airports are seeing waits in excess of one hour on a regular basis.

Even if the TSA wanted to get back to the staffing levels it held in 2012 it faces a massive challenge. It is adding a net of only 100 screeners each week due to “regular” attrition which occurs at an incredibly high rate. The current pace means roughly a year to get back to the old levels all while passenger numbers have increased over that time.

Most of the above details come from an AP report out this week calling attention to the issue and I suppose it is good news to know why the Agency claims the problems exist. But I’m also struggling to believe the reasoning. Q1 and Q4 are generally equally quiet at airports, with peaks for certain holiday travel days. We did not see the massive lines like this so regularly at the end of last year, despite the cuts to the Managed Inclusion program which reduced the number of travelers eligible for PreCheck “randomly” at the airport. So, yes, traveler numbers are ticking up but not so many at so many airports that the doubling (or more) of wait times really makes sense. At least not to me. Alas, the TSA is resisting efforts from the AP to get any real data via FOIA requests so we’ll never know for sure what is happening. Other than that a lot of passengers are getting screwed.

Oh, and the passengers are ridiculously stupid far too often as well.

And if you are going to bother to pay for the priority screening – with the hope and dream that the TSA will actually honor its half of the bargain and properly staff the lanes at airports nationwide – go ahead and get NEXUS (if you are near Canada or frequently visit) or Global Entry. Both are a better value with the international priority, too.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Wow, with those high turn over rates, they have no one to blame but themselves.

  2. On top of that, I’ve recently been at several “smaller” airports (SAN and SNA) where they’ve just flat out decided they don’t want to staff the Pre-Check lines because they don’t want to. I feel that amounts to either bait-and-switch or flat out thievery as I paid for the option to skip the long line and avoid stripping both myself and my carry-on. If they’re not going to honor the fee I paid for a specific service, then they should refund my money.

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