Airport Security: House Takes Action on TSA Wait Times

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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a new measure aimed at addressing long wait times at airport security, which have grabbed headlines this summer. 

H.R. 5338, the Checkpoint Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016, mandates an assessment of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) staffing levels at all U.S. airports, as well as the inclusion of canine explosives detection teams and addition screening technology where necessary. The bill also requires the TSA to share its staffing models with airports and airlines so they can plan for wait times accordingly, and directs the TSA to assign only Transportation Security Officers to passenger and baggage screening functions, using administrative personnel and other staffers in functions not directly related to screening, like restocking bins and managing the line. 

The measure has won praise from the U.S. Travel Association

"There is evidence that the initial scare over untenable security wait times generated mass corrective action, and that the situation has already improved thanks to modifications by the TSA and travelers adjusting their own behavior,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow in a written release. “But it's critical that we not find ourselves in that situation again; a study released by my organization found that heavy publicity of long lines at the airport was set to ground one in five would-be flyers, leading to a $4.3 billion loss in travel spending this summer. Along with the staffing solutions announced by DHS, congressional appropriations committees have rightfully supported steering resources to fund additional TSA officers."

The TSA has reported progress on shortening wait times since the early spring in an update issued Tuesday, according to the Associated Press via ABC News. The TSA has added more lanes and increased staffing at peak periods, especially at some of the busiest airports in the U.S.: John F. Kennedy in New York, Newark in New Jersey, O'Hare in Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.

"When you get stories of long wait times it has primarily been those airports," TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told the AP. "If you can prevent problems from happening there, you don't have problems that cascade throughout the system."

The TSA is also looking at adding automated screening technology to more than a dozen airports, which can improve wait times by up to 30 percent. Delta has helped pay for the installation of the system at two screening lanes in Atlanta as of late May. 

Over Memorial Day weekend, travelers reported shorter than expected wait times at many of the busiest airports in the United States, including Chicago O’Hare, as well as Miami, St. Louis, New York - JFK, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Others, however, reported long lines in Denver and Sacramento.

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