With airport security lines growing increasingly long and wait times lasting two hours or more, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently found itself in hot water. Airport security checkpoints across the country have been understaffed, with The Associated Press recently reporting that TSA cut its screener workforce by 10 percent over the past three years. This has caused headaches for many travelers, and has also planted seeds of doubt in the minds of would-be summer travelers. “We can’t let these lines become the new norm,” says Shane Downey, the Global Business Travel Association’s director of public policy.
The long lines have particularly affected business travelers, as U.S. residents made more than 455 million business trips in 2015, with 37.9 percent dedicated to meetings and events. Time is money when it comes to traveling for business, so these travelers especially cannot afford to miss an essential flight.
According to a recent U.S. Travel survey of 2,500 Americans, of those planning plane trips between Memorial Day and Labor Day, 21.8 percent will either travel by other means or delay or cancel their trips. Additionally, 60.3 percent of respondents said they would arrive at the airport earlier to cope with the extended lines. Just 17.9 percent said they would not change their travel behavior at all. The lost travel spending will total $4.3 billion for the three-month summer travel season, which would support 37,500 jobs.
The long lines and resulting delays have not only caused problems for travelers, but also have affected the hospitality industry. When travelers miss their flights, they must make adjustments to their accommodations, which could sometimes mean a hotel will lose a potential guest to another hotel with more vacancies. “Flexibility and understanding are essential for everyone on both ends as a solution is being worked out,” Downey says.
In order to make the travel process run as smoothly as possible, Downey suggests that travelers be prepared and plan ahead. He recommends checking either the TSA or airport Twitter feed for the most up-to-date information on their local travel situation. Hotel companies are beginning to do their part to ensure guests have a hassle-free travel experience. Beginning July 1, members of Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s rewards program, Club Carlson, will be able to redeem points for TSA PreCheck membership—making Carlson Rezidor the first hotel group to offer such a perk. TSA PreCheck allows travelers to use expedited screening lanes at major U.S. airports.
Long-term solutions for TSA’s understaffing include increasing enrollment in the PreCheck program, along with using third-party groups to lobby for change. One such group is Airlines for America, which has recently drafted legislation that would require the TSA to take a number of steps, including giving local TSA directors the flexibility to make staffing decisions, and reviewing the allocation of TSA officers at individual airports.
Downey notes that if the current situation continues, he believes people will travel less, and the hotel industry will suffer. The TSA is making strides toward change, though–its head of security, Kelly Hoggan, was fired in May, with the TSA citing the need for a “different management approach.” A House panel on June 9 supported a funding boost of $7.7 billion for the TSA in an effort to help the agency address security line problems, especially as the busy summer travel season approaches.