My wife hates to fly. It’s not the planes that bother her, although she’s no fan of turbulence. It’s the security process. There’s something about passing through a low-level X-ray machine that can see through your clothes that gives her the willies. Who can blame her?
And then there’s the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents themselves. Why is it that six or seven seem to be just hanging out while three of them work one security machine, as 200 people wait in line?
Whatever the reason, expect it to get worse this summer, and it’s the TSA’s fault.
Last summer, more than 220 million people took to the skies. This year, airlines estimate more than 230 million people will take off (and land, hopefully).
With so many people in the air, you’d think the TSA would be beefing up its staff, but the opposite is true. Since 2011, the TSA actually cut its staff by more than 10%, which makes for even longer security lines at the airport.
To be fair, the TSA didn’t pare down just to make life difficult for us.
They cut their personnel at the same time they rolled out the TSA PreCheck program, or TSAPre for short, which allows pre-screened passengers to use a faster screening service. They thought the new program would make up for the difference in employees.
The program started in 2011 and currently has about 9.3 million registered users. Unfortunately, the TSA figured that the program would have 25 million users by now. Clearly, they underestimated how many people are willing to wait through long security lines.
But it’s not that people love to be agitated or miss flights, or that they don’t want to sign up for TSA Pre. The agency just did a poor job of setting up the application process.
To qualify for TSA Pre, you must make an appointment at a local TSA office, have a short interview, provide documentation (passport, etc.), pay $85, and then wait a few days for your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to show up.
Granted, those who fly once or twice a year won’t go through the hassle or see the value of paying the money. But those who fly even four or five times a year would save hours of hassle if they used TSA Pre.
The problem is, people still have to go out of their way to sign up.
Who wants to make an appointment to go to a government office to pay money? I’ll admit, I did it, but I travel more than most people, although not nearly as much as I used to. Still, I love TSA Pre. I finally convinced my wife to go through the motions. The actual interview took less than seven minutes. But it was still a hassle.
If the TSA really wanted more sign-ups, they’d put the solution near the point of pain. They could put a kiosk just inside the security gates of airports, and hang a big sign that reads: “Want to avoid these long security lines next time you fly? Sign up for TSA Pre RIGHT NOW.”
Imagine how many people would spend the hour ahead of their flight signing up!
Unfortunately, government employees still think like government employees. They don’t consider the end user, just the most efficient way for the bureaucracy to implement a program, no matter how idiotic the result.
For those that still haven’t signed up for TSA Pre, don’t worry, the TSA has another program to help you out.
The agency has its own app, called My TSA. Using the app, you can see crowd-sourced wait times, in real time, in security lines at various airports around the country.
Sounds awesome, right? You can check the app as you get your stuff together, making sure that you leave enough time to get through security.
Or at least, that’s the theory. The reality is, well, more governmental than that.
The app works exactly as you’d expect, except for one, small detail. Users can enter wait times in blocks, but only up to 31 minutes. There is no way to enter longer wait times.
That makes the app basically useless.
Wait times of less than 20 minutes are tolerable. 20 to 30 minutes are a hassle. But the times over 30 minutes are what we all need to know. Is it 35 minutes, or an hour and 35 minutes? It could be the difference between making a flight, or ruining your travel plans.
If you intend to fly this summer, do yourself a favor. Make the appointment, join TSA Pre. The government’s never going to get better, so you might as well use the system to make your life as easy as possible. Then you can go back to worrying about other things, like turbulence, and who’s going to sit next to you on the flight.
Follow me on Twitter @RJHSDent
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