Airlines for America (A4A) has called on the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to publicly release data on security screening checkpoint wait times at airports, and rejected the notion that airlines’ checked bag fees are to blame for extremely long security lines.
Excessive checkpoint wait times at a number of major US airports—reportedly as long as three hours in some instances—have increased the calls for TSA to take steps to alleviate the problem. Airports in Chicago have been particularly affected by the long lines—450 American Airlines passengers at Chicago O’Hare missed flights on May 15 because of the logjam of passengers at security checkpoints, according to the airline.
US Sen. Mark Kirk (D-Illinois) said in a statement that TSA administrator Peter Neffenger “must resign” if the long lines are not resolved by Memorial Day (May 30). And Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said airlines should waive checked bag fees over the upcoming summer months.
A4A, which lobbies on behalf of US airlines minus Delta Air Lines, forecasted that an average of 2.51 million passengers a day will travel on US airlines starting with Memorial Day weekend (May 27-30) and continuing until September, up 4% from last summer. A4A advised passengers to arrive at airports two hours prior to domestic flights and three hours before international flights.
A4A SVP-legislative and regulatory policy Sharon Pinkerton called on TSA to “take some initiative working with carriers” to rapidly increase the number of people signing up for the Pre-Check expedited screening program. She said TSA should consider waiving or reducing the $85 fee for enrolling in Pre-Check over the next four months. Pinkerton added that airlines would be open to allowing frequent flyer points to be used to pay for Pre-Check enrollment.
She also urged TSA to release data on wait times at specific airports, allowing passengers to have a more precise idea of how long they have to get to an airport prior to their flight’s departure. “It would be helpful if TSA would release the actual real wait times at each airport,” she told reporters on a conference call. “We need TSA to tell us what the wait times are at each airport.”
TSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on checkpoint wait time data.
Pinkerton said checked bag fees are not the reason for the long security lines. She pointed out that checkpoint wait times have been in excess of 90 minutes at Chicago Midway, an airport dominated by Southwest Airlines, which does not charge any bag fees. Southwest operates more than 90% of Midway’s flights. “So clearly there is no relation between bag fees and wait times,” Pinkerton said.
She added that TSA is also having issues processing all of the checked baggage the agency is required to screen. “It wouldn’t make sense to try to move the problem from one place to another,” Pinkerton said.