The airport blame game: You, Congress and the TSA

Airport security lines are long and getting longer, and you'd better show up hours early or miss your flight. Who's to blame: You? The airlines? Congress? The TSA? Yes, yes, yes and yes.


WASHINGTON, June 1, 2016 — The summer travel season puts millions of additional travelers in airline seats. This year, the security lines required to get to those seats are longer than ever.

Since its creation, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been blamed for making air travel a miserable experience. The ritual of removing shoes, belts and jackets, putting laptop computers in their own bin and shampoo and toothpaste in a plastic bag, and standing with arms raised for a “nude” scan treats the traveling public like prison-camp inmates. Look the wrong way and expect to receive a more hands-on inspection and a potential ban from flying.

This year thousands of people can add missed flights to the list of indignities. The TSA routinely puts the blame for security-line woes on passengers (they take too much carry-on luggage) and Congress (it doesn’t appropriate enough money or pay screeners well enough). The TSA is not entirely wrong, either.

Are international airports becoming too large to be safe?

Most travelers know the TSA’s restrictions and regulations. But there is always someone at a checkpoint who realizes he has a knife in his bag and plays dumb. “I didn’t know we couldn’t bring that on the plane,” or “where am I supposed to put it if I can’t bring it with me?” Travelers could make the lines shorter if they just followed the rules before they got to the airport.

Last year, more than 222 million people traveled during the summer. If more of them, especially the frequent fliers, used the TSA PreCheck program, lines would be shorter. Joining the program costs money but is worth every penny.

The government is also responsible for the long lines. Those lines are a prime example of how government interference can produce a disaster, no matter how benign the intentions. TSA was created because of the 9/11 attacks. The contractors who provided most airport security came under sudden scrutiny for their failure to stop the hijackers.

Congress recently cut the TSA budget. This has left TSA understaffed and increased wait times for security. Last fall, the TSA requested funds for an additional 300 screeners during a congressional hearing. Congress did not move on that request.

Airlines could help reduce stress at security checkpoints by reducing checked baggage fees. The decision by airlines to charge additional fees for checked baggage sparked the surge in carry-on use in the first place. Eliminate those fees and travelers carry less carry-on baggage, expediting the security check process.

If the TSA and Congress could reach an agreement on funding and procedures, they could help travelers reaching their flights more quickly, keep airports secure and put an end to the long lines.

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