Travel industry worries about long TSA lines this summer

In this March 17, 2016, photo, travelers wait in line for security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
(Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

The head of the Department of Homeland Security acknowledges that airport security lines have gotten longer but he said that any real fixes to the problem will require money.

Congress has sent mixed signals about whether it will free up the money. That is making travel industry leaders nervous because even the talk of airport gridlock could scare off Americans from traveling this summer.

“It’s alarmingly likely that the mere perception of security hassles at U.S. airports will have an effect on travel — which supports employment for one out of every nine Americans — as we head into the summer travel season,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Assn., the trade group for the country’s travel industry.

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Longer wait times, which have already been blamed for delays and missed flights throughout the nation, are the result of several factors, including more travelers, a delay in hiring new airport screeners and more extensive security measures adopted in the last year.

Travel industry leaders are wringing their hands over the potential delays because travel is expected to surge this summer, thanks to low fuel costs that are keeping airfares down.

According to a survey by the travel site Orbitz, 75% of Americans plan to travel this summer, a 7% increase over last summer.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement this week saying the Transportation Security Administration will increase staffing at the busiest airports and will add more explosives-sniffing dogs.

He has also encouraged more travelers to sign up for TSA PreCheck, the program that enables pre-screened fliers to use a speedier checkpoint without removing their shoes or taking out their laptops.

Johnson also asked Congress to reallocate money from his department to pay for TSA overtime and other expenses that will increase staffing.

The Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved a shift of $34 million so the TSA can hire and train 768 new screeners and pay overtime to current TSA officers.
“Providing relief to travelers is long overdue,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the committee.

The House of Representatives has yet to take action.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, said his panel will consider the funding request. But he took shots at the TSA, saying the agency should have been prepared for the increase in traffic at the airports.

“I’m pleased Secretary Johnson is trying to mitigate long lines at airports, and the negative impacts they have on the traveling public,” Carter said in a statement. “However, common sense and historical trends tell us air travel will increase during the summer months and when the economy improves, and TSA has simply failed to plan responsibly.”

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