NEWARK, N.J. – The number of passengers who flew during the spring set records, and the summer season is expected to be even busier with more travelers than ever predicted to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. Checkpoint wait times have increased and TSA recommends that travelers arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance of their flights to ensure they have enough time to park or return a rental car, wait in the airline check-in line and then get to the security checkpoint.
There are several factors that have caused checkpoint lines to take longer to screen passengers than in previous years. They include:
- A significant increase in the number of travelers;
- More people traveling with carry-on bags, in many cases bringing more than the airline industry standard of one carry-on bag and one personal item per traveler;
- A decrease in the number of budgeted TSA officers during the past several years; and
- More robust checkpoint screening after last year’s covert testing pointed out a need for improvement.
TSA has taken steps to address the longer wait times that travelers are experiencing at the checkpoints. On May 4, 2016, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced several steps being taken to address the issue. They include:
- Increasing the number of TSA officers and canine teams.
- Expanding outreach and enrollment efforts for TSA Pre✓®, TSA’s expedited screening program that allows eligible travelers to pass through checkpoints more quickly without removing shoes, laptops or travel-sized liquids from their carry-on bags.
- Increasing collaboration with airports and airlines to support non-security screening operations, such as returning bins to the front of waiting lines; enforcing the airline industry’s limit on the number of carry-on bags brought to the checkpoint; pointing passengers to the proper security lanes by identifying passengers who should be in the TSA Pre✓® lanes; and other non-security-related tasks.
- Requesting Congress allow TSA to reprogram funding within the current budget to be used to accelerate the hiring of TSA officers and to pay for overtime for TSA officers to allow for the expanded work hours during peak periods at high volume airports. If Congress allows this reprogramming of funds, TSA will increase overtime and part-time hours for its officers and accelerate the hiring of 768 TSA officers originally planned to take place by fall to be accomplished as early as later this month.
The best way for travelers to help ensure a quick trip through the security screening process is to prepare, prepare, prepare.
Passenger preparedness can have a significant impact on wait times at security checkpoints nationwide. To facilitate the security screening process, travelers should arrive at the airport two hours in advance of a domestic flight and three hours prior to an international flight to ensure that they have time to park their cars (or return rental cars), check their bags with their airline, get their boarding pass and make their way through the security screening process.
Travelers who arrive at checkpoints prepared for air travel can have an impact on lowering wait times at security checkpoints nationwide, just as individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process.
Here are some preparation tips for passengers:
- Arrive early. The increase in travel volume has a wide-ranging effect. Consider incorporating additional time in your travel plans for traffic, parking, rental car returns and airline check-in. TSA recommends arriving up to two hours in advance of domestic departures and three hours in advance of international travel.
- Prepare for security when you are packing. Put large liquids, gels, creams, aerosols, into your checked bags such as shampoo, conditioner, suntan lotion, shaving cream and anti-perspirant. If you only have a carry-on bag, make sure all of your liquids follow the 3-1-1 rule outlined below.
- Follow the 3-1-1 liquids rule for your carry-on bag. When packing a carry-on bag, it is important to remember that liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces or less and all bottles must fit in a single quart-size plastic bag and be placed in a bin for screening. This includes sun block and tanning sprays. Let the TSA officer know right away if you’re traveling with larger quantities of medically necessary liquid medications so that they can be screened separately.
- Be ready when you enter the checkpoint line. Have an acceptable ID and boarding pass out and ready to hand to the TSA officer. Once you get to the divesting tables, remove large electronics including laptops and the 3-1-1 compliant liquids bag from carry-on baggage. Consider minimizing items that you wear to the airport such as bulky jewelry, scarves, hair accessories, large belts and other bulky items as these articles are likely to require additional screening. Remove all items from your pockets and put them into one of your carry-on bags so you won’t accidentally leave them at the checkpoint when you head to your gate.
- Know what is in your bags. It is very important to make sure that you’ve got no prohibited items in your luggage. Check TSA’s website feature “When I fly, can I bring my ________?” at tsa.gov. Type in an item and find out immediately if you can bring it in your carry-on bag, checked bag, either or neither.
- @AskTSA: Unsure if an item is allowed through the security checkpoint? Issues receiving TSA Pre✓® on your boarding pass? Travelers with questions about transportation security can contact a TSA employee for live assistance 365 days a year via Twitter. Tweet your questions and comments to @AskTSA from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends/holidays.
- TSA Cares: Travelers or families of passengers with disabilities and medical conditions may call the TSA Cares helpline toll free at 1-855-787-2227 with any questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint 72 hours prior to traveling. Injured service members and veterans including individuals associated with a wounded warrior program may contact TSA Cares to help facilitate the screening process.
- Check the bins. Equally important, travelers are reminded to check the bins when collecting all belongings after going through screening and before leaving the checkpoint screening area. Often, travelers leave behind laptops, cameras, phones and loose change.
- The TSA Contact Center is available to answer questions by phone at 1-866-289-9673. Staff is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends/holidays, and an automated service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
There is still time to sign up for an appointment to apply for TSA Pre✓®, an expedited screening program that allows travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 complaint liquids/gels bag in a carry-on, in select screening lanes. Those eligible for TSA Pre✓® can participate at more than 160 airports when traveling on any of the following participating airlines: Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Sun Country, United Airlines, Virgin America and WestJet. TSA has also opened more than 350 application centers nationwide, allowing more U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the opportunity to participate in TSA Pre✓®. Interested travelers can pre-enroll at tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/apply.
TSA Pre✓® is free to all members of the U.S. Armed Forces, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard. Eligible members of the U.S. Armed Forces on personal or official travel do not need to travel in uniform to participate. Accompanying family members ages 12 and under can be processed through expedited screening as well. To participate, enter the Department of Defense (DOD) ID number in the known traveler number field when making flight reservations.