Long security lines prompt fifth of would-be U.S. flyers to say “forget it”

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May 30, 2016
Christmas travel increase
Christmas is coming.

And so it has come to this: a survey of Americans concludes that of those initially planning to fly between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays—the heart of the summer travel season—21 percent-plus now say they’ll travel by other means, or delay their trips. Enough is enough, they say. Endless Transportation Security Administration screening lines are scaring off a significant slice of the traveling public in the U.S.

This bombshell piece of news comes from a survey of 2,500 Americans by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), a travel industry trade group. USTA says their reaction stems from “saturation [media] coverage of hours-long waits at airport security checkpoints.”

All told, the peak summer-season slip in airline passengers adds up to a projected U.S.$4.3 billion loss in travel spend. That kind of number prompted USTA President and CEO Roger Dow to contend the shortage of TSA screeners constitutes nothing less than “a national crisis in need of a national solution.”

A down payment on that solution was revealed earlier this week in Washington, D.C. as TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told a Congressional oversight committee the agency will add 768 new screeners by the middle of June. Sound significant? Consider that a story by the Associated Press says the move will mean only a two percent boost in TSA’s screener ranks.

More context: TSA expects to screen some 740-million flyers this year. That’s a full 15 percent more than 2013. At the same time there are but 42,000 TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) deployed at 440 airports around the country. That number is down significantly from previous years.

Perhaps at the heart of this whole issue is the fact Transportation Security Officers are overstressed, comparatively underpaid and largely unappreciated. This leads to high turnover rates, and lots of attrition.

More flyers, fewer folks to screen them and their belongings. This all could well mean a long, hot summer at U.S. airports.