Back in May, Transportation Security Administration leaders predicted that more than 263 million air travelers and crew members would pass through airport security this summer. Traditionally occurring from the Memorial Day weekend through the Labor Day weekend, a higher number of people fly during the summer than at any other time of the year.
According to TSA, it expects to screen 10 million more air travelers and crew in 2019 than it did in 2018. That figure is a significant increase from 2018, where the feds screened nearly 251 million air travelers during the summer travel season. For 2019, the agency is also expecting more than 2.7 million people to go through its security checkpoints on peak travel days (typically Sundays, Mondays, and Fridays).
Taking their cue from the feds, most U.S. airports and the travel industry also advised passengers to expect a busy summer season. All published tips, tricks and hints to prepare for airport security screening and TSA continued to push its freely available “MyTSA” app, which is designed to help skirt security wait times.
Screening so many millions of passengers daily – plus all their carry-on as well as checked luggage – is a massive undertaking. Before the enormous influx of migrants flooding the nation’s southern border region, TSA had increased airport staffing levels by more than 2,000 screening officers. It had also added about 20% more to the overtime fund local TSA leaders could tap if needed. The agency even put more K9 teams in the field to patrol checkpoints as well as to screen checked cargo and luggage.
Owing to the crisis at the southern border, however, TSA has lately been forced to redeploy some of its officers to help handle the flood of people seeking entry into the U.S. How much the loss of TSA screening personnel to the effort at the border will affect airport security screening wait times is still being evaluated. According to TSA, about 350 of its people, including security screeners, were sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. That number may rise to 650 if needed, but with 50,000 screeners working for TSA, the agency maintains that only a small sliver of the total workforce (less than 1%) will be pulled away from their regular duties. Plus, those officers are being pulled from smaller airports in 1s, 2s or 3s, and TSA says they can at least temporarily handle the loss.
Even so, the federal agency’s chief had predicted a “slight increase” in wait times to clear airport security over the just completed 4th of July travel period. He claims the reassignment of personnel hasn’t yet had a “measurable impact” on those times, despite more than 12.1 million people -- from Wednesday, July 3rd through Sunday, July 7th – being screened. We’ll update as more travel reports and wait time figures become available.
Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.