The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington changed air travel in the United States, forever to some degree. But now, 15 years later, air passengers are experiencing inconvenient, sometimes costly and painful delays in travel, and this summer promises to produce problems almost unprecedented. Already, airports are seeing delays of several hours, lines that go on forever, canceled flights and passengers worn out and even physically ill by the time they get onto their planes.
The problems have multiple causes and what seem like shaky solutions. The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, has a shortage of security personnel. That translates into slower and longer lines at security checkpoints.
Passengers can fill in the rest of the story: Longer lines mean flights missed or delays. That means more rebooking by airlines, which causes even more delays. And there are more security checkpoints. More delay.
The excitement of a trip gives way to frustration and anger over the hassles of getting there. And consider those families that have to contend with keeping children under control as an anticipated one-hour wait turns to two or three or more. Consider the consequences when flights are canceled and people are stranded at airports.
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And for elderly passengers, or those with health limitations, the waits can be brutal and even dangerous.
The New York Times reports that airlines and airports are nervous because the problems seem to be at a peak at the very dawn of summer travel season. In July and August, 220 million people are expected to fly.
But the mess is now, and this is May. At Charlotte’s Douglas International, some 600 passengers missed flights on one day, March 25. The shortage of TSA screeners meant waits of three hours.
The TSA shortage should have been anticipated. And while the agency may be scrambling to put things right – there will be thousands of hirings – it’s much too late to try to catch up. Only recently has the TSA appointed a director of operations. And the advice from that office is, get to the airport early, at least two hours early. That’s no solution.
The agency and the Obama administration need to double down on this issue, and right now.