Houston airports avoid security line nightmare
The 1,000-mile distance between Houston and Ohio could not keep devoted daughter, Sarah Duffney, from flying home to her lung cancer-stricken father. Luckily for the Jersey Village resident traveling through Bush Intercontinental Airport has been the least of her worries.
Bush airport is the country’s eleventh busiest airport, but unlike other passengers flying through the country’s biggest airports, Duffney hasn’t encountered the excessive security line wait times that has put the Transportation Security Administration under the microscope in recent weeks. Chicago O’Hare has continually seen security lines as long as three hours. Passengers have taken to social media to voice their frustration, and Congress has called on the TSA to act swiftly or face privatization.
TSA passenger volume mitigation efforts
During the first five months of 2016, TSA officers screened 449 million travelers—57 million more than the same five-month period of the previous year. Passenger volume through America’s airports has increased 15% since 2013.
Congress has allocated $34 million to the agency to address passenger growth and improve checkpoint performance. About $26 million of that will go towards paying officers overtime at busy airports. According to the TSA, the overtime will allow 100 additional lanes per day across the nation.
Additional mitigation efforts include improved marketing for TSA PreCheck, increase use of specially trained canines and the establishment of a National Incident Command Center.
Duffney would consider registering for the TSA Precheck which offers expedited screening.
“If I would do anything different and not have to deal with the hassle I would do the pre-check, it seems like they are happy to just go in and get you through,” said Duffney.
Despite TSA’s efforts at decreasing passenger wait times, travelers across the nation have remained vocal on their views about the agency.
While tweets and Instagram photos from airports like Newark show passenger dissatisfaction, don’t expect those posts from passengers at Houston airports.
In a campaign launched in April by the largest airline trade association, Airlines for America, travelers are encouraged to share their wait time nightmares with the #IHateTheWait. Travelers in the country’s busiest security checkpoints quickly picked up on the hashtag and started to use it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to join the protest while tagging the TSA’s official accounts.
Houston airport travelers however, aren’t following this trend. A search with this hashtag did not reveal any irate travelers from Houston based airports
Twitter user @GBraunG tweeted a series of photos on different dates that portrayed how unpredictable airline wait times can be. The photos showed a Chicago O’Hare security checkpoint on different days with dramatically different wait times.
In response, TSA officers started using the #TSAisnottheonlywait to show the public they wait in lines for everything from donuts to black Friday sales.
Houston avoids the nightmare
Having traveled from both Bush and Hobby airports, Duffney did not mention any long wait lines.
“It’s really a mix bag of what you get,” she said. “It seems like going through the line you can’t even smile, in that line there is nothing to perk up your day.”
“There has been consistent tracking,” said the public information officer for the Houston Airport System, Bill Begley, when asked about the Houston wait times.
While Begley said he could not speak on behalf of the TSA, he did credit the current security wait times to the efficient communication between the administration and the Houston Airport System.
Begley provided statistics that revealed that from the first of the year until now, only 3.5% of travelers encountered a security wait time longer than 20 minutes at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The numbers were even smaller at William P. Hobby Airport with 1.2%
Janice Langlinais, Director of Communications for the Texas Travel Industry Association said that there was no official discussion of the TSA’s lines among its members.
“We are checking with our airports working hard to mitigate peak times,” Langlinais said of the anticipated increased wait with the approach of summer travel.
There are also not many registered for TSA Pre-Check, which should be a big push for all airports said Langlinais of the expedited security-screening program, adding that if we can get business travelers to sign up it would relieve space at the lines.
With Memorial Day kicking off the summer travel season, even Houston airport travelers will see an increase in wait times.
A spokesman for the TSA, Mark Howell said that there is not one but many contributing factors to the long lines and urged the passengers to plan accordingly.
“I’m not blaming passengers… It is all puzzle pieces to a bigger picture.”
Duffney will continue to travel out of Houston airports to her native Ohio as often as her schedule permits. Whether the hashtag protests, TSA Pre-Check advancement, or more prepared passengers alleviate the wait time at the security lines or not, Duffney is sure of one thing.
“I just want to wheel my way through”, she said recalling that her father is back home waiting for her, while stage four of his cancer may not.
For travelers like her with a personal story behind their trip, perhaps the hate for the wait is a matter of last goodbyes.