Airlines Help TSA Do Its Job

As lines have gotten longer and longer at many of the nations airports, we quickly learned that the TSA has been the problem in most if not all of these cases. The TSA has been severely understaffed and making little to no effort to speed up lines as wait times grow longer and longer this summer.

This has left airlines in an odd position. Every airline is heavily reliant on the TSA doing its job quickly, for when the TSA causes delays, it costs airlines a whole lot of money. Backups at security that have in some cases been as long as 3 hours, cause many passengers to miss their flights. When that happens, passengers need to be re-booked on different flights, sometimes planes are delayed waiting on passengers and all of this adds up to lost profits from extra fuel consumption to accommodating passengers on other planes.

Airlines have begun to step up to the plate where TSA has failed. Many airlines, including American Airlines started by supplying workers at non-critical places TSA agents work. Since these tend to be positions around security points that merely require people to direct foot traffic or other similar tasks, these can be done by people other than TSA agents. This frees up agents for the more critical tasks like baggage screening and security related positions. 

Lines have been so bad lately though, that both Delta and American have begun to look at ways to cut out the TSA altogether and start using more automated methods of screening. Delta for instance designed a new security baggage handling system that increases areas for people to place their baggage on belts. The system increases the flow through and give more space for passengers to take liquids and laptops out for screening. The automated system takes it from there. Pilot programs have seen significant speed increases through security checkpoints.

American Airlines has also begun to make stride in using automated scanning technology to better detect security threats and also to speed up the baggage screening process. These new technologies have moved to CT scanners over traditional x-ray machines. Promising developments in automating this area predicts up to a 30% increase in speed for processing passengers at security points. American Airlines hopes to start rolling these out in the near future at their hubs.

While it is sad that airlines have had to start to do the job TSA is no longer capable of completing, it is nice to see some innovations coming to this area of passenger air travel. This is an area that has been fairly stagnant for a while, so any progress is great. While TSA shouldn't have let this become a problem, the outcome of advancements in moving things faster is welcome... though the fastest way would be to eliminate the screening part altogether, I hold no illusions that this will happen anytime soon. 

Keep in eye out for these new technologies in your future travels around the US. 

My Major Delta Hangup

Switching to Delta brings many pluses and minuses into the fold. One thing I have actively avoided over the past 6+ years will return when I make the move to Delta. In a word, Atlanta. If you've never flown through Atlanta, be grateful, but this is Delta's largest hub and the one in my backyard. Atlanta will be almost impossible for me to avoid.

Why do I hate Atlanta so much? It's not any one things but a combination of factors. When I lived in Wichita Kansas, my flights back from visiting family in New York, always routed me through Atlanta. There is not a single time that I returned from Wichita, that my baggage wasn't lost in Atlanta. That's right, 1-2 flights a year for 4 years, every single time. Granted my flights to New York never lost luggage, but the reverse trip never made my flights. Now I don't ever fly with checked luggage anymore, so I've managed to eliminate this problem, so while it was annoying, I've made it a non issue.

Second and probably most obvious to those transiting Atlanta is the layout of the airport. Atlanta is huge, and it take roughly a lifetime to get gate to gate out of different terminals. Atlanta is laid out in a fashion that allows great aircraft flow in and out, and really on the surface seems like a smart design. Right up until you have a close connection from one end of terminal B to the other end of terminal D or even farther. The terminal layouts mean you can spend 15-20 minutes just walking half the length of a single terminal. To get to the next terminal, you have to descend underground. Either wait for a tram or walk to the next terminal you need to be in, and then walk the length of the next terminal. This can mean in worst case scenarios, 45 min walks between gates or in some cases even worse. Add in an international customs clearance process and it becomes a nightmare.

I've so avoided Atlanta over the past 6+ years, that it will be interesting to see if the airport is anywhere close to being as bad as I remember it. While the layout seems smart on the surface, in practice this was my most dreaded airport.

Things might change here though, as I now have gotten the hang of minimizing my stress at airports. Using lounges pretty much all the time and generally enjoying my trips to and through airports. It may be a whole new experience with Atlanta... but we'll have to judge that in the coming months.

Come On TSA, Time To Get In Gear

Right now I'm travelling to South Carolina to look for my next home as we plan to move in the next few months. Flying from Philadelphia to Charlotte. Seeing as we were flying out of the F Terminal at Philadelphia, we wanted to get to the airport early enough to clear secuirty. F terminal in Philly does not have  a TSA precheck lane, and with the way that the TSA has been handling passenger traffic lately, we needed to make sure there was enough time to clear security.

Our flight out was very early, my aim was to get to our destination as early as possible in order to give us time to view places to live and make a choice in time to get everything squared away before we need to return to Philly. The flight was scheduled to depart at 5:15am, a small CRJ200 aircraft, so not much time is needed to board. We arrived and parked about 2 hours prior to departure time, the bus took a long time and by the time we finally got to the terminal, we were about an hour prior to departure.

Walking into the F terminal, we turned left and walked toward security.... to be greeted by a half closed gate and no one manning the TSA checkpoint. This was only an hour before the flight, and we had to wait another 35 minutes for them to open the checkpoint. Lucky for us we were 2nd in line as the checkpoint. The point remains that the TSA stood by and refused to open the F terminal security checkpoint any earlier than 4:15am... which of course was not when they actually opened the lane.

By the time the TSA finished their morning pep talk to each other and opened up the security checkpoint, we had 25 minutes to clear security, the line was a good 30-40 people deep, and almost every one of us had to make the same flight. Everything was still off on time, but it raises the question of whether or not the TSA is helping the situation at all. Asking everyone to give them 3 hours at checkpoints is pointless if the TSA doesn't open at a time that services passengers. 

I think it may be time to really reconsider the TSA and if it really is accomplishing anything.

NYC Threatens to Axe the TSA

It's no secret that the TSA is under some heavy criticism right now. Recently with requests to passengers, asking them to show up 3 hours in advance of their flights in some cases, frustrations are building with the poorly run federal agency. When you can fly halfway across the country in the same time as it take to clear TSA, then that is a significant problem.

In what seems to be a growing trend NYC has now jumped on the TSA and is threatening to cut them out all together from the three major airports operated by the city. Claiming that under 10 complains from passengers in 2015 for the entire year when talking about more than 20 minute lines. In 2016, we're only 1/3 of the way through the year and complaints have skyrocketed to over 250.

With the massive delays at the TSA, comes delays to planes, financial burdens to airlines needing to re-book passengers on other flights after missing their flights. Costs to companies trying to fly employees to meetings, visits, and other travel related work.

It is safe to say at this point the TSA is broken, unable to handle passenger traffic, missing more than 95% of restricted items passed through screening points. The TSA seems to cause more problems than they solve. It might just be time to rethink airport security.

Mileage Running with the CBP

My mileage run to Beijing and back was an interesting one. Returning from Beijing, I had a run in with a few different Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that made me realize that mileage running comes across like a drug runner in their eyes.

Things started off poorly when all of the Global Entry kiosks were down. Global Entry would have allowed me to bypass much of the BS that is associated with the CBP. Since Global Entry wasn’t available, we needed to use the normal entry lanes, luckily much of that has been automated now too, so at least it moves faster now.

After checking in and making it past the first set of CBP officers, I made my way to the exit. This is where a CBP officer asks you about what you are carrying, if it needs to be declared and so on. I explained how long I was in China, why it was so short and he was very nice the entire time. He then sent me to another line, which he made sound like it was for connecting flights… he was playing me. He had actually sent me to an inspection area where I was asked all of these questions again. Again they balked at the short trip to China.

After asking about my background and job and who I worked with, they brought me to an area to search my belongings. After a few minutes of going through all of my crap, they found nothing and sent me on my way.

Here’s what triggers seemed to peak their interest. First, the short time in China, don’t tell them 1 full day, that sounds bad apparently. I was there for a total of 3 days from arrival date to departure date. That number is far more palatable to them, so I’ll stick with the full time frame in the future.

The other thing that they don’t seem to like, and there is nothing I can do about this, is that I travel light. My bags only get packed based on how long I am in a place and what planes I am travelling on. Since I knew I was on a small plane, I took a duffel bag, it’ll fit better in the overheads of small planes. However, this apparently looks suspicious, since I get surprised looks every damn time I go through with a duffel bag. No matter, this is something I’m not going to change. I travel light for a reason, and I will continue to do so.

Those of you that plan to travel quickly for mileage, because you have limited vacation, or whatever the reason, be aware the this is apparently suspicious to the CBP. You might get a few extra bag checks the next time through the airport.