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If it seems as if your social media feeds are full of headlines about excruciating airport security lines, opinion pieces on how to fix the TSA’s problems, and #IHateTheWait-branded photos, you’re not imagining it. And we’ve got some bad news: It’s probably going to get worse — and quickly.
Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization for the major U.S. airlines, has just released its summer air travel forecast, and all indicators point to a record number of travelers taking to the open skies over the next three months. A4A is predicting that an unprecedented 231.1 million passengers are expected to hop a flight between June 1 and August 31. If these numbers hold steady, that will be an all-time high for the domestic airline industry, and a four percent increase over last summer’s numbers, which were also record-setting.
“We saw airfares fall throughout 2015 and that trend continued in the first three months of 2016,” said A4A vice president and chief economist John Heimlich in the report. “As airlines compete for passengers across an increasing portfolio of markets, air travel is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible.”
To accommodate the increase in customers, the airlines will be providing 109,400 more daily seats than last summer, for a total of 2.78 million seats per day and an estimated 2.51 million daily passengers from June through August. From a purely numbers perspective, the math works. But there’s one unknown variable: whether or not the TSA can reorganize itself in time to meet the influx of people without causing further delays at security checkpoints.
As the airline industry races toward personal best numbers, the TSA is seeing “a decrease in the number of budgeted TSA workers,” and “more robust checkpoint screening after last year’s covert testing pointed out a need for improvement.” This slows down the process.
Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson paid a visit to Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) to witness the current situation, which the US Travel Association is calling “a national crisis.” While Johnson concurred that, “Waiting three hours for what may be a two-hour flight or 90-minute flight is not acceptable” and promised that his agency is working on fixing the problem “without compromising the safety of the American public,” an imminent solution does not seem likely. Johnson went on to say that travelers should anticipate “increased waits” getting through airport security this summer and advised them to have “appropriate expectations.” He also suggested downloading the My TSA app, which provides estimated waiting times at airports across the country.
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