The Real Reason Lines Are Getting Longer At The Airport

It's not you, it's us.

Airport lines are longer than ever, but it's not the TSA's fault — it's ours.

In the last few weeks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been all over the news, but the publicity hasn't been flattering. Lines at the airport have been unusually long and many people are putting the blame squarely on the TSA.  

It's gotten so bad that the TSA went as far as urging airlines to drop checked baggage fees so more people would check bags, freeing up security resources at terminals. Of course, the airlines are scoffing at the request, instead urging the TSA to up their number of screeners at heavily trafficked airports.

The truth is, neither solution is a good one. 

Airline security does little to make Americans safer, and some national security experts have made it clear that the billions of dollars we already spend on it could be better used elsewhere. Worse, the charade of airline security is often used to profile Americans. But Americans' fear of terrorism — particularly the kind that looks like 9/11 — means airport security isn't going anywhere.

Which makes the next part even more of a conundrum: the TSA warned about the long lines we're all seeing now months ago. With 42,525 frontline staffers, the agency has 10 percent less staff than it did in 2013. That decline is directly related to a funding cut for the TSA, which is now seeing the result of fewer resources.

The bottom line is that an administration that probably doesn't need to exist in the first place is now operating poorly because of a lack of money. So while more funds might help the long lines, that money would be better used elsewhere.  

Still, all this gives little reason for the public to be so hard on the TSA. We asked for it and the people who work on the front lines of airport security are just trying to do their jobs. So before you get upset about long lines, here are a few things to keep in mind — and a few things you can do to help speed the process up. 

Help is Coming

By June 15, the TSA is set to receive another $34 million of funding to hire 768 screeners and even offer overtime pay to current employees. It'll target heavily trafficked airports such as O'Hare International with the boost of staffers. If you're not a fan of long lines, this is a good news. If you're not a fan of funding the TSA in the first place, then this is probably isn't the piece of news you were looking for.

More Passengers Than Ever

To understand why these delays are happening, you have to understand that the shrinking of TSA employees couldn't have come at a worse time. This spring was the busiest of any in the airline industry. About 140 million passengers — or 2.3 million a day — were set to fly on U.S. airlines in March and April. That number is a 3 percent increase from 2015's peak and certainly has something to do with the delays you are seeing at airports across the country.

People Don’t Listen

I fly a lot. During my travels, I've begun to notice one glaring issue with airport security: the passengers.

Despite the consistency of airport security over the last decade, so many fliers still need to be reminded of the same rules. Here's a refresher: take your shoes off before you go through security, send your laptop through the x-ray machine in its own tray, no liquids in bottles larger than three ounces, no weapons of any kind in your carry-on, and be sure to empty your pockets. 

Every time a person forgets one of these rules and has to do a bag check, run through security again or be reminded to take off their shoes, the process slows down. Even though these rules have not changed much over the last 10 years, I still inevitably see passengers forgetting and slowing things up in line. 

Do the Little Thing to Speed It Up

While we have a right to be annoyed by airport security that is so often invasive, we could make things a lot easier on ourselves. Want to speed up the process? Hand your boarding pass and ID to TSA officials right side up, or with your picture page open on your passport. Take off your hat and take out your headphones. Pack up your tray while you're waiting in line. Double-check to make sure your pockets are empty. Dump out or drink your water. Help children and the elderly get their bags on the conveyer belt.

In general, try to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Imagine Being a TSA Worker

Generally, the passengers I fly with are rude and dismissive towards TSA workers. They act as if a TSA screener is simply there to annoy you, slow your trip down, and violate your privacy. Instead, they are there doing the job that is asked of them, and doing it in order to try and keep us safer. Whether it's working or not isn't a question for the TSA workers — it's a question for our government.

Next time you fly, try some gratitude and empathy toward the TSA workers. Say hi, ask how their day is going, thank them, and maybe even listen to the simple instructions they are giving you. You never know, it might just make the whole experience a bit more pleasant. 

Isaac Saul is a features reporter for A Plus. You can follow him on Twitter.

Cover photo: Scott Olson / Getty