TSA housecleaning aside, get ready for an endless wait this summer

Are you ready for an endless wait this summer?

I hope so. Airport security lines have never been longer, thanks to missteps by the TSA and its troubled PreCheck program, which lets selected passengers cut the line. To make matters worse, airlines are experiencing record demand. The lines at the airport, some several hours long, are only expected to lengthen as terminals swell with summer crowds.

The situation is so serious that Kelly Hoggan, the TSA’s head of security, was removed earlier this week from his position in the wake of a a Congressional hearing on agency mismanagement. (The agency insists the removal is unrelated to the summer slowdowns, but does anyone believe it?)

The announcement, made on the House Oversight Committee’s Twitter account, was seen as the latest indication that the agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems is in deep trouble.

Oh, and if you think the roads are any better, I’ve got some more bad news: America’s highways will be busy, too — during peak times, gridlocked.

Do we really have to wait for the horror stories of travelers who lose it after standing in a long line? We do not, but when it happens — and mark my words, it will — I’ll be here to report it.

“We’ll need to be more patient and understanding,” San Diego-based etiquette expert Maryanne Parker says.

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Maybe this is the right time to review a few ground rules for waiting in a long line. It turns out there are a few new tricks for making the time pass — and a shortcut or two.

So, what do you not do in a long line? If there’s a consensus among manners experts, it’s this: Don’t cut to the front of the line, don’t complain, and don’t get pushy. Inconsiderate behavior is a toxin that turns a crowd into a mob.

“Being angry and upset visibly upsets the traveler, the agents and everyone else in their vicinity,” says Andrea Miller, a talent agent from Findlay, Ohio, and a frequent flier. “Yuck, that is no way to travel, especially when you can choose to respond respectfully and professionally.”

The trick is preparation, says Sharvonique Fortune, the founder of a gaming convention based in Washington, who, as a frequent air traveler, has watched the lines lengthen in recent months. “The best thing to do is to come prepared to stand in a long line,” she says. “Have something to keep you busy on hand, like a book to read. It helps a lot to distract yourself from counting the seconds because it can feel like an eternity if you have nothing to do.”

Also, be polite. Extra polite. “It is never a good idea to lose your temper and blow your top,” says Karen Klopp, author of the book Packing for Travel. “It is not productive and it is hazardous to your health. Be kind to others in line, since they’re feeling the same frustration as you.”

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And finally, don’t forget to pack a little patience. “Be nice and help people,” says Euan McGlashan, the co-founder of an Atlanta-based hospitality management company. “Some people, especially the elderly, are not traveling every day or week and get confused. The TSA doesn’t usually care, but we should. It’s good for the soul.”

You probably already knew all of that, right? But if history is a guide, then all our good manners go out the window the moment summer vacation starts. It’s as if we’re suffering from collective amnesia (scroll back to last summer if you don’t believe me).

Parker, the manners expert, witnessed the devolution of the flying public’s politeness on a recent flight from Paris to Los Angeles. A young man in a long customs line asked the passengers in front of him if he could jump ahead, since he had a flight in 20 minutes. Everyone agreed, except for one woman, who declared, “So what if he has a flight? I’m in a rush as well!” Parker says they narrowly avoided a scuffle. No word on if either passenger made their flight.

“Etiquette is becoming more important than ever,” says April Masini, a relationship expert based in New York. “TSA travel lines are snaking around corners, and family vacations are creating longer lines filled with kids who have less patience, in most cases, than adults.”

Is it asking too much for air travelers to behave like adults in this, the summer of endless lines? We’re about to find out.

How to cut the line (for a price)

• Go Clear. A service like Clear, which just announced a partnership with Delta Air Lines, can help you avoid long lines. Clear uses biometrics to verify your identity and costs about $15 per month.

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• Freebird. The flight-rebooking service helps you avoid waiting when your flight is canceled or significantly delayed or you miss your connection. You pay $19 to $34, and if your flight is canceled, Freebird automatically buys you a new ticket on another flight. You even get to keep your old ticket.

• Get trusted. Although the TSA’s PreCheck program has received more than its share of criticism, other government “trusted traveler” programs such as Global Entry seem to be working well. They can help you cut the line at customs this summer, plus they give you access to PreCheck lines. See the program websites for costs.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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