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.

  • DChamp56

    Chris, the only problem with Global Entry is it’s not used in many airports. Also, I’ve been in airports where they’ve had Global Entry, yet it was un-manned and closed. Until they have it in more airports and staffed correctly, I’ll “Pass”.

  • DChamp56

    Oh, also, there are no Global Entry Centers in my state for the interview.

  • FQTVLR

    Global Entry is only used at airports with Customs and Immigration for international flights, so it will not be at every airport. Pre-check is available at more, but not all airports and is not open all the time.

  • sirwired

    While you shouldn’t have to pay to get decent lines, and it doesn’t always work, Pre-Check really is nice. Once an enrollment office opened up at my “home” airport, enrollment was quick and relatively painless. Fill out a long, though straightforward, form, and then a 15-minute appointment at the airport office (which was next to luggage claim) to get your docs reviewed and your fingerprints scanned.

    (Before the Pre-Check office opened at the airport, the only option was some multi-agency center that handled all kinds of govt. background checks and they were booked up for a couple months for appointments. The Pre-check center was open two days out.)

  • KanExplore

    That’s the rub. At more than one airport recently I’ve had Pre-check, but there’s no line open. Once I get to the actual screening I don’t have to go through the whole security theatre, but the reason I paid for it was to avoid the line in the first place, so that’s small consolation. Incompetent management needs to be held to account.

  • My experience is that pre check is NOT available many times. At SJC they don’t even let you jump to the front. You have to stand in the regular line for the regular wait. So I get to keep my shoes on? That’s not much of a perk.
    I’d be happy to go through regular screening if I could just cut out the line and be in a separate TSA-Pre line that feeds into the regular line. The staffing would remain the same as the person that checks IDs is the control point.
    As it is, I paid $100 for something I can rarely use. I won’t renew if this keeps happening. I really hope they fix it, because it is wonderful when it works.

  • MarkKelling

    Global Entry does not require dedicated staff at the airport. It is simply a kiosk you insert your passport into, press your fingertips on a fingerprint reader, answer a few on screen questions, and then take a printout to the head of the immigration and customs line. I usually clear in under 5 minutes regardless of the length of the immigration line. Then I have to stand in the TSA security check line if I am connecting from the international flight which can take an hour or more because there are no expedited lanes like TSA Pre in any of the airports I have been unlucky enough to connect through.

    Global Entry itself is only for international flights and exists only at airports that have international arrivals (unfortunately not all of them). The TSA Pre Check you get as part of being granted Global Entry is just like any other TSA Pre — it does not require Global Entry if all you are doing is clearing security to get on a flight.

  • MarkKelling

    I have experienced the same with TSA Pre. There is a line that is always closed at many airports. Or the Pre line merges with the regular line and the ID check person has no idea which one of the multiple lanes coming at them is the Pre lane that should have priority and the Pre people end up waiting longer than the non pre ones. Lucky for me, most airports I go through do have a dedicated, open, TSA Pre lane.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And is there any advice for what to do when your line is so long that you have to go to the bathroom before you get to the front of it? Especially when you are traveling alone – you can’t guarantee that someone will hold your spot in line, or even that you would be able to get back to your spot without having to push past people (who likely wouldn’t appreciate what they would see as cutting).

    This is what happened to my elderly mother. After 90 minutes in line, she was in so much discomfort she couldn’t stand it. But the way the line was laid out, there was no way I could have held her spot – she never would have been able to get back to me, and we’d miss our flight. So we waited and finally got to the front, but because of the metal in her hip she set off the detector so they pulled her aside for a pat-down. At that point she BEGGED them to allow her to use the restroom before they started groping her, but they refused, and made her wait in a roped-off area for another ten minutes, in spite of her sobbing and begging for relief.

    By the time they got to her for her pat-down, she’d urinated on herself. So when the brutish TSA clerk shoved her hands between her legs and discovered they were wet, she started screaming at her, “DID YOU PISS ON ME?”

    Yes, folks…these are the people who have control over us from the moment we step into that long,winding line. These are the people we are entrusting to “keep us safe” .

    Oh, and don’t even bother offering the suggestion of wearing a Depends. Mom now wears one every time she flies, but they cause the nude-o-scope to “alarm”, and she always ends up with some brutish TSA clerk shoving her hands DOWN her pants to see if she’s carrying a bomb in her lady-parts.

  • Peter Varhol

    At smaller airports, such as EYW and WLM, they give Pre-Check people a card that says “expedited screening.” It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but those airports generally aren’t very crowded. At larger airports (ATL), it is essential. Global Entry is really good for getting through customs and immigration in 5 minutes or less (they also have an expedited line for customs); I wish they accepted it in the EU.

  • Peter Varhol

    My experience with the Global Entry application was funny. I took a bus to Logan (about 50 miles) for my appointment. It was over so quickly I actually got the same bus back, maybe 15 minutes later.

  • RightNow9435

    Actually, while some roads may be crowded(usually due to construction projects), there is usually an alternative route to avoid the work zone when driving. When one has to wait in a 2hour TSA line to get to their gate, there is no “alternative route” possible.
    Therefore, except when a large body of ocean is involved, driving is the preferred method: no airline fees, much better seating, no $$$$ rental car needed when I arrive, etc.

  • FQTVLR

    I have not encountered that at most airports I have been through. I have seen pre-check closed at some but that has been the exception for me. (Atlanta at the International terminal pre-check is often closed. That is where I encounter it the most.)

  • FQTVLR

    Your elderly mom should get wheelchair assistance and use that to get through more quickly. If the wait is causing her a problem that is what she should be doing. I do it with my mom and she gets through quickly. She has a metal joint replacement and asks for the body scanner and goes through quickly. Never had a pat-down or a problem.

  • Altosk

    Well, what do you expect when the government decided to let these clowns unionize?

    …anyway, one thing that needs to be mentioned is don’t forget the deodorant. I was stuck behind a particularly stinky flyer in a TSA line today. Good lord, this man reeked. Shower & Deodorant, please, people. For all of us.

  • MarkKelling

    There are several foreign countries that offer reciprocal memberships in their Global Entry type programs. Unfortunately, they cost a lot. The UK asked me to join theirs after I got in the US GE program since I had gone through LHR so many times in the past 4 years. But i just couldn’t justify the cost which is nearly as much per year as the 5 year program costs here.

  • DChamp56

    Odd, because a few times I’ve flown, the line for Global Entry was closed completely.

  • BMG4ME

    TSA Pre is not a troubled program. There was an article last week that someone quoted TSA Pre as being troubled but it turned out there was nothing in the article indicating issues with TSA Pre. I’ve been using it for years and it works well. Let’s not create even more issues by giving something that works a bad name. TSA Pre is the only shining light in airport security.

  • BMG4ME

    I agree that when it closed and the lines are longer it’s annoying (unless you have status with the airlines to go through the premium lane). The main reason I paid for it was so that I wouldn’t have to take off my shoes, jacket, belt, etc. Even when the TSA Pre lane is closed I still don’t have to do any of that, the only thing I do have to do is take my laptop out of my bag.

  • Mel65

    So far, I have to say I *love* my Pre-Check! Maybe because we’re not a HUGE airport here and we have a major military installation near by (we’re gov contracors) they’re always *so far* very nice and I’ve had no troubles. The worst issue I’ve had is a 3 hour wait in Atlanta but that was prior to getting pre-check because only in the last few months did they open up a site here. But when I’m in long lines, I read my kindle, or play angry birds or people watch…which a lot of times is far more entertaining than TV!

  • ctporter

    Even TSA PreCheck lines are long at many of the airports I fly through lately. And I am amazed at how many people with TSA Pre seem to have NO idea what it means or how they got it. They stand in line for ages but fail to have their boarding pass out with ID for the BP/ID checker. They seem totally clueless about getting through the scanners, what they need to take out/off etc and have no consideration for others behind them trying to load/unload items on the conveyors. (stopping the line to remove or add items on by one without allowing others is just rude to me) I wish there was a way to have lines for those that know what they are doing, families, and those that are not frequent flyers.

  • 42NYC

    Criticism aside, pre-check is essential for anyone who travels more than 1-2x a year. Yes, certain times of the day/week it’s still a long-ish line (Monday mornings the 4-6pm rush) and certain small airports dont use it (but have you ever waited on a long line at BTV??) but it’s a game changer otherwise.

    Yesterday I flew LGA->DCA->LGA for a day of meetings. Had pre-check and didnt need to check a bag. Was able to leave my apartment at 5am to make my 545am flight and left the office at 410pm to make the 5pm flight. Couldn’t do this without pre-check

  • FQTVLR

    Global Entry is strictly by kiosks at passport control when you are entering the US from an overseas flight. They are not closed unless the entire computer system is down. Global Entry and Pre-Check are not the same thing at all.

  • FQTVLR

    Age can be a handicap when waiting in a long line. We always mention metal join replacements and are always directed to the scanner and not the metal detector. Never have had to go through the metal detector once we mention the joint replacements. My mom, a war widow, is now 90. She has two hip replacements and wears an insulin pump. And we breeze right on through TSA using the wheelchair.
    If you regularly have this problem with your mother you need to contact TSA with specific details about the airport, etc. But your mom is better off getting the wheelchair. Standing for many elderly people is not possible and she should take advantage of the services available to her. It is not gaming the system like some people do, but providing your mom with a service to make things go more smoothly for her.

  • joycexyz

    Yes, it is a problem when the area you live in doesn’t have a US Customs office. Maybe sometime in the future (when pigs fly) they’ll figure out a way for some other agency to do the interviews–basically asking if you’ve ever been arrested.

  • just me

    When will your approval and requirement to brow-nose police types be a prerequisite to their doing their jobs properly. Being nice does not work if they are underpaid, under-educated and overworked and performe useless task they know are useless.

    Besides – if the test show that 95% of nefarious items, which should have been picked up by TSA, did not get detected –
    why is it that the airplanes ARE NOT FALLING OFF THE SKYS IN THE USA?

  • Peter Varhol

    That is certainly true. I believe that non-cleared people are randomly given access to Pre-Check, probably because at some airports Pre is rarely used while the standard lines are long. I guess it’s understandable, but it kind of makes you wonder about the original intent of the program and if it is really as secure as claimed.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciate the effort you are making to help my mother get through the TSA line. But I’m surprised that you have ALWAYS been able to go through the scanner rather than the metal detector – that has NOT been our experience. Several times now we’ve been forced to go through the metal detector. In a couple cases the scanner was simply closed and everyone had to go through the detector. Other times we weren’t given the option – and yes, we have mentioned her metal hip (and my metal rods/pins in my spine) and it had zero impact, they still forced us to go into the metal detector.

    And again, I remind you that it typically doesn’t even matter which line she goes in – even in the scanner she’s going to get a grope, because her adult diaper causes an alarm. Does it do that for ALL adults wearing diapers? (And after her “did you piss on me?” experience she will never fly without wearing one.) I have no idea – but two times now it’s done it for her. One time, the TSA goon shouted out loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear, “Lady, whatchoo got in your pants??” and then proceeded to shove her hands INTO my mother’s trousers to feel her diaper. My poor mother was humiliated.

    She is going to be flying here alone in two months, and she will request the wheelchair. And maybe she will have a better experience – but that doesn’t excuse the horrific experiences she’s had in the past.

  • C Schwartz

    I went out of LGA yesterday, 8 am flight, Terminal B, C gates. The precheck line was the longest I have ever seen, nearly missed my flight, despite getting to the airport early That terminal is so badly designed. Did you fly out of the Marine Terminal?

  • 42NYC

    I did – it’s the best kept secret in NYC. But yes, the TSA is still inept.

  • “I don’t have a problem so the problem doesn’t exist”.
    Head on over to Flyer Talk and see how many people are complaining because the TSA-Pre line is shut down at their airport. If someone paid for a service then they should be able to use it. It’s false advertising to say a service is available at an airport and then not implement it.
    It doesn’t take extra staffing to let the TSA-Pre people use a different line to line jump and then go through regular security. Yet TSA isn’t implementing the half-solution. Instead they shut down the line entirely, for hours at a time. Flyers are forced to stand in the regular line and wait the same as everyone else.
    Most people signed up for TSA-Pre so they could bypass the long lines. The shoes and liquids bag are additional perks, but not the main reason people want it.
    TSA-Pre is a troubled program simply because TSA isn’t delivering on its promises to the public. People paid for a service that they’re not getting.

  • BMG4ME

    “I have a problem therefore everyone does”.
    I don’t ever recall TSA saying that TSA Pre lines would be open all the time, in fact when there were only a few airports, it stated that the lines would only be open at certain hours of the day. Now that they offer expedited screening even when the lanes are closed, the situation is much better.

    Also for people with airline, which a lot of people using TSA Pre would have otherwise they wouldn’t be spending the money, you can bypass the long lines by using the premium lane when TSA Pre is closed and then have expedited security. The main benefit of TSA Pre is not the shorter lines. This was only the case when it was new. As the program expands, of course the lines are going to get longer. The main benefit is the ease of going through the checkpoint itself. If everyone had TSA Pre, the number of people going through security would be the same, but they would go through quicker because there is less to do in order to pass through the checkpoint. What TSA Pre is actually doing is reducing the burden of going through security to a comfortable level, in a way that makes it more secure.

    If in response to the complaints and claims that TSA Pre is “troubled” TSA decides to end the program, the lines will be far worse for everyone that they are now. Instead of calling it a troubled program, it would be better to provide constructive suggestions on what can be done to improve it so that it operates more efficiently as more and more travelers start to use it. At some stage most people will be using it and then there will never be dedicated lanes for early adopters.

  • They do NOT offer expedited screening even when lanes are closed. That’s my point. The lines are totally closed. I had to wait 45 minutes in the regular line at 5 am (0630 flight). Pre is closed down most of the day at SJC.
    It is reasonable to point out when there is a defect in the system so it can be fixed. Refusal to acknowledge the defect means it can’t be fixed.
    As I stated in my post above, I would be happy to have a Pre line that fed into the regular line. Even that would be faster than the regular line.

  • BMG4ME

    Sorry I didn’t see that you had written that. I agree that situation is unacceptable. It hasn’t been my experience, although it was at first. At BWI when TSA Pre is closed they give people cards that they show to security for expedited security. If you ask for that and they say “No” then I hope you tweet TSA and complain.

  • Tricia K

    I have bilateral knee replacements as well as jaw replacements. I dread going through security and try to use the whole body scanner (I don’t have the depends issue). I don’t think most people are aware that if you go through the metal detector and set it off, you get a pat down that is much more aggressive than if it was used instead of the metal detector. The TSA agents I’ve had to deal with are outright rude–two weeks ago in Columbus (I have pre-check but the Delta terminal either didn’t have it or was closed and they were pretending to have it by having a separate line) I got yelled at repeatedly because I stood in front of the scanner rather than walk through the metal detector. When I said I couldn’t go through the metal detector and explained why, he gave me a look like he didn’t believe me. He barked at my husband for not removing his shoes (also has pre-check) in spite of the fact that he was holding a big red laminated sign stating he was pre-check. I can walk further than I was able to a year ago, but if I get to the airport and see their is a long security line, I ask for a wheelchair because standing in line is brutal for my knees.

  • Tricia K

    Is anybody going to give the TSA agents a lesson on manners? I’m tired of being snapped at by an underpaid agent. After watching the news the other night, I thought about trying to become a TSA agent. A $90,000 bonus after you lose 100 employees a week and fail 90% of your screening tests, not to mention being reassigned rather than fired when Congress calls for accountability? Sounds good to me.

  • C Schwartz

    Great terminal, was sad when LGA-BOS moved out of there. At LGA terminal B the airserv people are really disorganized and slow, (they are the ones that first check the boarding passes), part of the delay was due to them.

  • Extramail

    I do not understand why we have given up a basic right of being free from unreasonable search in this country for the theatre of the absurd that is the TSA. As proven by the blind tests done by security personnel, TSA missed 97% of the bombs, etc., sent through by the testers. And, yet, the TSA continues to be one of the largest wastes of taxpayer money. Doesn’t even address the issue of the sexual assault being perpetrated . . .

  • Extramail

    Just more money available to be wasted by the government!

  • Extramail

    My tax dollars are already paying for the TSA so I shouldn’t HAVE to pay for pre-check. Don’t bother telling me that we have to pay for the extra service of checking out folks who want the expedited treatment when there are plenty of people who didn’t pay for it being shuttled into the pre-check lines to try to move lines along.

  • BMG4ME

    The money has to come from somewhere.

  • Extramail

    That somewhere is my pocketbook. As I said, I’m already paying taxes that funds all these government programs, including the TSA. It’s just another blatant money grab from the government and for a group that isn’t terrible good at their job.

  • BMG4ME

    That’s my point. The taxes we pay don’t cover TSA Pre so in order to provide it more money has to be raised. That’s what the fees cover. It’s either got to come from our pockets, through increased taxes or through cutting something else.

  • Extramail

    Maybe if the TSA quit paying huge bonuses for poor performance then it would have plenty of money to cover its’ expenses. But, the government doesn’t have to worry about waste and mis-management and fraud, because it can just adopt more fees, raise taxes . . .

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