If you have flown commercially in recent months, you have no doubt experienced the inconvenience of lengthy TSA security checks. While major airports such as LAX can have waits of up to three hours, even travelers through smaller airports can face long delays and missed flights. For example, those booked on early morning flights from smaller regional airports may find that the TSA desk opens just thirty minutes before scheduled departure.
Media coverage of the problem reached its peak in the lead up to Memorial Day weekend. Over the course of 2016, some 740 million passengers are expected to fly, an increase of 97 million over just three years ago. More passengers combined with TSA staff shortages and stricter screenings equals a major headache for airports, airlines, and travelers alike. Airlines are reporting more delay flights, to accommodate those held up in security lines. They are also facing a marked increase in both passengers and checked baggage missing their flights.
The TSA recommends that passengers arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international departure. Even so, CNN has reported that some travelers complained about missing their flights because of security lines, even when they arrived two or more hours before their scheduled departure time.
The problem is not unexpected. In February 2016, executives at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport wrote to the TSA warning that “inadequate staffing” and increased passenger numbers would cause difficulties this summer. The Washington Post reports that lines should soon be eased by the addition of 768 new TSA agents and the transitioning of more than 2,000 part-time agents into full-time positions. Meanwhile, Ben Baldanza the former CEO of Spirit Airlines has said that airlines can do their part by making it more attractive to passengers to check baggage. The rise of fees for checked baggage has led to more people bringing more carry-on bags, something that adds to the screening time. Ben Baldanza believes that if airlines removed those fees and instead charged a fee for carry-on, some of the pressure on the TSA would be eased.
Experts recommend that commercial air passengers follow a few steps to hopefully ease their passage through security checkpoints:
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and through security. Arriving with just a few minutes to boarding and making a crazy dash through the airport is a thing of the past.
- Be prepared as you approach the checkpoint. Shoes, jackets and belts all have to come off. Liquids must be in small containers (under 3.4 oz, 100 ml) and in a clear plastic bag. Laptops need to come out of their bags. Empty your pockets – keys, phone, cash, everything; put them inside your carry-on bag and retrieve them after. Knowing what you need to do and listening to the agents while you wait in line can help to prevent further delays.
- The TSA PreCheck program can save you time and hassle, even if you only fly once a month or less often. For an $85 fee and a screening visit to an enrollment center, you can undergo expedited screening at many airports without the need to remove shoes, laptops, etc.
Given the ever-growing amount of time needed to fly commercially, could flying privately be a feasible alternative for you? When you fly privately, you depart from a separate terminal so you don’t even have to deal with winding your way through the crowds. Simply arrive 15 minutes before departure and check in with your crew. Far more airfields in the US are open to private planes, meaning that you may be able to fly much closer to your final location, thereby saving additional travel time and expense.
If you are comparing private and commercial aviation, the pure cost of flying privately will nearly always exceed the cost of taking a commercial flight, even in first class. But, if you value the savings in staff and executives time, and look at savings on hotel fees, when you can do a day trip rather than an overnight, it starts to make that private flight more attractive and cost-effective. Add in the additional factors of being able to hold meetings on board, not having to worry about lost luggage, and increased flexibility, and flying private may prove to be the better option. This recent article shares why many business leaders prefer flying private over commercial.