Flyers gonna hate. At least, that's what the airline industry is hoping with a push to get travelers to post photos of long lines at TSA security checkpoints.
Called the #iHatetheWait campaign, the effort is leveraging consumer discontent with long security lines to highlight what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey calls "a breaking point." Security lines have grown longer in recent months as the TSA struggles with budget issues and staff shortages. Whether public shaming will work where industry discontent has failed remains to be seen.
The problem of longer security lines prompted the Atlanta International Airport general manager to complain to the TSA that his airport's security checkpoints were "woefully understaffed." Meanwhile, airlines are warning customers to leave extra time to get through security, with JetBlue sending emails to passengers that they should arrive at their airport two hours before their departure and to be prepared for wait times of "up to an hour or more." The culprit? "TSA capacity," JetBlue said.
The long waits at security checkpoints "are creating chaos for the aviation system," said George Hobica, the president of travel site Airfarewatchdog.com. "They don't know where to put people once they miss their flight."
In his view, he said the hashtag should be #iHatetoMissMyFlight.
One way consumers can help speed their way through security checkpoints is to sign up for PreCheck or Global Entry, Hobica said. That's also recommended by the TSA and Airlines for America, the airline trade group behind the #iHatetheWait campaign.
"Lines at our largest airports have been excessive and are projected to get worse as we get into the busy summer travel season," Airlines for America spokeswoman Jean Medina wrote in an email. "The Department of Transportation's benchmark of the maximum acceptable wait time is 29 minutes, but we are seeing lines that go 60 or 90 minutes at some major airports."
The #iHatetheWait campaign encourages travelers to also include their airport codes as a way for allowing the TSA to pinpoint trouble spots and to give fellow travelers a heads up, Medina added.
Travelers aren't holding back in sending out photos and complaints with the hashtag, with tweets posted in the last 24 hours by stymied travelers facing long lines at Chicago O'Hare, New York's JFK airport, and Dallas-Fort Worth airports, among others.
Airlines are getting involved given the snafus that they and their passengers are encountering from longer-than-expected lines. American Airlines, for one, said almost 7,000 passengers missed their flights in one week in March alone because of security delays.
A TSA spokesman said in an emailed statement that longer lines are partly a reflection of the stronger economy, "resulting in heavier than normal volumes of travelers at our nation's airports." But he added that the agency is making changes to speed up the security process.
"TSA is addressing the growing volume of travelers, with measures including more canine use, overtime, and accelerated hiring," he said. "We are appreciative that our airline partners are working with us by asking travelers to arrive at the airport as much as two hours early for domestic flights, which will help to alleviate some of the expected summer congestion."
The agency currently has 41,000 screeners, below its cap of 42,500, but even if it reached the cap, the number of screeners would still be below their numbers in 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Aside from staffing problems, the TSA slowed down the screening process purposefully after a government report found screening failures last year, such as failing to detect smuggled banned weapons and mock explosives.