Traveling this Summer? Watch Out for TSA Backlogs

by Susan Lavington

  • News Insights

As we get into the summer months, people are gearing up for summer vacation traveling – but be prepared to spend extra time waiting in line for security screening from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Oh No! Why?

In a statement issued earlier this Spring, TSA predicted that this year will be the busiest summer travel season it has experienced, with a more than 4% volume increase. Specifically, TSA is planning for approximately 263 million passengers and crew to pass through security checkpoints nationwide between Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, compared to 250 million passengers last year during the same period. To put this increase in perspective, last summer’s TSA screenings included nine of the top 10 busiest weeks in TSA’s history during the summer season.

To combat this increase, TSA plans to increase airport staffing levels by more than 2,000 officers, while also providing a 20% increase in overtime funds. While this will hopefully alleviate some travel woes, TSA is likely to continue to suffer from retention issues, which with further exacerbate its small workforce. Specifically, a recent report from the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General shows that one in four TSA screeners quits within six months.

To put this into monetary terms, in FY 2017, TSA reported that, on average, it spends approximately $6,300 to hire and $2,300 to train its screeners. In that same fiscal year, TSA hired more than 9,600 screeners, costing the agency approximately $75 million in hiring and training costs. A subsequent Blue Ribbon Panel indicated that low pay was likely to blame, in part, for TSA’s low retention rate. Thus, even though TSA appears to be proactively attempting to prepare for a large increase in summer travelers, if TSA screeners continue to exit at the same rate, it will be difficult to timely replace them – the OIG Report indicates that the average hiring process took 252 days from application to job offer acceptance.

What About TSA PreCheck?

And if you’re one of the lucky travelers that has enrolled in TSA’s PreCheck program, don’t except those short lines to last for long! TSA is soliciting a contractor to boost public enrollment in the TSA PreCheck program. The Agency is seeking to enroll approximately nine million high-frequency travelers in the system (and eventually the more than 80 million travelers for fly at least once a year and aren’t enrolled).