So did you guys hear about this article where TSA is blaming passengers for the ridiculously long lines at airports? Crazy, right?! Go ahead and look up, passenger. See that? That big thing looming over your head? That’s a bus. TSA threw you right the heck under it.

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As it just so happens, I used to work for TSA. It’s been eight years, so some things might have changed, but from my experience I think TSA’s claim that it’s all the passenger’s fault is not totally accurate. Sure, there are some things passengers could do to speed up the process like Valerie and Valise explains in this post, but passengers have no control over major factors in the speed at which people move through a security checkpoint like the amount of flights scheduled at one time, how early an airline will allow check-in, or the amount of TSA workers on shift at a time. Besides, even if most people take the time to learn how to pack (Going Awesome Places has a really good post on this, BTW), how dress (this type of shoe would be good), the proper way to package liquids (didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, didja? Here ya’ go!) and how to handle their crazy kids (last one I promise! Read this from Walking on Travels or read this great article from Trips with Tykes) all it takes is one uneducated person to slow down the line for everybody behind them.

So what was TSA thinking when they placed the blame on passengers? Why would any organization so brazenly bite the proverbial hand that feeds it? Three words. They. Don’t. Care. Here’s a little story to tell you why.

Imagine: The year is 2005 and little Debra (that’s me) is a 19 year old army reservist who just got hired on at TSA. She gets taught everything she needs to know to carry out the task of securing an airport. Once out of training, she enthusiastically starts carrying out her duties. Please start playing your favorite Rocky-style training music right now and get ready for the following montage.

  • Oh, that checked bag weighs 75lbs? No problem for this bag lifting pro! *uses She Hulk strength to throw bag into luggage scanner*
  • Oh, you thought you could just park in front of the airport all willy nilly? Move along lingering creepy guy – Freedom called, she needs this parking spot!
  • Oh, there’s a cell phone/probably-definitely-a-loaded-firearm-or-something-totally-dangerous-in-your-pocket-setting-off-the-metal-detector-nope-never-mind-guess-it-was-just-a-cellphone in your pocket? Get that thing outcha pocket and put it in a bin, sir!
  • Oh, you think it’s no big deal to have toothpaste that’s in a 4oz container? That’s how terrorist win, muthatrucker! *slam dunks said toothpaste into trashcan*
  • Oh, you want to take your pocket knife on an airplane? NOT TODAAAAY!

Needless to say, lil’ Debbie is loving her job. She works with some great people, feels like she’s really doing something to help people, meets local celebrities, discovers amusing things in people’s bags and finds the work mentally stimulating.

However, not to long after she starts this job, passengers start making comments to her. For some craaaaazy reason, they don’t like being wanded and patted down. They feel like their privacy is being violated by bag searches. They get mad when they’re selected for random searches. And they take it out on Debra by refusing to return her friendly smiles, ignoring her gentle instructions to empty change from their pockets, throwing hissy fits when they have to be subjected to further screening, and calling her an idiot when she has to throw away their precious liquids.

Deb is confused. Don’t these passengers understand she is just following protocol? Even if she wants to let them keep their liquids, she can’t or she gets fired. Even if she sees that patting down a baby or an old lady is ridiculous, if she refuses and only pats down people that look like terrorists (whatever that means) she will be profiling and she gets fired.

Perhaps if TSA trusted her to use her best judgement, she could do something to help out the non-terrorist passengers to move through security with more privacy and a higher liquid keeping ratio, but don’t the passengers understand that TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security and therefore part of the US Government and therefore a giant bureaucracy that cannot and will not trust the judgement of one little TSA agent?

Perhaps if the airline agents would show up at their counters the same two hours before the flight that they suggest passengers show up, they could help get passengers through with plenty of time to spare. Maybe if they explained to passengers the reasons their tickets might indicate they need selective screening (you bought your ticket in cash, you bought a ticket the same day you want to fly, you bought a one way ticket, and any other potentially shady thing that makes it look like you’re fleeing the country) they could help ease some of the confusion and stress of those who have to go through extra screening. Perhaps if airlines explained what time of day/week the most flights were scheduled to passengers so they could avoid the busy times they might be able to avoid long security lines all together.

As it stands, passengers don’t understand these things and the airlines don’t seem to want to help explain travel tips to passengers so it looks like TSA, to include Debra, is just a bunch of jerk faces trying to make people miss their flights.

Slowly but surely, Deb gets tired of passengers passively and actively hating her. She still carries out her duties as per regulation, but the spark starts to die out. The desire to help people make it through security quickly fades. Why should she help or care about people that are mean to her? What incentive is there for her to help people make their flights? It’s not like she gets paid extra for screening more people. Even if people fly less, she works for the government. Remember that bureaucracy comment from before? The benefit of the bureaucracy means that unless Debra does violate some regulation, it makes it really hard to fire her. So her motivation is to follow regulation to the letter rather than using her brain to try to help people quickly through security. She gets that passengers are frustrated, but she’s frustrated too. She feels powerless and unliked by passengers, so she inevitably stops caring so much about said passengers’ well-being and general opinion of her.

Despite trying not to care what everybody thinks of her, Deb is apparently a hopeless people-pleaser dislikes the feeling that everybody thinks she’s a worthless waste of oxygen. Deb hates the feeling so much that two years later, when the army reserves decides to deploy her to Iraq for a year, she decides she likes the possibility of being blown up by IED’s better than she likes working for TSA and joins the active army.

The end.

So how can you make it through security quickly? Try to avoid the airline counter all together by checking in online ahead of time and printing your own boarding pass. Follow tips from the posts mentioned in the first paragraph. However, I don’t think a real solution to the problem of long airport lines will be reached until people stop trying to find out who’s to blame and rather start trying to fix the problem. Even if long security lines are the passengers’ fault, how does being mad at them actually fix the problem, TSA? Until airlines, TSA and passengers start working together lines will remain long and frustrating for all parties involved.

Do you have a solution to the long lines problem? Comment below!



2 Comments on The real deal with long lines at airport security

  1. Will Tang
    June 8, 2016 at 4:32 am (2 years ago)

    Thanks for featuring us and great post by the way. Definitely gives you food for thought on what’s really happening behind these long security lines.

    Reply

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