The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been in the news a lot lately – and not for the best of reasons. Luckily for summer travelers, there has not been much to report with regard to long security screening lines, budget cuts, lack of agents, and disgruntled passengers. Thanks to some quick work by Congress and the Secretary of Homeland Security, TSA is reaping the benefits of some quick, albeit temporary, fixes.
Queues at passenger screening checkpoints at airports throughout the country have largely returned to normal, with TSA publicizing a mere 10-minute average wait time over the July 4th holiday weekend; Pre-Check lines had even shorter wait times.
Congress recently allowed TSA the ability to move $34 million from one category to another within its current budget. This transfer of funds enabled the TSA to hire 768 new officers, approve overtime for current staff members, and convert nearly 3,000 part-time agents to full-time status. The Administration even temporarily reassigned agents from less hectic airports to some of the country’s largest to alleviate any lack of resources. Additionally, the TSA took steps to better utilize Pre-Check lines by assigning passengers to the lanes that had already been pre-screened by canine teams. Airlines also stepped up to lend a helping hand by assigning non-security-related tasks to their own employees at screening checkpoints and allocating funds for new technology to speed up the screening process for passengers.
The only cause for concern now is the fact that these “quick fixes” are temporary, and when it comes time for Congress to write and approve the TSA’s 2017 budget, we may find ourselves back at the end of the line. FROSCH will continue to keep you posted on all developments that may affect how early you need to arrive at the airport.
CONGRESS PASSES SHORT-TERM FUNDING FOR FAA
Congress has authorized a long-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget through September 2017. This budget extension allows for the TSA to donate screening equipment to airports in foreign countries that operate direct flights to the United States. It also allocates funds to expand the PreCheck program, provide stricter vetting of airport employees, and increase the number of bomb-sniffing canine teams in rotation.
The extension will require airlines to refund baggage fees to passengers whose luggage has been lost or delayed and require children 13 years old or younger to be seated adjacent to a parent or accompanying adult. Lead sponsors of the bill are hopeful that these additional requirements will begin to roll out by the end of the summer travel season.
TSA EXPLORING NEW SCREENING TECHNOLOGY TO EXPEDITE THE PROCESS
In attempts to speed up those long security lines at airports while still keeping passengers safe, the TSA plans to test screening technology at the end of this year, which would enable passengers to leave liquids, gels, aerosols, and laptops in their carry-on bags. The new technology, known as tomography (CT), will first be deployed at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in conjunction with American Airlines.
As part of a larger joint initiative, this fall the TSA plans to introduce automated bag-screening conveyor belts at the American Airlines airport hubs of Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago O’Hare, Miami, and Los Angeles. The new belts deploy bins that are 25% larger than the bins used in regular screening lanes, saving time. Bags that are deemed to need extra scrutiny as they pass through the belt can be diverted automatically, allowing bins behind them to continue to pass through the system. Radio frequency tags will be attached to each bin, increasing the accountability of items as they go through the belt.
Additionally, cameras on the belt take photos of the outside of the bag, which are linked to the X-ray image of the items in the bag. The automated belts will have a second conveyor system, located near floor level, that returns empty bins back to the loading area, saving labor and time for TSA officers.