Last updated: 12:30 PM ET, Fri February 19 2016

The TSA Got At Least One Thing Right Last Year

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 19, 2016

The TSA Got At Least One Thing Right Last Year

Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images

When the TSA released its year-in-review blog post last month, most of the attention was on the number of weapons that were confiscated and the humorously strange things that were found in people’s luggage: a live dog, a cannonball, inert antique grenades, etc. 

What got lost in the viral push was the fact that the TSA also mentioned things that affected all travelers. The airport security body claimed that it screened more passengers more quickly in 2015 than in previous years. It also called its PreCheck program a success based on the number of people who had signed up and the increased convenience of the application process. 

Seeking a friendlier image

The year-in-review post also included a nod to social media successes. @AskTSA is a new Twitter account where fliers can ask questions (or chuckle at the silly questions that others ask). There was even an Instagram account that was called one of the “top 100 Instagram accounts to follow” by Rolling Stone Magazine. 

All this points to a major effort by the security organization to present a more traveler-friendly image, which is something that it has struggled with over the years. The list of complaints and controversies is pretty long: frisking, x-ray machines, racial profiling (or pulling grandmothers over for extra screening in order to appear fair), inability to find weapons, confiscating things that realistically could not be used as weapons, and so on…

READ MORE: TSA Confiscated A Record Number of Guns at US Airports in 2015

Speed matters most of all

Despite all the internet chatter and complaint coverage in the media, most fliers are only concerned about one thing when they pass through the TSA checkpoint. They just want to know how long it is going to take.  

This has as much to do with things like airport layouts as it does with how efficiently TSA screeners are able to work. For frequent fliers who find themselves in airports with long checkpoint lines, the PreCheck program will seem like one of the best things the TSA has ever come up with. According to the year-in-review post, over two million people have enrolled in the program by applying online and then in person at one of several hundred screening centers around the country.  

READ MORE: Is the TSA's Precheck Program Too Popular?

Shorter waits?

The TSA also said that it thought that most wait times were reasonable considering the number of people screened in 2015 (708,316,339 million passengers total). According to its data, less than two percent of these passengers had to wait in lines for more than 20 minutes. The final tally for 2015 also included the x-raying and/or searching of 1.6 billion carry-on bags. 

The good news going forward is that, for all its shortcomings, the TSA is taking steps to address the most common complaint: it takes too long to get through airport security checkpoints. Even if the other controversy-causing issues remain in the headlines, expediting the screening process as much as possible for all passengers will go a long way towards improving the TSA’s image in 2016. 


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