Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Mon February 22 2016

Which Airports Have The Fastest and Slowest Security Checkpoints?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 22, 2016

Which Airports Have The Fastest and Slowest Security Checkpoints?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

In its year-in-review post, the TSA touted the improved wait times at its security checkpoints. The organization said that only two percent of all travelers had to wait for more than 20 minutes at security. 

Some people probably wonder how valid the under-20-minute claim is. Those who travel infrequently often end up at the airport on peak flying days when lines are longer than usual. Also, the sub-20-minute figure takes into account all travelers, including the two million who signed up for the TSA’s own PreCheck program. There are also other pre-clearance programs, and some airline have policies that allow premium class passengers or loyalty program members to use special security checkpoints. 

By some estimates, more than 40 percent of all the people who passed through checkpoints at U.S. airports experienced some sort of expedited security check. 

How long is it going to take?

The speed at which people pass through security depends a lot on which airports they use. J.D. Power and Associates surveyed fliers about security checkpoints at airports around the country and came up with average wait times at each hub. 

Just because of the amount of traffic, large airports generally have longer waits. Mid-sized Palm Beach Airport, for example, had an average wait time of less than 10 minutes, the lowest of any airport in the country. Among large airports, Tampa came in first with an average wait time of 11.4 minutes. Another Florida hub, Fort Lauderdale International, clocked in at 12.3 minutes, on average. The JetBlue hub beat out San Diego, Detroit Metro and Portland, all of which offered fliers sub-13-minute wait times.  

READ MORE: Atlanta Airport Gives TSA Ultimatum to Improve or Get Out

The slowest lines:

The slowest airport in terms of checkpoint lines was New York JFK, which averaged 16.8 minutes. Newark and LAX also had waits that topped the 16 minute mark, on average. Other snail-paced checkpoint lines were located at Washington Dulles, Philadelphia, Chicago O’Hare, Seattle Tacoma and New York LaGuardia. 

These number might give people a general feel about how long it is going to take to get through security, but there are other variables at play, so it is probably unwise to try to time your trip based on the average wait time at your airport. If there happens to be a high number of flights leaving at the same time as yours, even if you think you are traveling at an off-peak time, you could end up waiting in line much longer than expected. 

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

Luck is the biggest factor

The TSA does have an app that people can use to report current wait times at security checkpoints. There are certainly some issues with this tool, as it relies on passengers to time their wait and then report the results. Most people are in a rush to get to their gate or to grab something to eat before boarding, so they don't want to bother with this. Because of this, even busy airports only have a few entries per day.  

You can get a general picture from this app because the list of wait times goes back several days. It is, therefore, possible to look for patterns. You may be able to see that wait times are 30+ minutes between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning or that people report “no wait” in the early afternoon. There simply aren’t enough entries to give a real-time picture of wait times from the app.

If you don’t belong to a pre-clearance program or have access to some other type of expedited service, the amount of time you will spend in the TSA line will come down to luck most of the time, though flying through certain airports will put the odds of a shorter line in your favor.  


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