Long Lines At Airports Have Got To Go, Says Travel Association

Photo – Chris Owen


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been working on addressing long lines at airport security screening areas for quite some time. TSA Precheck lanes are being expanded to more airports every year and Global Entry lets frequent, pre-authorized travelers to zip into the United States. Just last week, we reported faster airport screening via a new TSA program. But that’s not enough, says a travel trade organization, urging Congress to take action.

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) is battling what they believe to be the cause of problems at our airports; budget restrictions and poor planning. They believe the current system leaves airports unable to handle millions of visitor a year. They have some specific recommendations too.

Calling for a 50-percent reduction in peak the wait times, the USTA believes it should take just 30 minutes to process travelers. They want Customs and Border Protection staffing and participation in the Global Entry Program increased. Congress should be involved in an ongoing way, and should require periodic progress reports, says the association in a list of 20 recommended policy changes.
Back at the TSA, the new system is indeed a step in the right direction, classifying travelers into three tiers — expedited, standard or enhanced — with each level requiring different procedures and qualifiers. The current system treats all travelers the same and is exactly what the Travel Association wants changed.

In an Open Letter to the U.S. Congress, over 70 travel leaders even suggested ways to fund the additional programing necessary to address the problem and increase transparency in the entire process. It’s a lofty goal but one worthy of pursuit: the U.S. economy could lose $95 billion and 518,000 jobs over the next five years due to long security and customs lines at the nation’s airports.

Zac Efron Mobbed by Fans at Peruvian Airport

International Travelers Like Global Entry VIP Speed Lane

international travelers
golf082/Flickr

International travelers arriving in the United States this summer are often faced with a waiting time of three hours or longer to clear U.S. Customs. If their first stop in the U.S. is not their final destination, that wait can easily add up to missed connections too. In March, with several international flights on my upcoming travel schedule, I took a look at what could be done to speed things up.

“It’s a major problem,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America in a Wall Street Journal report. “People get very, very frustrated when they spend seven or nine or even as long as 17 hours on a flight and then wait another two to three hours in line. People get really unhappy.”

I saw that unhappiness first hand at Orlando International Airport (MCO), my hometown airport and one that sees a bunch of families as the gateway to a number of central Florida theme parks and attractions. It has always been good to be an American at Orlando customs where the line for U.S. citizens is a fraction of what those from other countries face. Still, with recent government cutbacks, lines and waiting time for all had increased.Looking into the Trusted Traveler program, I liked the idea of speeding through the process of entering the United States. I rarely have anything to declare and travel enough internationally to make the $100 fee, good for five years, worth it. After completing an online application, U.S. Customs and Border Protection performed a background check, conditionally approved the application and then allowed scheduling of a one-on-one interview with a customs agent at a choice of local locations. That interview took no more than five minutes and off I went with my Global Entry ID card, something I would never need again.

Arriving in the United States, program members go directly to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport, scan fingertips for verification then make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt, which is very much like a second fast pass, used to access a second fast line after baggage has been claimed and others are being checked again.

Entering the U.S. in Atlanta (ATL) on a flight from London, the process could not have been smoother. I walked from the plane to my connection with just a brief stop at the Global Entry kiosk, the luggage claim area and on through customs.

A bonus to Global Entry is that it also admits participants to the TSA Pre✓™ program, normally reserved for frequent fliers of certain airlines. In the dedicated TSA Pre✓™ lanes at participating airports screening might not require removing shoes, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, belts or taking off a jacket.

The down side? If traveling with others who are not part of the Global Entry or TSA Pre✓™ program, I still have to wait for them but can do so at a comfortable airport lounge.


No Hassle Flying Act To Save Time, Safely, For Some

hassleCutting down on the hassle of flying internationally, the No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012 aims to eliminate excessive security screening of connecting baggage at U.S. airports. Currently, checked baggage on all inbound international flights has to be re-screened before being transferred to connecting U.S. flights. To help with holiday travel, congress has a plan.

“As thousands of Americans travel internationally this holiday season, too many will have to deal with the hassle of rescreening their luggage,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in an ABC News Report. “Requiring luggage to undergo the exact same screening process twice in one trip puts a burden on both our international aviation security system and travelers.”

The No-Hassle Flying Act of 2012 is not a one-size-fits-all move. If signed into law, TSA officials would have the ability to waive re-screening of luggage coming off some international flights, using their discretion.Baggage from some international airports undergoes the same high-level screening procedures used at U.S. airports. Right now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection performs U.S. border inspection and clearance of commercial air passengers at 14 airports in Canada, the Caribbean and Ireland. Baggage that has passed through the security system at those airports would not be required to have an additional screening before being transferred to connecting U.S. flights.

Not happy yet? Either is Dan Dicks of Press For Truth who went to the Buffalo International airport in an attempt to help raise awareness about what he believes are intrusive and invasive TSA procedures, as we see in this video:




[Photo Credit- Flickr user Inha Leex Hale]

Rude US Customs Officials: How Not To Welcome People To The United States

U.S. CustomsSome people should not be allowed to wear a uniform.

While flying from Spain to the U.S. to attend the Gadling annual team summit, I touched down first at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. I got into line at U.S. Customs to enter the country.

The line was in a huge room with a row of bulletproof glass booths manned by U.S. Customs & Border Protection officials checking passports and visas. These booths blocked entrance to the baggage claim area and, officially, the United States. The line for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders was long but moving steadily thanks to several booths being open and the generally efficient work of the U.S. Customs folks manning them.

The line for foreigners was a different story. Only one booth was open and the line was practically at a standstill. There was a bit of grumbling in various languages but no loud complaining. Everyone just stood there looking jetlagged while watching a big flat screen TV hanging over the booths.

It was playing a promotional video about all the things to see in the United States. Images of the Grand Canyon, Alamo, Yosemite and other great attractions flickered across the screen, interspersed with a diversity of smiling Americans saying, “Welcome.”

As I waited my turn, one woman in her early twenties who looked like she was from Southeast Asia walked up to the head of the foreigners’ line where an airport worker stood.

“Excuse me,” the Asian woman said with a heavy accent, holding out her ticket, “I will be late for flight.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” the worker said, waving her off. “Get back in line.”

“But the flight–“

“Wait in line!”

The Asian woman quickly retreated, looking at her watch.I was about to shrug this off as Case #4,589,513 of Airport Rudeness when the tale took a turn for the worse. After a couple of minutes, the airport worker called over a U.S. Customs officer. I hesitate to describe him because you might think I’m exaggerating, but believe me when I say he was short, with a big paunch and black, greased back hair. His face was also greasy and over a poorly trimmed mustache he had a big, pockmarked nose – a boozer’s nose, a Bukowski nose.

The airport official said something to him and pointed at the Asian woman. The passenger looked over hopefully. The officer summoned her by jutting his chin in her direction.

The woman approached with her ticket held out.

“Excuse me. I am late for flight. . .”

The officer gestured at the ticket.

“What’s this?”

“My flight. . .”

“So you’re late? Everybody’s late! Hey, is anyone else here late?”

“I am!” some British wanker chimed in.

“Go,” the Customs agent said, dismissing her with a wave of the hand.

She stood there a moment, looking confused.

“Get back in line!” he shouted.

I almost said something. I almost said, “I’m not late for my flight. I have a three-hour layover. She can go in front of me. And stop being so unprofessional.”

But I didn’t. Unlike last month’s run-in with a rude airport security official, I was trying to enter a country, not leave one, and speaking up against this lowlife wouldn’t help the Asian woman and would almost certainly get me in trouble. So I didn’t say anything. I still feel bad about it, but there really wasn’t anything I could do. The fact that he did this within full sight of several of his coworkers showed that his work environment didn’t discourage that sort of thing.

Another small man with a bit of power treating other people like dirt.

We kept waiting in line as a succession of TV Americans welcomed us with big smiles. After a while the Asian woman stopped looking at her watch. She’d missed her flight.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]