Due to political wrangling and an unprecedented case of brinkmanship, parts of the US government have been shut down for nearly a month. As a result, TSA employees are not being paid currently (they will be) but mainstream media outlets have greatly exaggerated the worker shortage due to “sick-outs.”
The Video from Atlanta
Everyone saw the video from Atlanta, a sped up tour through the snaking line of passengers awaiting security clearance. Yes, it went to baggage claim. Yes, it took an hour. Sick-outs, a union protest tactic (a soft form of striking), have affected several major airports such as Dallas, Charlotte, Houston, and Miami.
The amateur video from Atlanta caused news crews to dispatch to the terminals to capture the sheer madness of it all but none have been as sensational as those first images and video appeared. On Wednesday, live coverage on CNN of the TSA Shutdown effects on travelers featured an empty security line behind the reporter.
Quick! Everybody Panic!
My father, God rest his soul, flies about 25,000 miles per year in a mix of leisure and business travel (for those that are so terribly offended by my tongue-in-cheek use of this phrase. The reference comes from the film Christmas Vacation in this clip about Griswold’s wife who is also, not dead). When my father calls me with a travel story/concern, I know that the news has made its way to the average person, and technologically inept. He called to ask about the best tactics to get through security faster departing Atlanta. We discussed options, I sent him a handy link that gives TSA waiting times and he was off to the races. He made it through in five minutes with no wait visible at the checkpoint he used.
I had a colleague traveling with me on a business trip this week. He was trying to decide just how early he needed to arrive at Salt Lake City International Airport to make his flight. Even I was contemplating just how much time it might take to get through TSA lines this week. Both of us were quickly processed, without incident. During a connection, I stepped out at Dallas-Fort Worth to check the service times in Terminal D. Readers may be surprised to learn that there was no wait whatsoever at either of two DFW checkpoints.
The Media Has Over-Dramatized Widespread Delays
Sensationalism sells, and there is perhaps no topic more popular for the burned out American public than a fresh new crisis. What began as a truthful statement of genuine news deemed interesting to the public at large as well as a business people and travelers, quickly became the story to get.
But travelers are documenting their encounters, anecdotally, and it seems that there was little to no truth to the fantastical reports. Reddit has featured images from travelers showcasing empty TSA lines. Frequent flyer groups on Facebook indicate the same “business as usual” wait times as any other day. Even in the aforementioned news reports, live video of dramatic lines had all but vanished.
Since the shutdown, I have had a fairly busy travel pattern. Personally, I’ve been through Pittsburgh (several times), Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers (RSW), Houston, Dallas, and Salt Lake City. I’ve not experienced a single delay at any of them despite news reports of strikes like this one about my home airport.
Shortly after writing this portion, I saw yet another “live look” at the TSA lines at DFW Terminal D with the film crew to the left, the reporter was in the black coat. Look at the lines! The mass hysteria!
TSA Employee Wages Shouldn’t Be Caught in Political Crossfire
This isn’t a political post. I don’t care which side of the fence you find yourself or if there is a fence at all. I have never had more respect for a TSA employee than I do right now. For those that are still coming to work (which appears to be an awful lot of them) without a paycheck in more than a month, I have nothing but my deepest respect to offer.
Further, saying “thank you” to them for working despite missing paychecks (though they will be paid when the government re-opens) may make some feel better, but won’t feed their kids or pay their mortgage. If you want to help the frontline agents that many of us (especially me) take for granted there are ways to help. They cannot accept gifts in the TSA line but can accept them away from the security area so long as the value is less than $20.
I don’t need to weigh in on why the government is closed, who is to blame, or whether it is justified/unjustified – that is for the comments section. I will only state that you should not believe what you see on TV regarding security lines. TSA staffers are doing a great job and lines are short and easy. One other thought to consider: if callout rates are up to four times the normal level and still there is no slow down in the TSA lines, could we perhaps pare down the total amount of TSA employees generally?
How has your experience been? Are TSA lines longer than normal? Have you had troubles that the media hasn’t been able to capture?