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Hours-long wait times are a problem that isn’t likely to go away any time soon.

May 02, 2016

On a recent trip from Miami to New York, I found myself pulling into the airport a full 50 minutes before my flight’s departure time. Given the firestorm of press surrounding eternal-seeming TSA wait times, I worried about cutting it close for about 10 minutes—that’s how long it took me to clear security and make it to my gate. I had time to spare before the “priority boarding” group was called to queue up.

My story is an exception to the rule these days—the only way I avoided a line that snaked down the entire departures hall was by having TSA PreCheck. (Best $100 I’ve ever spent, in combination with my Global Entry status. Here’s how to sign up.) 

For weeks, the industry has been buzzing about worse-than-ever wait times at security, in some cases with lines that take multiple hours to get through. The most extreme report yet? Security delays that hit more than three hours in Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport.

Most reports forecast that these long wait times will last through the summer travel season—when a heavy influx of passengers will swarm understaffed TSA counters around the world. But reports this morning from the New York Times and Politico indicate that wait times will persist at least through the end of the year. That’s when a new budget might be approved for the TSA to flesh out its poorly staffed teams—some with budgets and staff cuts so dire, they’re forced to shut down evening operations before all passengers (or pilots!) can get checked in.

But the outlook for 2017 doesn’t necessarily bode well. Representative John Carter, the head of the House subcommittee that funds the TSA, told Politico: “We’re working on deciding what we’re going to do, if anything.” And Christian Beckner, GWU’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, added: “Because they’re so constrained from a budget standpoint, and not wanting to increase fees … I just don’t see where the funds would come from in the current congressional environment to do anything about this issue. … There’s not any low-hanging fruit to pull money from elsewhere in the department.” (Read Politico’s full run-down on the situation here.)

In the meantime, cheaper gas prices and lower airfares are leading travelers to trot the globe more than in previous years—Chicago’s O’Hare, for instance, has seen an 8 percent rise in travelers since the start of the year, but has held steady with the number of TSA screeners on hand.

The only answer, for now, is to hope that enough senators and congressmen are feeling the pain points of TSA’s resource cap to change the current status quo. And until that happens, PreCheck it is.

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