Planning on a vacation or business trip that involves air travel as we approach the summer season? Unless you happen to have a luxurious private jet you should probably set aside some extra time to make it to the gate to catch your plane because there are some record breaking long lines at TSA waiting for you. As CBS News reports today, the situation at O’Hare (just for one example) is completely out of control.

Travelers flying out of Chicago just can’t catch a break. With increasingly long lines to get through security at the city’s airports, many travelers have been missing their flights, and some ended up sleeping at O’Hare International Airport on Sunday.

American Airlines put out cots for fewer than 100 travelers who missed their flights Sunday night due to the long lines at TSA security checkpoints.

The TSA has been urging passengers to get to the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights, and three hours early for international flights. However, some passengers have said that is not enough time to get through security and still make their flight.

In just the past three months, they report that more than 4,000 passengers have missed their flights out of Chicago. That’s not people who had their flights cancelled or faced weather delays. Those are the folks who couldn’t make it through the screening lines in time to board before the plane left. So who can do something about this, assuming there’s anything to be done? According to DHS chief Jeh Johnson, he can. And he’s promising to get moving on the problem right away. (Time)

During a press conference at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on Friday, Johnson addressed growing concerns over lengthy wait times due to personnel cuts and an uptick in travel across the country. ABC News reports that in the past three years, Congress and the Transportation Security Administration cut the number of screening officers by 10%, costing nearly 5,000 jobs. The TSA had hoped more travelers would gravitate toward their expedited screening program, Precheck, but that has not yet occurred.

On Friday, Johnson announced a “ten-point plan” that would get lines moving while keeping Americans safe. “We’re maximizing the use of overtime for our [screening officers] to meet the demands at screening checkpoints,” Johnson said, while also announcing the TSA would expedite the hiring of more officers and take additional steps to reduce wait times.

“Our job is to keep the American people safe,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference. “We’re not going to compromise aviation security in the face of this.”

Whenever there’s a problem to be solved, the first thing you want to see is a government representative telling you he’s got a ten point plan. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s a big solution out there waiting, but it’s not in the hands of the TSA or DHS. Sure, they can throw more people at the situation (assuming they can actually find, train and pay for more agents under current budget constraints) but that won’t be nearly enough. Their pre-check system is daunting for most people to go through and there’s no assurance you’ll be approved even if you go through all the steps. (And I’ve seen the pre-check line being pretty long too, by the way.) I don’t know what the rest of Johnson’s ten point plan may be, but the airports could do a lot on this front without waiting for Homeland Security.

Here’s how. Go back to allowing everyone one free checked bag and just raise the airline ticket prices $25 each way. This was a stupid marketing move in the first place and it’s caused nothing but trouble. They shifted the cost so they could try to make the ticket prices look a little lower when you log into Expedia or whichever service you use, but they started charging everyone but their premium members a fee to check their first bag. Because of that, the majority of fliers have decided that saving 25 bucks was more important than letting everyone have a somewhat less horrific experience at the airport and the lines are full of people attempting to stash half of their worldly belongings into the maximum size carry on bags available. They show up with bales of additional crap strapped to their backs like medieval peasants bringing in firewood from the forest. This requires them to unpack half their household at TSA, jam up the belt feed on the scanner and repack everything they own on the other side of the checkpoint. Small wonder we all have to wait forever in these lines.

If you can’t afford twenty five bucks you probably shouldn’t be going on vacation. And in the meantime you’re just ticking everyone else off and making an already horrible experience even more miserable. The airlines can change this without losing a dime on the deal so just do it already.

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