Video: TSA and the Chicago 3-hour hustle

Next month, I’ll travel to Chicago for a family wedding, and the question is almost always whether to drive or to fly. It’s a one-hour flight from the Twin Cities to the Windy City, and about an eight-hour drive. For some the calculation might be a no-brainer, but TSA is at least making the stakes interesting. Where other airports advise travelers to show up an hour before a domestic flight, TSA snarls have had that cushion at two hours for O’Hare and Midway. Today, the airports bumped that up to three hours:

While the Transportation Security Administration has announced plans to hire 800 new officers, the wait for security at Chicago’s airports could be getting worse.

Tuesday morning, the city’s Aviation Department advised anyone flying out of O’Hare or Midway airports to show up three hours before their flight’s scheduled departure time, reports CBS Chicago. That’s even longer than the two-hour cushion the TSA has suggested for domestic flights. …

In Chicago, over the past several days, many passengers have said they missed their flights, even after following the TSA’s recommendations to show up two hours early for a domestic flight, because they’ve had to wait up to three hours in line for security.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, the Chicago Department of Aviation sent out messages on its Twitter accounts for O’Hare and Midway, advising travelers about unusually long lines for security.

Just three days ago, TSA promised that it would immediately improve their performance at the nation’s airports:

The long delays and the lack of action by TSA have airports investigating their own options, including using their own security rather than TSA. Yesterday, Newsday’s editors urged New York’s airports to privatize security immediately. In doing so, they make a very good argument (perhaps unwittingly) that the private sector’s need to respond to customer demand makes it a better choice over federalized control for this and other tasks as well:

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which operates LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty airports — officially complained to Washington last week about what most of us have been yelling about for years. The overall airport experience is dreadful, swinging from farce to intimidation as screeners miss too many prohibited items and long lines with waits of more than 20 to 25 minutes result in missed flights.

Nearly 15 years after 9/11, we must seriously consider whether the Port Authority should revert to the way screening was done before the terrorist attacks. The Federal Aviation Administration set the standards, and the bi-state agency hired security firms to do the work. That’s already the norm in more than a dozen big U.S. cities, Canada and most of Europe.

Federalizing the process after 9/11 meant more bureaucracy. The TSA needs congressional approval to pay for the new screeners and the overtime needed during busy summer months. Congress didn’t respond until last week, permitting the TSA to shift money between its accounts, and that action came only after travel groups asked passengers to tweet pictures of long screening lines.

The experience with TSA in the Twin Cities has not been bad. Still, if we have to go back through O’Hare or Midway, then we will need to add three hours to our travel for the way back, plus the cost and time for renting and returning a rental car on both ends of the transaction. Those eight, TSA-free hours on the road sound more and more pleasant all the time.