TSA Lines: Is Feature Not Bug

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans in Congress cut an agency’s budget, then point to the resulting chaos they’ve created and cry, “See! Government doesn’t work! We must privatize!”

Lather, rinse, repeat. Amiright?

The T.S.A.’s work force and budgets have in fact been shrinking. The agency’s rolls have declined to about 44,900 screeners today from 47,000 in 2013, even as passenger travel has increased by 15 percent. But it is also true that it has been plagued by mismanagement and other problems of its own making. An unloved stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security, the T.S.A. has suffered through continual turnover in leadership, repeated misconduct by senior managers, low staff morale and high rates of attrition among screeners.


Not all the T.S.A.’s troubles can be blamed on missteps by the agency. The dysfunction has been compounded by an earlier 2013 bipartisan budget deal negotiated between Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, the current House speaker, to avert a government shutdown.

The deal set the security fee assessed on each segment of a plane trip to $5.60, but called for 60 cents of that fee to be diverted from the T.S.A. to pay down the national debt. This year, $1.25 billion in fees is going into the Treasury instead of paying for screeners and new equipment.

Seriously, we’re diverting funds from TSA to pay down the national debt? That just screams Republican fiscal idiocy, doesn’t it? Republicans keep telling us that “debt is like slavery,” after all. Quit whining America and enjoy your three-hour TSA line. It’s just more freedom!

And gee, I can’t imagine why morale is low, what with folks like TN Rep. Marsha Blackburn constantly attacking TSA employees on everything from their uniforms and badges to alleging “pedophiles and child pornographers” are doing pat-downs.

I try to be nice to the TSA when I travel. They have a thankless job. And honestly, the last few times we’ve traveled, TSA has not been the problem. Our last three trips were to Seattle, New York City and San Francisco — all major international airports — and we changed in O’Hare, D.C., and Dallas. Again: TSA was not the problem. The problem was our airline. The last two times we traveled, there was a “mechanical malfunction” preventing our plane from even getting to the airport. The result was hours and hours and hours of waiting, eventual rebooking of flights, lots of angst and frustration, and a big chunk of our vacation time gone like a fart in the breeze.

TSA was not to blame. American Airlines was to blame. We were kept uninformed about the nature of the delays, instead given new departure updates every hour — only to see that departure time whoosh by just as it approached. Again. And again. Finally we were told our plane is still in Raleigh or wherever because of a mechanical failure (something they’d known from the get-go but hadn’t told us). And even though you’re at a fucking airport filled with planes, they can’t just pull a new one over to the gate. No, that would be too easy. They have to bring one in from somewhere else and that will happen in about three and a half hours and, oh, you’ve already been here for three hours? Sorry and thanks for flying American Airlines.

Seriously, fuck you people. The last time that happened (last month, actually, so yes, the anger is still very fresh) we were at LaGuardia airport, which is like a third world airport. There are literally no services in the American Airlines terminal once you get past TSA. You can’t score a beer or glass of wine, you can’t grab a sandwich. There’s an Au Bon Pain kiosk with cellophane-wrapped sandwiches and soft drinks and people that is it. You know, if you’re going to trap people in a gray linoleum hell for an entire day, at least give us some dang alcohol to soften the blow.

We were actually stuck there for five hours, when we could have been enjoying all that New York City has to offer, if only American Airlines had informed us that our flight was basically cancelled. But noooo. I eventually lost my cool, rebooked us on another flight that went through Washington D.C., whereupon we were ushered onto buses that took us to a different terminal. And helloooo paradise! This terminal was new, had bars, restaurants, air conditioning, there was even blue carpeting, people! I felt like a lost soul who had wandered into an oasis. I had no idea this wonderful place existed at LaGuardia airport. All my life, LaGuardia has been sterile gray linoleum, bags of Doritos, and not enough chairs.

Incidentally, a woman on our flight told us that the exact same “mechanical failure” thing had happened on her last four flights. Either the American Airlines fleet is in serious disrepair, or they’re just trotting out that excuse because they know passengers will accept a delay over a mechanical failure more easily than some other excuse.

Anyway, I’m done with air travel for now. The airlines need to get their shit together. We pay waaaay too much money for airline tickets to be dicked around because you can’t get the actual plane to the airport. I mean, I did my part: I showed up on time. I left enough time for security. I held up my end of the bargain. American Airlines, not so much.

Our next vacation is in August. We’re driving.


Filed under air travel, American Airlines, travel, TSA

15 responses to “TSA Lines: Is Feature Not Bug

  1. Joe

    I have said since Reagan uttered the words,”government isn’t the solution, government is the problem” that the Republican Party has worked overtime to prove it. All while destroying or hampering programs that had been effective.

  2. gbbalto

    Sorry about all those troubles. Not excusing AA for not maintaining their fleet, but all the other planes at the airport are committed to other flights (they would fly them 24/7 if they could). If they pulled one for your flight, another planeload would be handed the delay. But by the same token, AA has no excuse for not telling you what’s going on right away. Last time I was stuck at BWI for 7 hours, at least Southwest kept us posted on what they were trying to do. I think they did end up bumping another flight to get us out 😦

  3. Larry

    Agree with SB and previous comments. While we’re all deservedly bitching, here, allow me to offer two words that will likely make national headlines, sooner than later: Allegiant Airlines. This low-budget carrier is experiencing a long spate of serious mechanical challenges…assuming you count in-flight engine failures as examples of challenges….which (um) fly in the face of all discernible logic. Its CEO used to run…..ValuJet. The FAA is investigating, so stay tuned.

    • Yikes. I don’t think they fly out of Nashville, never heard of them.

      • Kathleen

        I’ve flown Allegiant that past 2-3 years to Tampa to visit my daughter and her family. Thankfully, I never had one bad experience. There was a problem with a plane prior to departure but the got another plane to replace it. I am flying to Tampa in 2 weeks and my daughter begged me to fly Delta because of all the problems (I had not read any of the reports). At her request I used my mad Googlz skillz and agreed to fly Delta. Yikes!

        The other point I heard the TSA make on NPR (after mea culpa-ing a list of TSA problems) that the airlines’ baggage check fees are causing passengers to carry on more luggage, which translates to longer processing times. Who could have thought that?

        @Larry: The tipping point in my decision was reading that almost 50% of pilots surveyed said they didn’t want their families flying on Allegiant. Here’s linky:


  4. greennotgreen

    TSA is an example of fighting the last war. Would passengers ever again allow someone to hijack a plane when they believe it would result in everyone’s death?

    That being said, it’s kind of surprising that air travel is up. Because of the added time taken by security on round-trips, I often drive to places I would previously flown.

    • Katydid

      Same for us here–drive instead of fly. It’s a 7-hour drive to Buffalo, about 1 hour in a plane, but you have to figure in an hour’s drive to the airport, another half-hour to get from long-term parking to the terminal, 2 hours for TSA, another hour or two random flight delay, and car rental once we get to the Buffalo airport, then the drive to our final destination…it’s quicker and cheaper to drive. Also more convenient. In the car, we can carry with us nail clippers, scissors (if we want them), any kind of food or drink that suits us. We get more leg room in a standard passenger sedan than in an airplane, no screaming babies or drunk passengers vomiting on us. We can stop to eat or stretch our legs at just about any point in the trip. Best of all, no going through xrays to ride in the car.

  5. Katydid

    Our all-time worst flight; death in the immediate family on the opposite coast. Booked direct flight from City A to City B, and back from City B to City A three days later. Arrived at the airport the day for the flight, only to find that in the 12 hours since we’d booked the flight, the airline had discontinued direct flights. Why hadn’t they called to tell us? Don’t be silly! We scrambled to come up with an alternate plan with just one layover in City C–hooray!

    But wait! Mysterious flight delays that they didn’t reveal to us *as we were booking the flight* By the time our plane had finally taxied off the runway of City A, we’d already missed the flight out of City C. We weren’t the only ones in that predicament; so were about 30 other people. So we were rerouted to City D, then to City E, then finally to City B…about 40 hours after we left City A (direct, it’s a 5-hour flight). None of those flights offered anything more than peanuts and soda, nor could we get off the planes to find food for ourselves. We also missed the funeral.

    One day to sleep it off in City B while our bereaved relatives tried to rebook us. Instead of City B to City A (no more direct flights, remember?) we were to have one layover mid-way. Only it was raining mid-way so the plane diverted to yet another airport. Six flights later and we were finally home. Not once did we get an apology.

    • OMG. Please divulge the name of the airline which inflicted this torture on you!

      • Katydid

        US Air. Never an apology, never an offer of food. At one point we were stuck in Dallas late Saturday night/early Sunday morning for six hours in a plane with no air conditioning, no drinks (not even water), and no food, and were not allowed to get off the plane.

      • I’m quite sure if that had been me I would have burst into tears. Especially considering the purpose of your trip.

  6. Democommie

    I try to have no situations in my life that require travelling far enough to require a plane ticket. My family and ex-friends all help me in this endeavor by not asking me to visit…

    When I do have to travel, I am usually carrying so much shit that I have to pay extra. The upside is that if I get caught in one of those “Charley on the MBTA” situations I will have CLEAN underwear!

  7. Jim in Memphis

    I assume you won’t be driving your Leaf on out of town vacation trips. Isn’t it more environmentally friendly to use a mass transportation option of a bus or a train if you are not going to fly to your destination?

    • There’s no train service here, so obviously that is out. I’m not sure of the cost/benefits of taking a bus, since our other car is a hybrid, buses use diesel, so it’s sort of a trade-off. And since it’s not door to door, you’re going a less direct route. So if you want to call me an environmental hypocrite for driving somewhere on vacation, knock yourself out. It was kinda lame when everyone slammed Al Gore for that, and it’s still lame. I mean, I don’t churn my own butter and live in a yurt, so all of life in modern America is a trade-off. I guarantee you, I live more environmentally responsibly than most Tennessee Republicans I know.

  8. Democommie

    If you lived in yurt and churned your own butter, ma’am, you’d be eating ghee and you’d also be a commie hippiecrite enviromentalist!

    OTOH, Jimbo(B) IS full of shit.