Is summer travel causing long TSA lines at airports? Sort of. Here's how to prepare.
HONOLULU – The Kahului Airport is Maui’s main flight hub and the second busiest airport in Hawaii, currently operating with only one TSA checkpoint for all passengers. This past weekend – a normal, nonholiday weekend – those who found themselves ready to depart from Maui waited up to 84 minutes in a long TSA line in the afternoon sun.
On Sunday around 1 p.m., the TSA line wrap past the stanchions and out onto the noncovered sidewalk at the Kahului airport. People without TSA PreCheck held up their backpacks to shield themselves from the hot sun. There was a lot of sweat.
The airport took notice.
“We were passing out cups of water to the passengers on the curb,” Airport District Manager Marvin Moniz told USA TODAY. That weekend, the extra long wait time was likely caused by one of the screening lanes being down on Saturday, he said. The airport has since purchased a canopy to shade people as they wait in line.
But travelers shouldn't be surprised – summer travel is in high demand as many Americans are set on going somewhere, no matter what.
The number of people going through TSA checkpoints is quickly returning to pre-pandemic numbers. On July 21, 2.4 million people went through TSA, compared to 2.1 million last year – in 2019, it was 2.7 million.
Here’s what you need to know about TSA lines if you’re flying this summer.
How long are TSA lines right now?
The Transportation Security Administration assures that without TSA precheck, wait times haven't been "a big problem," considering summer travel woes, like staffing shortages. But those who were at Kahului Airport this past weekend without TSA PreCheck may argue otherwise.
The average TSA wait time across the nation is at least 30 minutes, said Robert Langston, a TSA spokesperson told USA TODAY. With PreCheck, it can be about 10 minutes.
TSA wait times also vary depending on what day and time your flight is. On Maui, Moniz said the “peak period of the day is typically from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. because there are a few more flights that were inserted into that timeframe.” Saturday and Sundays are even busier, with additional flights on the schedule, so keep that in mind.
“A good portion is summer travel, and a good part of it is the increased summer flight schedule by the airlines,” Moniz said of the high volume of passengers.
"We monitor wait times at every airport and work with our airport and airline partners to anticipate higher traffic patterns," said Langdon. He said TSA has a National Deployment Force of 1,000 employees from less busy airports who "volunteer" at the airports in need.
This summer, TSA is also dispatching "advance checkpoint technology" that's more effective in terms of security screening but may temporarily cause longer wait times as it's installed.
If your flight is delayed, you may be eligible for compensation from your airline
How can I check the wait time at my airport?
You can easily check if the TSA line are long via the MyTSA mobile app, which shows estimated wait times in real-time for airports across the nation.
There’s also a “Plan For Your Trip” feature that lets you input your upcoming flight’s day and time information to see standard wait times pulled from TSA data. This way, you can arrange your airport transport accordingly.
A quick search shows that on Saturdays at around 1 p.m. at Kahului Airport, the standard wait time is “typically greater than 60 minutes.”
Airlines say FAA staffing is behind delays. FAA says it's a pilot shortage. So what's to blame?
How early should I get to the airport before my flight?
Most say to arrive at the airport two to three hours before your flight, give or take a bit of time for factors like if you’re familiar with the airport, it’s an international flight (aka, add more time), or you're checking in baggage. Your airline’s website should offer some recommendations concerning check-in time and such.
For popular travel destinations, such as Maui, you may want to add in even more time and err on the side of caution. Moniz suggested 2.5 hours typically, and three if your flight is on the weekend.
Like many other Americans who are excited about their summer travel plans, it's better to be safe (and earlier) than sorry and miss your flight.