How do airlines predict TSA capacity on a certain day?
April 6, 2016 7:34 AM   Subscribe

My fiancé and I have a flight out of JFK at 7am on April 8th. I got a weird email from our airline (JetBlue) last night, warning us to get to the airport even earlier because of longer wait times at security checkpoints.

Here is the email I got:

Dear Millipede,


Due to current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) capacity, this will likely result in longer-than-usual security lines at your departure airport. To ensure you make it to your gate in time, please plan to arrive at least 2 hours before your flight, as wait times could be up to an hour or more. While we know this is not ideal, planning ahead for these possible outcomes should make for a better travel experience.

We apologize for any inconvenience, and we look forward to seeing you onboard soon!


Director, Customer Support
JetBlue Airways

So, ok. I changed our car reservation to pick us up at an even ungodlier hour. I'm ok with getting to the airport early. My question is, what is going on? My first guess was that there was an unusually high flight volume from our terminal for that time of day, and that is how they decide to send these out. Manmillipede wondered if it has to do with heightened alert due to to-us-unknown terrorism threats, that perhaps airports have special knowledge and beef up security accordingly.

Does anyone know? Has anyone gotten one of these before? We're going to show up at 5 as directed, so I am not seeking advice on that topic. The email just raised my curiosity about how airlines would determine this and decide to notify customers.
posted by millipede to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Another possibility (I have no idea how likely this explanation is): They'll be understaffed that day/shift, and were aware of the situation well enough in advance to warn people.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:40 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

My guess is a mix of historical data and perhaps they are having staffing issues that will lead to longer lines, because there will be fewer agents there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:41 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The TSA cut its airport screener staff by 10 percent in the past three years, anticipating PreCheck would speed up the process. When not enough fliers enrolled, the agency tried to make up for that shortfall by randomly placing passengers into the express lanes. But it recently scaled back that effort for fear dangerous passengers were being let through. That's when the lines started growing, up to 90 minutes in some cases.
posted by eas98 at 7:41 AM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's the end of Spring Break here in (parts of) Metro Detroit, so maybe where you are as well? And the enhanced screening for terrorism, too.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:52 AM on April 6, 2016

eas98's article linked above explains it all. Wow, sounds like a complete cluster.
posted by three easy payments and one complicated payment at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2016

If it makes you feel any better, I got the same email from a different airline/different city two weeks ago when leaving for our spring break trip. Security was fully staffed and we breezed right through. I think the airlines are just covering their asses.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:28 AM on April 6, 2016

The info in that article about needing an interview for precheck is wrong. I just went through the process yesterday. It's about 5 minutes. Citizenship verification via birth certificate and license and drivers license, or a passport, and fingerprint scanned for a background check. They said I could expect to have my Known Traveler Number in a week, assuming I pass.

Maybe in some places that office to do that is at the airport, but it's not an interview. It's paperwork and providing fingerprints, as quickly as they can get you through the process.
posted by COD at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2016

COD: "Maybe in some places that office to do that is at the airport, but it's not an interview. It's paperwork and providing fingerprints, as quickly as they can get you through the process."

Well yeah, but it's still an in-person meeting that you have to schedule (in some places) months in advance. And I believe the Global Entry people do call it an interview, don't they?
posted by crazy with stars at 10:58 AM on April 6, 2016

It's no more of a meeting than going to renew your drivers license. The word interview implies way more than is going on. You don't even verbally answer "yes or no" to their questions, you push enter on a keypad.

The availability thing is odd. The next appt. at the downtown DC office near my work was the middle of May. Less than 10 miles north in Alexandria (and Metro accessible) at a contractor run satellite office I could get in next day.
posted by COD at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2016

We flew Jet Blue from/to JFK in March. Wait times were reasonable. That was the weekend before Easter. I suspect that it's either a failure on the part of TSA or seasonal demand. (For it to be seasonal demand, there were have to be more flights since all planes are full all the time nowadays.)
posted by SemiSalt at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2016

I just got the same email, for the day after you, ~7am, flying out of Logan. I'm wondering how seriously to take it myself, as waking up at 5-something was marginally acceptable, and 4-something is much worse. I've always seen them pulling people with immanent flights to the front of the line at Logan. I'm debating finally being one of those instead of one of the dutifully early ones.
posted by daisyace at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2016

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