The government agency in charge of New York City's JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia airports has sent a scathing letter to the Transportation Security Administration criticizing growing passenger wait times at the three airports, some of the busiest in the country. Additionally, the letter reveals that the airports are "exploring" participation in a program that replaces TSA screeners with private security contractors.
Using diplomatic but forceful language, the letter — provided to The Verge by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) — "respectfully but urgently" asks that the TSA adequately staff security checkpoints to ensure "effective and efficient passenger screening" for travelers. To illustrate its point, the letter shares some wait-time statistics that are likely to infuriate any NYC traveler.
security checkpoint wait times have been "abysmal"
At JFK, from March 15th to April 15th of this year, there were 253 occurrences of 20-plus minute waits, up from 10 occurrences in the same period last year. During the same period, JFK's daily average of maximum wait time was up to 20.9 minutes from 11.5 in 2015. And JFK's maximum passenger wait time was up to 55 minutes from 30 minutes.
The letter says experiences at Newark and LaGuardia have been "similarly abysmal." The PANYNJ's aviation director and chief security officer write that the Port Authority "can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of TSA passenger screening services."
It requests that the TSA hire private contractors to handle some security checkpoint functions like helping with line management and passenger removal of shoes, objects in pockets, and the like. This could free up TSA agents to conduct passenger screening rather than more mundane logistical tasks.
Finally, the Port Authority says it is "exploring the merits" of enrolling in the TSA's Screening Partnership Program, which allows airports to hire private security firms to handle screening operations instead of the TSA. Most SPP airports are smaller, regional fields, though SFO in San Francisco is enrolled in the program.
the TSA blamed heavier passenger traffic and carry-on baggage
The TSA refused to comment on the Port Authority's letter. Instead, a TSA spokesperson shared a statement blaming the rise in wait times in part to a "strong economy" that is driving "heavier than normal volumes of travelers." An increase in overpacked carry-on baggage, perhaps due to checked bag fees, is also to blame. "TSA’s primary focus is the current threat environment, as the American transportation system remains a high value target for terrorists," the statement said.
In anticipation of longer wait times, the TSA asks travelers to arrive at the airport at least two hours before any domestic flight and to enroll in prescreening programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
You can read the PANYNJ letter to the TSA here.