The good news: If you're in the airline industry and counting passengers, 2004 was a greatly improved year. There were 20 million more air travelers compared to 2000. The bad news: If you're a passenger and counting minutes until you get to your gate, waiting times at many U.S. airports' security checkpoints were ridiculously long. "Today" travel editor Peter Greenberg was invited on "Today" to share his list of the worst, and most improved, security checkpoints at airports.
The bad news
This past year was a bad year for standing in line. Los Angeles International (LAX) Terminal 1 — which houses Southwest, America West and US Airways — almost always has a line that stretches outside the doors and on some days reaches almost to Terminal 2. Terminal 4, which houses American Airlines, has a wait of up to 45 minutes during peak morning periods.
In Atlanta the waits in 2004 were horrendous. On some days, they could run as long as two hours.
At Boston Logan, Terminal B was a nightmare, and in Chicago, the American Airlines terminal was not much better.
At Orlando's airport, the average wait time on certain weekends at the East terminal stretched to an hour.
At McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, the security-line waits were often longer than two hours.
In Miami, I am reminded every time I fly there that it's America’s version of the "last flight out" of Saigon; the waits at C and D security lines are nothing short of horrendous, especially if you're checking bags. Some waits have exceeded 80 minutes.
At La Guardia in New York there is a mob scene on Mondays and Thursdays. At the C terminal, things can get nasty with waits of up to 40 minutes.
Better than before
Here are the airports where the wait time seems to have improved or the airport has made changes for the better:
Las Vegas: To expedite passenger processing and minimize long lines, McCarran expanded the total number of checkpoint lanes from 12 to 32.
At John Wayne airport in Orange County, Calif., the average wait time is now just 10 minutes, and the airport opened eight new security lanes.
Jacksonville, Fla., did a great job preparing for the Super Bowl. If the TSA can maintain current staffing levels, it's a breeze.
Short-cutsChicago: Avoid the H or K gates entirely, the lines are almost always too long. Instead, head for the L gates, which have fewer passengers. Go through security there, then double back. You can save almost 20 minutes.
Atlanta: This airport has been a real mess. The big delays happen at the South concourse, where Delta flies. And even though the airport has added four new security lanes, there's a better idea. Avoid the South terminal entirely. During peak hours (Monday and Saturday mornings; Thursday and Friday afternoons; Sunday evening) head for the North concourse, closer to the T gates, and enter security there. I always save about 10 to 15 minutes this way.
Philadelphia: Terminal C is USAirways' hub, so there are often shorter lines at Terminal A and D; then you can walk back to terminal C.
Orlando: Especially on weekends, the East terminal is a mess. But here's a great tip — there are different checkpoints divided between gates 60-129. Look for the shortest line for any checkpoint and double back. Just make sure you take the right train/people mover to your gate. Translation: Don't follow gate signs at the checkpoint, just look for the shortest line. Then find the train to your gate after you clear security.
Miami: C, D and E gates are a zoo, and to make it worse, if you have bags to check you have to stand in two horrendously long lines. Instead, head for the A and B gates and double back. It's a longer walk, but you'll save time. I did this two weeks ago and saved 30 minutes — and I got some exercise.
What you can do to minimize wait timePassenger profiling systems are still identifying and selecting high-end, frequent-flying business travelers as “selectees,” which almost always means delays. One of the reasons these travelers fit the profile? They're not checking luggage and they're flying on one-way tickets. These days, of course, it's a smart traveler who doesn't check luggage. But you're almost automatically asking to be delayed by secondary screening if you buy a one-way ticket.
Last, and possibly least, the Transportation Security Administration has a Web site with a checkpoint-wait-times feature on its Web site, , which will provide you with average wait times at all checkpoints according to airport, day of the week and the flight time. One cautionary note: The wait times listed are historical and not up-to-date, so it's only a general guide, not real-time information.
Still, their travel tips are a must-read for anyone traveling by air. Following these tips will help you reduce your wait time at the security checkpoint.
Before the airport
- Do not pack or bring prohibited items to the airport. Place valuables such as jewelry, cash, and electronics in carry-on baggage only. Tape your business card to the bottom of your laptop.
- Avoid wearing shoes, clothing, jewelry, and accessories that contain metal. Metal items may set off the alarm on the metal detector.
- Do not pack wrapped gifts and do not bring wrapped gifts to the checkpoint. Wrap on arrival or ship your gifts prior to your departure. TSA may have to unwrap packages for security reasons.
- Put all undeveloped film and cameras with film in your carry-on baggage. Checked-baggage screening equipment will damage undeveloped film.
- Declare firearms and ammunition to your airline and place it in your checked baggage.
- If you wish to lock your baggage, use a TSA recognized lock.
- Do not bring prohibited lighters and matches to the airport.
At the airport
- Keep available your airline boarding pass and government-issued photo ID for each adult traveler until you exit the security checkpoint.
- Place the following items IN your carry-on baggage prior to entering the screening checkpoint: Mobile phones, keys, loose change, money clips, PDAs, lighters, large amounts of jewelry, metal hair decorations, large belt buckles.
- Take your laptop and video cameras (with cassettes out of their cases).
- Take off your outer coat, suit coat, jacket, or blazer.
Permitted for carry-on
- Knitting needles
- Nail files
Permitted for checked baggage only
- Box cutters
- Workman's hand tools
Prohibited from airport
- Explosive materials
- Flammable items
- Disabling chemicals
Source: tsa.gov/us dept of homeland security