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Security Lines Might Not Be So Bad At Airports This Holiday Season


The Thanksgiving travel crush is on. Highways and train stations are jam-packed, and the airline industry predicts a record number of people. More than 30 million are flying for the holiday, which means millions of people are taking off their shoes, pulling out their laptops and generally trying to figure out how to navigate crowded security lines. But as NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago, there might be a fix for one of the things that usually slows travelers down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I just need boarding passes only.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: I'm standing in a very busy terminal at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where there is a long line just to get into the security checkpoint line. But the lines here are moving, and many travelers are just taking this all in stride.

MEGAN WATSON: Absolutely. You have to roll with the punches. It's never perfectly smooth and event-free.

SCHAPER: Megan Watson is heading to her in-laws in Florida with her husband and three young daughters.

WATSON: We do not love (laughter) traveling during the holidays. We're pretty good travelers, but traveling with three kids is always a little touchy.

SCHAPER: Especially when bringing those kids through security.

WATSON: I think if you know what you're doing, it's pretty easy. We kind of have a routine, and they know what the routine is.

SCHAPER: The lines nevertheless slow down this time of year because the holidays bring out many travelers who only fly once in a long while.

CHARLIE LEOCHA: They don't know, should I put my shoes on? Should I take my shoes off? Should I take my jacket off?

SCHAPER: Charlie Leocha is with the advocacy group Travelers United.

LEOCHA: You've got people coming in with packed gifts. They've got people wanting to carry a pumpkin pie on board and all this other (laughter) kind of stuff. But I think that we're going to turn out to have a fairly good Thanksgiving.

SCHAPER: Leocha credits the TSA for increased staffing, deploying new technology and adding more bomb-sniffing dogs to help speed up passenger screening. But with so many people traveling this week, it's still slower than usual, and wait times are up. Back at O'Hare, with her three kids in tow, Kristen Chun just smiles at the sight of the long security line because she can skip it.

KRISTEN CHUN: We're very happy.

SCHAPER: The Chun family enrolled in TSA's PreCheck, which, for $85 and a background check, allows travelers to go through screening with shoes and belts on and without removing laptops and liquids from their carry-on.

CHUN: It saves a lot of hassle, especially traveling with children.

SCHAPER: But even PreCheck and Global Entry lines have been getting longer as more people sign up for the known traveler programs. And some travel advocates say that as much as TSA has improved in recent years, there's room to get better.

ERIK HANSEN: Well, it could certainly be more efficient.

SCHAPER: Eric Hansen of the U.S. Travel Association says some airports are running out of space for the TSA to meet growing passenger demand. And the agency could use more high-tech X-ray and biometric scanners.

HANSEN: But if we don't have the resources, we can't be a world leader in security and efficiency.

SCHAPER: Hansen says Congress raised the airport security fee a few years ago but then diverted half the money to cover federal spending elsewhere. He says it's time to bring that money back to airports as intended. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.


David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.

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