The airport security screening system criticized earlier this year for hourslong waiting lines in the New York City area and nationwide faces its second major test of the summer travel season over the Independence Day weekend.
Travelers, however, will not be able to judge how long they will have to wait because the Transportation Security Administration has still not figured out how to publicly distribute the wait-times data, which it keeps internally. TSA had provided that information publicly, but stopped in 2008, saying the agency was seeking a better way to distribute wait-time data.
The agency had predicted such a system would be available by mid-June.
TSA rolled out a My TSA app several years ago that allows users of smartphone and portable devices to punch in wait times while standing in line. The app has proved unreliable because it is based solely on input from passengers — a passenger waiting 10 minutes might enter 10 minutes, for example, but a passenger on the same line waiting 20 minutes might not enter anything.
The app also provides only 10-minute increments, and those times — entered by its user — are not verified by the agency, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.
The publicity about long lines apparently has not dampened decisions to fly. AAA predicted that air travel this weekend would increase by 2.2 percent, to 3.3 million passengers, compared with the Independence Day holiday last year.
TSA said in a Twitter message this week that it expects passenger volumes “to drastically increase” this weekend, but declined to elaborate.
For Memorial Day weekend, TSA reported that its internal data showed 99 percent of passengers nationwide waiting an average of less than 30 minutes. The agency said 99 percent of passengers at the three major New York City-area airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty — waited an average of less than 20 minutes.
Those wait times were for the standard lines, and passengers who registered for the TSA pre-check program waited less than five minutes on average at all airports, the agency said.
The Global Gateway Alliance, which advocates for better New York area airports, surveyed 300 passengers in May and only 5 percent said they used the TSA app.
TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said in a newspaper interview last month he hoped to come up with a new reporting procedure and was “hoping to get the app out by mid-June.”
Agency spokeswoman Farbstein said Monday “a predictive wait times page for our website is in development and testing,” however, “there is not yet a date as to when development and testing will be wrapped up and the feature ready to post online.’’
When TSA reports wait times, usually after public pressure, it does so in averages and 10-minute increments. In addition to using those metrics in reporting to the public, the agency employs them in testimony to congressional oversight committees.
At two recent hearings, committee chairmen and other members did not press Neffenger for a more detailed breakdown beyond the 10-minute increments. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, which met May 25, did not return telephone calls and emails seeking comment. Neither did the committee staff.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which met June 7, did not return telephone calls and emails for comment. Nor did the committee staff. The lack of precise information also calls into question how TSA security agents are deployed.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last month that after he raised concerns about wait times at New York City-area airports, the agency agreed to add more than 200 screeners to those three airports. Schumer’s staff said last week that it relied on TSA to assign screeners where they were most needed within the New York City area because travel patterns vary day to day and airport to airport.
Many international flights originate on Thursday, for example, while Monday is a busy day for business travelers. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area’s major airports, said in a letter to TSA in May that it might hire its own security screeners if wait times do not improve.
The letter said that at Kennedy Airport between March 15 and April 15 there were 253 occurrences of waits longer than 20 minutes, while there were only 10 such occurrences longer than 20 minutes during the same month in 2015.
“The experience at [Newark Liberty] and [LaGuardia] has been similarly abysmal, and the patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point,” the letter said.