I’m flying out of the busiest passenger airport in the world on Friday morning, and I don’t know how early to get there for my flight.
You’d think a travel writer would know.
But I’ve seen the same tweets as everyone else about long, long security lines at airports all over the country, interspersed with tweets about short lines at the same airports.
Which lines will you and I face?
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration and Congress are working on staffing solutions, increased airline collaboration and boosts in funding to address the snarl that is summer air travel.
But those much-needed solutions definitely won’t come before Friday.
So when should I arrive at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport? And when should you arrive at your airport?
The TSA advises arriving two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights. But those early morning security lines sure look busy. I’m not so sure that two hours is enough if you have an early morning flight.
The My TSA app shows wait times at airports around the country, but it depends on travelers posting information (so please do it).
Airport officials are starting to measure TSA wait times in real time — something the Atlanta airport has been doing for years — and posting them on social media.
I know most people can’t simply reach out to the TSA and the airlines for answers, so I decided to do it for all of us.
Frankly, I think Atlanta-based TSA spokesman Mark Howell sounds a little too upbeat when I pick up the phone to talk to him.
“Friday’s going to be a busy day,” Howell says cheerfully, pulling up some numbers on his computer.
“We’re projecting around 80,000 passengers (coming through Atlanta airport security) compared to a normal Friday of 73,000 to 75,000.”
Fellow passengers: You should note that his projections for the next two Fridays also show 80,000 people daily. Busy is the new normal.
Peak flying times are early morning and early afternoon, Howell notes, which is why he likes that my flight is scheduled for 11 a.m.
“We’re recommending two hours for domestic flights, three hours for international,” he says. “Wait times will be long, but they should be better by that time of the morning.”
Two lanes at Atlanta’s Terminal South security checkpoint have been equipped with new technology, which has been reducing wait times, he says.
Over Memorial Day weekend, which was busier than a typical summer weekend, the new lanes screened an average of almost 6,900 passengers per day, an increase of about 2,200 passengers.
Our talk leaves me feeling optimistic, until I reach out to Delta Air Lines.
“Do you have PreCheck?” Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant asks me.
No, I do not. (Reader: Insert mean tweets about my travel prep here.)
I know my projected wait time would be shorter if I had signed up for TSA Pre-Check years ago like my CNN pal Ann O’Neill, who helped prove that Pre-Check works in our 2013 “TSA race to the gate.”
I timed her walk from outside security to her gate at a cool 15 minutes. She beat CNN pal Jamie Gumbrecht, who didn’t have Pre-Check, by 11 minutes.
Only the #Ihatethewait TSA Armageddon in May inspired me to sign up for U.S. Customs’ Global Entry, which includes TSA Pre-Check and expedited Customs clearance.
I am still waiting for my interview to assure the U.S. government that I’m an upstanding citizen. I hear there’s added delay due to people like me all signing up only after seeing those tweets of long lines.
Without Pre-Check, “Delta.com advises two hours and I would recommend the same,” Durrant says.
For all you stressed out Pre-Check smarty-pants folks, he still advises arriving early.
“If you have PreCheck, I can recommend 90 minutes — if you’re like me and don’t want to be in a rush to the departure gate.”
“And airports are great for people-watching and window-shopping,” he adds.
I’m a bit of a nervous traveler, so I tend to get to the airport early anyway. I’ll likely do a combination of checking social media and the My TSA app before taking public transportation to the airport to avoid morning rush hour.
My reward is a stop at the Cuban cafe at Atlanta’s T concourse.
Hopefully, I’ll sail through screening with the new technology at Atlanta’s South Terminal with plenty of time to sip a Cuban coffee as my fellow travelers whiz by.