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TSA Warning: Security Lines Are Going to Get Longer

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Budget Travel Editor-in-Chief
June 19, 2019
A view of airport security lines, blurry
Bignai/Dreamstime
Sit down and take a deep breath before you read this.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials are warning that an expected increase in airline passengers, and an insufficient increase in TSA staffing, will lead to longer airport security lines, reports the Washington Post.

TSA Staff Face Difficult Job, Low Pay

An expected 4.5 percent increase in airline passengers and a request for a 2.5 increase in staffing for fiscal 2020 equals headaches for both travelers and TSA staff. As we witnessed during the government shutdown earlier this year, TSA officers will continue to follow protocols, one passenger at a time, regardless of staffing levels or long lines, in order to maintain the highest standard of flight safety and security. But TSA officers are already facing other challenges, including some of the lowest salaries in the federal government (with full-time pay starting around $33,000/year) and some of the highest rates of turnover.

Redeployment to the Southwest Border

Another TSA challenge is the Trump administration’s proposal to move hundreds of TSA officers to the Southwest border to handle immigration duties, which could have an impact on airport security, especially during the morning peak hours of the summer high season, the Post reports.

PreCheck May Get Slower Too

TSA PreCheck has been one of the best ways to ensure an efficient trip through airport security, but even PreCheck may slow down as the TSA moves to make enrolling in PreCheck easier than ever, reports Bloomberg.

TSA estimates that 9 million “high-frequency travelers” aren’t enrolled in PreCheck yet, and an additional 80 million travelers who fly at least once per year are also not enrolled. If the initiatve to add even a portion of those frequent air travelers to PreCheck succeeds amid TSA understaffing and redeployment to the border, even PreCheck lines will likely get longer.

What Every Air Traveler Can Do Right Now

Budget Travel’s advice for getting through airport security remains the same regardless of TSA staffing: Get to the airport with plenty of extra time, pack smart, and if you haven’t already started the PreCheck application, do it now. Learn the TSA’s top 5 summer travel tips, and pack your patience.

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Travel Tips

8 Surprising Airline Fees You’d Better Know

Airline fees are flying high. In 2016, U.S. travelers paid a whopping $7.1 billion in checked bag fees and flight changes alone, up from $6.3 billion in 2010, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed. But the harsh reality is a number of airlines today sneak in “hidden fees”—extra charges for services that were traditionally free in the past. Unfortunately for travelers, many of these fees are non-negotiable, says Anne McDermott, editor at Farecompare.com, a website that curates deals on flights from around the world. “Fees are a fact of life for flyers these days, and they are here to stay,” McDermott says. “They make the airlines billions of dollars every year.” The upshot? Knowing what these fees are can help you budget better for your next flight. Here are eight hidden airline fees to watch out for. 1. CARRY-ON BAG Most airlines still let you bring one carry-on bag for free, but some don’t. Granted, whether you have to pay for a carry-on bag typically depends on what type of ticket you purchased and the size of the bag. American Airlines and United, for example, recently rolled out basic economy seats that charge passengers an extra $25 per “full-sized carry-on bag,” or any luggage that requires overhead bin space. (Basic economy ticket holders are still allowed one free personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.) 2. RESERVATION CANCELLATION AND CHANGE A number of airlines charge customers a fee to cancel or change a reservation, and these fees can range significantly. American Airlines imposes a $200 change fee on paid fares for domestic flights and up to $750 for international flights, and Delta Air Lines charges a $200 change fee for paid domestic flights and up to $500 for international flights; meanwhile, Allegiant only charges a change fee of up to $75 per person. Southwest Airlines has the friendliest change and cancellation policies, with no fees in either case (though you’ll have to make up any difference in the fare). There is an exception: when booking a domestic flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require that, as long as you've booked a non-refundable ticket seven days ahead of your flight, you're entitled to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a fee. 3. OVER-THE-PHONE AND IN-PERSON BOOKING It’s typically free to book a flight online, but many airlines charge a fee for booking a flight over the phone or in person. Phone-booking fees range from $0 to $25 and in-person booking fees range from $0 to $35, according to a 2016 report by Consumerist.com. 4. IN-FLIGHT WI-FI While JetBlue offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to all passengers, most airlines charge customers for in-flight Internet access. Some airlines charge a flat fee for the full flight, while others charge an hourly rate. (Prices can also vary depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight.) There are ways to cut costs for in-flight Wi-Fi. A number of airlines offer monthly subscription plans aimed at business travelers, McDermott says. For instance, American Airlines has a $50 monthly Internet plan for domestic flights through Gogo, a service also used by Virgin America, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. 5. PICKING A SEAT Once a free perk, many airlines now charge passengers a fee for selecting their seat in advance. On Spirit, for instance, seat assignments start at $5, but be prepared to pay a premium for a window, aisle, or seat with extra legroom. Meanwhile, some airlines like Lufthansa let you choose a seat free of charge beginning 24 hours before departure. (Of course, the best seats may already be snagged by passengers who paid extra for an advanced reservation.) 6. NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE Traditionally, airlines have offered passengers a complimentary juice or soft drink and charged extra for an alcoholic drink, but some carriers now also charge for non-alcoholic beverages. Case in point: discount airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge for these beverages; they also charge for snacks. (So long, free peanuts!) 7. PILLOW OR BLANKET Want to sleep tight on your next flight and enjoy the comforts of a complimentary pillow or blanket? Well, you may have to pay for these goodies. JetBlue charges $5 to $6 for a pillow and blanket, while American Airlines charges $8. 8. REDEEMING FREQUENT-FLYER POINTS You should be rewarded for being a loyal customer, right? Not always. In fact, some airlines charge customers fees when they redeem frequent flyer miles. But whether you get hit with this type of fee depends on how and when you book. Oftentimes, you have to pay a premium if you book a flight with the help of an agent. Some airlines also charge extra for “close-in bookings,” or reservations that are made a set number of days before the flight. American and United both charge $75 if you book a flight with airline miles less than 21 days out, while Spirit charges a $15 fee for tickets purchased more than 180 days prior to departure; if you use miles to book

Travel Tips

Visiting Rome: The New Rules You’d Better Know

Rome has introduced a spate of new rules and regulations to govern decorum in the city; cracking down on everyday behaviors such as the impolite ways in which people drink water from public fountains and banning people from dragging wheeled suitcases down historic steps. Managing the Strains of Tourism Rome’s new wave of rules are part of an Italian-wide measure to manage tourist strains on cities and curb anti-social behavior in general. With summer travel season now in full bloom, Rome city council has updated existing legislation that dates all the way back to 1946 with the objective of improving city life for residents and tourists. Don’t Jump in the Fountains (And Other Sensible New Rules) The new rules include penalties for those who jump into water fountains. Men are also prohibited from walking around the city bare-chested, while the popular tourist tradition of attaching “love padlocks” will incur a fine. Overly-messy eating around historic monuments is also forbidden and yes, that could mean it’s no longer possible to cool down with a creamy gelato on the Spanish Steps. How to Legally Drink the Water (Really) Tourists will need to be especially considerate about how they drink water from the city’s public drinking fountains, known as nasoni. Authorities have decreed it’s not acceptable for thirsty tourists to let their mouth touch the metal spout, instead they can cup their hands under the the spout or place their fingers under the stream to direct an arc of water to directly to their mouths like the Romans do. Cracking Down on Street Trading, Ticket Hawking, and, Um… Hanging Laundry? Illegal street-trading and ticket-touting outside tourist sites have also been banned, as has the age-old Roman practice of hanging laundry out to dry on clothing lines between neighboring buildings. Organized pub crawls and those who advertise “skip-the-line” tours outside historic monuments such as the Vatican are also banned. No Performing on Public Transportation Another regulation decrees that singing, playing instruments or busking on public transport in the city is banned. People are also no longer allowed to take prams or wheeled suitcases up or down historic steps, such as the Spanish Steps. How Will the New Rules Be Enforced? It’s still unclear how these new rules will be imposed or what fines people could incur if they’re caught breaking them. It has been announced that police will be patrolling historic sites, however, and tourists who behave badly could now be faced with a daspo, or temporary ban from returning to the area in which they caused an offense.

Travel Tips

TSA Summer Travel Tips: 5 Things Every Traveler Must Know

Are you planning to fly this summer? Join the club—millions of us will be taking to the sky. The only potential downside to all that flying is the dreaded TSA security line. You know the drill: You get to the airport two hours before your scheduled takeoff and spend much of the time standing in line waiting to be wanded and asked about the contents of your bags. The good news is, the TSA has assembled a checklist to help your summer travels go as smoothly as possible. Here, 5 TSA tips every traveler must know. 1. Stay Hydrated The problem: Summer heat makes you thirsty, but you’re not allowed to carry water through security, and the bottled water sold at the airport is overpriced. The solution: TSA allows you to bring your favorite water bottles (empty, made of metal or plastic) through security and fill them up when you get to your gate. Just make sure your water bottle is completely empty before it goes through the X-ray screening. 2. Don’t Get “Hangry” Don’t let overpriced airport food make you fly hungry, which can make it difficult to manage any flight anxiety or the inevitable minor (or major) irritations that come with the flying experience. TSA says you’re allowed to bring plenty of food on the plane with you, including “burgers, chicken, pizza, pies, cakes, bread, donuts, fruit, vegetables, etc.” When passing through security, TSA officers may ask that you separate foods from other items so that your items can be screened properly. 3. Know the Rules for Flying with Beverages, Sunscreen, and Deodorant TSA shares some simple rules to cut through some confusion about flying with liquids. Liquids in your carry-on must be 3.4 oz or less (this includes toothpaste, by the way, something I learned the hard way on a recent flight; it also includes gel or spray deodorants and all sunscreens). But stick deodorants are not limited to the 3.4 oz rule, and neither are beverages or toiletries packed in your checked bags. A note about beverages packed in your carry-on: You are allowed to carry on alcoholic beverages in containers that adhere to the 3.4 oz rule, but you are not allowed to open them or consume them on the plane. (Only alcoholic beverages served by the carrier are allowed to be consumed on the plane.) And we always recommend packing carry-on toiletries and other liquids in a separate zip-lock bag for ease of inspection. 4. Get Through the Line Faster With TSA PreCheck TSA PreCheck allows eligible travelers to get through security screening faster, in some cases really fast. PreCheck travelers get through security in an average of under five minutes, and do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets. Yes, you should apply for TSA PreCheck now. 5. Know What’s in Your Bag For experienced travelers, “know what’s in your bag” may seem a little obvious. But typically travelers are much more stringent about packing for the start of their vacation than they are for their return flight, where souvenirs and other items can complicate the screening process. It’s best to check out the TSA’s “What can I bring?” feature. We also recommend downloading the MyTSA app to help with all of the above concerns. TSA has a team of employees who are ready to answer your questions via Twitter at @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily. Or just pick up the good old telephone and call the TSA contact center at 866-289-9673.

Travel Tips

Travel Bargains: These "Magic Words" Will Save You Big

Have you ever had a conversation where moments—or even days—later you realize, "I wish I'd said that"? Travel booking and airline and hotel check-ins can often feel like that, with so many questions, options, and price points to juggle. The travel experts at Budget Travel have been there and back. We've assembled a 12-point cheat sheet with a dozen phrases to help make your next travel booking easier, nab you some upgrades, and save you money. "CAN I GET AN UPGRADE?" Well, that question seems a little on-the-nose, doesn't it? But most airline passengers never ask, and it can pay off. Ask politely, and if you're met with silence, be willing to wait for an answer instead of backing down. Last-minute first and business class seat availability can mean you pay an "up-sell" fee (typically $50 and up) to get out of coach. The same question can work at a hotel, especially if it's a hotel that caters to business travelers and you're checking in over the weekend. "BUMP ME!" Airline crews deal with a lot of tired, anxious, and sometimes just plain cranky passengers all day every day. Letting them know that you're willing to get bumped to another flight solves some major problems for them—and can result in your being moved up to first class just because you were willing to be accommodating. Note: It might also get you bumped, so use this phrase only if you mean it. "I SERVE IN THE MILITARY" We can't guarantee it, but first-class passengers have been known to trade seats with military personnel as a way of saying "thank you" for their service. On a more predictable note, cruise lines will often offer a discount if you tell them about your military service. "WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CHOCOLATE?" This may sound a little precious, but handing out one-pound chocolate bars to the gate agents and flight crew gets John E. DiScala, founder of travel advice site johnnyjet.com, a better coach seat or upgrade about half the time. "WE'RE ON OUR HONEYMOON!" Our evidence here is anecdotal, but Budget Travel readers have reported that telling airline personnel at check-in that you're newlyweds can get you moved to first or business class. Hotels, of course, will almost always respond with an indulgence or two. But don't say it if it's not true—apart from the fact that lying is wrong, you may have a difficult time answering questions about your alleged recent nuptials! "I HAVE KIDS" Hotels may be willing to upgrade you to a suite at no charge, and if you ask for a later check-out to accommodate the little ones you'll almost always get a thumbs-up. "I'M FLYING ALONE" When airlines try to accommodate families who want to sit together, it helps if they know they can move your seat, and there's a chance they'll move you to first or business class, where single empty seats are more common. "GIVE ME THE CHEAPEST CAR YOU HAVE" We know, we know. When renting a car, you don't really want to cram yourself into the cheapest model in the company's garage. But if you're willing to take the chance, booking the lowest-priced car available and showing up super-early in the morning (before most people have returned their rental cars) can garner you a free upgrade to a bigger car. "HAS THE PRICE GONE DOWN?" Yeah, airline seats and hotel room prices fluctuate, and there's a chance that the price has dropped since you made your reservation. Call the airline or hotel regularly as your trip approaches and, if the price goes down, ask for a refund or re-book. (But make sure there's no significant re-booking fee!) "IS THAT 'FREE' NEWSPAPER GOING TO COST ME $25?" Resorts are notorious for tacking on fees up to $25 per night for goodies you might assume were free—including pool towels, Wi-Fi, newspaper delivery, gym access, and even access to the resort's casino. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas are especially known for these non-negotiable surprises. Your best bet it to ask about extra fees up front when making a reservation. "I'M A RETURN CUSTOMER" When booking a cruise, mentioning that you've sailed with the line before can nab you a 5 to 15 percent discount on your fare. "I'M 55+" Yup, just remembering the 1960s should get you a 5 percent discount from most cruise lines.

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